NASHVILLE, Tenn. —Derrick Morgan joined the Titans as a first-round draft pick back in 2010, and he can hardly believe how much things have changed since.
Off the field, Morgan has a growing family. He's now married, with a young son and a daughter. He's a recent graduate of the University of Miami's Executive MBA for Artists and Athletes Program, an endeavor he tackled when he began pondering life after football.
Only these days, Morgan is thriving on the football field as well.
In his seventh NFL season, Morgan already has a career-high eight sacks after just 12 games, along with a career-high 34 quarterback pressures. He's playing at a high level during a season when the Titans are relevant again in the AFC South, and the NFL.
Morgan, who has now played in 87 career games with the Titans, can hardly believe how much time has flown by. During his time in Tennessee, he's played for four different head coaches, changed positions, and seen many teammates come and go.
But he still loves the game. And he loves making an impact.
"It has been a blur,'' Morgan said. "I've seen a lot of new faces, and a lot of change. But I've really enjoyed my time, and I like the direction things are going, I really do.
"… I think we have a really good team, a team that is still growing and still progressing each week and I think when you have team success it translates to personal success for players and I think it all goes hand in hand. I have taken a very diligent approach to preparing myself for each season with my work ethic for how I approach the game. So you don't want to be unprepared when your time may come, or when the team's time may come. I have just been keeping my head down and working and working and working and hoping when our team is ready to make their move I am ready to help in the efforts."
After some down seasons, the Titans are making their move.
The Titans (6-6) head into Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos at Nissan Stadium tied for first place in the AFC South with four games to go. Morgan is second on the team in sacks, behind only linebacker Brian Orakpo (9).
Morgan's previous career high in sacks was 6.5, set in 2012, and tied in 2014. But he has eight sacks in the last nine games, and has been a disruptive force since the Titans began to make their move. Morgan, who is tenth in franchise history with 35.5 career sacks, signed a contract extension with the Titans in March of 2015, when the team signed Orakpo in free agency.
"I am happy for him," Orakpo said of Morgan. "It is checks and balances. You want to do something to eliminate one person, well, another person is going to eat. So it is a back and forth, and that is why I enjoy playing with Morgan because we bring a lot to the table that is very similar."
Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said Morgan has been consistent all season, even when the sacks weren't showing up on the stat sheet. Morgan missed the team's Week 2 game against the Lions because of a hamstring injury.
"The plays that you kind of notice statistically, they happen or they don't,'' LeBeau said. "But if a player is consistent in his execution and effort, he is going to have some games that are going to be up there productivity-wise also. He can play a great game, any given player, and really not show up that much on the statistic sheet but if you ask the opponent they'll say, 'That guy is a handful.' I think Derrick is always in that category. He may get sacks this week, he may not get it the next week. But he is going to get pressure every week.
"He is one of our veteran leaders and he's done a great job for us on defense."
Morgan knows he's come a long way since he first entered the league in 2010, out of Georgia Tech.
Back then, he described himself as naïve as a player and a person, but time and experience changed him.
Morgan played defensive end in a 4-3 defensive scheme under then Titans head coach Jeff Fisher. When he suffered a season-ending knee injury as a rookie against the Broncos in Week 4 in 2010, his perspective on the game – and life – changed forever.
"It was very depressing,'' Morgan said of the injury. "It really shocked my whole world, really. Up until then, I was just playing, and football was always there for me. And in that instant it was taken away from me and I had to figure out what was my identity apart from football because it had always been football and that was my life.
"One thing it did is it brought me closer to God, and put things in the right perspective. It was a blessing and a curse in the same sentence.
"I think coming into the league you kind of take things for granted,'' Morgan said. "And then you see how quickly things can change, and how quickly a guy's career can change, or injuries, and you realize you are not entitled to anything. You can't take anything for granted. … I have definitely changed a lot in the last six or seven years."
Now an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme, Morgan is very comfortable.
He's also much more experienced, and in his mind that makes him better prepared.
But he won't ease back. Morgan credits former Titans teammates like safety Chris Hope, and linebackers David Thornton and Stephen Tulloch for showing him a work ethic and approach he always wants to follow.
Now it's on him, and he doesn't want to let anyone down.
"I think at this stage in my career I am as smart as I've ever been as far as my approach to the game and realizing what my strengths are, and what my deficiencies are, and trying to balance those out and understanding what I have to work on and what I have to do improve,'' Morgan said. "Experience has helped me out, and I push myself – I always want to get better.
"Time has flown by here, but I'm glad to be here with the Titans. Consistency in this league is very hard to find, and it is very hard to be on a team your whole career, so that is definitely a plus. I am hoping everything works out for our team and that we are able to win some championships and we can be a successful team year in a year out. I am hoping that works out. But I feel like I am here, and it's where I am supposed to be, and I am thankful for it."