Alfred Morris had opportunities. But he hadn't received the right opportunity.
Teams called during the offseason and inquired about his interest. The veteran running back even took a workout with the New York Jets. Morris opted to bide his time, though, confident that the proper fit was still yet to come.
Kyle Shanahan had reached out all the way back when free agency opened. Morris was entering the open market after the Dallas Cowboys opted not to re-sign him. The San Francisco 49ers ended up signing Jerick McKinnon to fill their void at running back.
Injuries to McKinnon and No. 2 back Matt Breida made the 49ers a running back-needy team once again. San Francisco turned its attention back to Morris. Shanahan and Morris are familiar with one another having spent two seasons together with the Washington Redskins from 2011-12. Morris averaged 1,444 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns over those two years. So it makes sense why Shanahan is keen on his former pupil.
That’s why Morris is more than just a camp body. Shanahan told reporters this week that Morris will have every opportunity to make the roster. The 49ers head coach relayed that message to Morris as well.
“Kyle called and said he’d give me an opportunity to showcase my ability and show what I can do,” Morris said. “That’s all I can ask for.”
Morris and his No. 36 49ers jersey debuted during Wednesday’s joint practice against the Texans. He worked primarily with the second-team offense under a limited rep count.
“It’s going to be a process, but after the first day I think it went really well,” Morris said. “They gave me opportunities to get my feet wet. That’s good because I need to get my legs back under me. Only football gets you ready for football, no matter how much you train.”
He doesn’t view himself as a veteran trying to grasp onto the twilight years of his NFL career. Signing with the 49ers isn't the chance for a swan song nor a revival tour. Morris has made two Pro Bowls over his first six seasons. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry with the Cowboys in 2017. He owns 5,503 career rushing yards, 32 touchdowns, and he’s still just 29-years young. Morris never let himself believe that his journey as a professional football player had reached its end.
“No, no, no – I’ve still got too much juice,” Morris said. “I feel like I still have the same vigor that I had when I was 21.”
The underdog story is old hat for Morris. It’s not that there are perceived slights that help him keep an edge on the field. Morris has genuinely been overlooked for his entire football career. He had just one Division I offer coming out of high school despite being an All-State player. Morris posted two 1,000-yard seasons at Florida Atlantic but still didn’t hear his name called until the sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
That’s why Morris isn’t concerning himself with being an afterthought in the latest round of NFL free agency. He’s got an opportunity now. Worrying about anything else would be a waste of headspace.
“I’ve always been the underdog,” Morris said. “I’ve always been overlooked or taken for granted. When I get an opportunity, I make the most of it every time.”
Making the 49ers roster, while not impossible, isn’t a given, either. Morris will have to beat out Joe Williams, Raheem Mostert and Jeremy McNichols to do so. His résumé is more impressive than his peers, but it will be what’s left in the tank that will determine the length of Morris’ stay in San Francisco.
“They’ve got a lot of talent here,” Morris said. “I am a different type of runner and a different type of build than the rest of the guys. I think I’ll be a complement to whatever they want to do. I just need to make the most of my opportunities.”