Morgan: I just want to play football

Panthers inside linebacker Dan Morgan looks like a new man this year. He has a new look. A new high-profile sports agent. And a new baby on the way. Gone is the bleached-blonde, shoulder-length hair, replaced by a very short military-style haircut. He also has a new agent in Drew Rosenhaus, but he's quick to add, "And no, I'm not holding out."

However, Morgan is anxious to get a contract extension done.

He seems to smile more these days, perhaps because he and his wife, Ashleigh, are expecting their first child in November.

When Morgan arrived here in Carolina in 2001 after being selected 11th overall in the NFL draft, he was always serious, almost stiff, and rarely said anything of interest to reporters. But now, four years later, Morgan has developed into a leader on a defense full of leaders.

And, despite all of the changes in his life, he remains committed to doing anything he can to help the Carolina Panthers win a Super Bowl.

Morgan, who set an unofficial NFL record with 25 tackles in the team's 32-29 loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVII, is coming off his first Pro Bowl season and enters 2005 extremely optimistic about Carolina's chances of making it to Detroit this season and winning it all.

"The way I think we're looking on defense right now I think we can dominate every game, no matter who we're playing or how good the offense is that we're facing," said Morgan, who has approached this off-season with the same intensity as the previous four. "I just think we've got that kind of defense. I think it's going to be hard to score on us. I think we're going to have a really, really good defense."

Off the field, Morgan has been through a series of emotional ups and downs this off-season.

He was among the first people to learn that teammate Mark Fields' Hodgkin's disease had likely returned, although medical tests at the time were inconclusive.

A short while later, he learned the health of linebackers coach Sam Mills had rapidly deteriorated. A week later Mills would succumb to intestinal cancer.

"Sam would have wanted us to move on and have fun like we're doing now, and enjoy ourselves out here," Morgan said. "Just enjoy the game. Because that's what he did. He enjoyed the game and loved being around the guys - and I think that's how our linebacker group is. We enjoy each other and we have a good time out there."

Although he hired Rosenhaus, Morgan is content playing for the Panthers. He's not seeking a trade and isn't demanding a new contract like fellow Rosenhaus client Terrell Owens. But Morgan has made it clear he'd love to stay in Carolina, especially if the team re-signs close friend and fellow linebacker Will Witherspoon.

Off the field, the two men are nearly inseparable.

Morgan said he hired Rosenhaus simply because of convenience. Both live in Miami during the off-season.

"It's one of those things where they're talking, but I'm not worried about it," Morgan said. "I don't even want to talk about it. Everything will take care of itself. I just want to play football. That's really all I can control."

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