Texans rookie starting center Jimmy Morrissey: ‘Dream come true’

In just one month, rookie Jimmy Morrissey went from toiling on the Las Vegas Raiders’ practice squad to starting at center for the Texans.

For the former Pitt walk-on and seventh-round draft pick, it’s been a heady climb from the relative obscurity of just practicing to actually playing and starting in NFL games.

 Morrissey, 23, is preparing for his second NFLstart Sundayfor the 1-8 Texans against the 8-2 Tennessee Titans whose defensive line is headlined by Jeffery Simmons, Harold Landry and Denico Autry.

“It’s been a dream come true,” Morrissey said. “Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be a starting center in the NFL. But it’s been a lot of work for sure, learning a new offense in just a couple of weeks, but everyone around me has been great and really supportive. It’s been chaotic initially. The first week was pretty crazy, but so far it’s been amazing.”

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Morrissey has been soaking up knowledge and getting the hang of the offense. His primary responsibilities are snapping the football to veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor and blocking hefty defensive linemen.

“Jimmy’s been great,” Taylor said. “I wouldn’t say outspoken, just a confident guy. He’s confident in his ability. He’s picked up the offense in the short time that he’s been here. He’s going out there and he’s competing, can’t ask for anything more.

“A guy that’s competing and knowledge of the things we are putting in each week. Each week, he gets the chance to gain experience and he’ll continue to step up to the challenge each week.”

The interactions with Taylor have gone well, allowing Morrissey to pick up the offense and make calls on pass protection.

“Tyrod is phenomenal, you can tell he’s a true vet,” Morrissey said. “ It’s been really smooth. He handles a lot of it, and I do my job at the line, but I couldn’t ask for a better quarterback to play with.”

Morrissey hasn’t spent a lot of time being introspective about what it all means. He’s focused on the task at hand.

“I haven’t really had enough time to slow down to think about that,” Morrissey said. “It’s kind of just hitting me. I was talking to (tight end-fullback) Paul Quessenberry. I don’t know what the number is of guys in the NFL, but I think it’s less than 2,000, and think about how many people play football.

“I haven’t really stopped to think about what I learned about myself, but it’s been a crazy experience. Just try to take it day by day and realize that I am a professional football player. It’s pretty awesome.”

The Texans acquired Morrissey off the Raiders' practice squad primarily because of veteran center Justin Britt's knee injury that forced him to be placed on injured reserve.

They also see a lot of potential in Morrissey, who was a three-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection, a four-time all-academic selection and a 47-game starter at Pitt.

“I’ll tell you what, he’s jumped in there and done a heck of a job for us," Texans coach David Culley said "He’s a very smart kid. We’re very comfortable with him in there.”

The early reviews on Morrissey have been encouraging.

“Jimmy’s a good dude,” veteran defensive tackle Maliek Collins said. “He was always, even before this opportunity presented itself to him. He was in there giving great looks. Gritty, tough guy, I like him a lot.”

Morrisseey recently received the Burlsworth Trophy that goes to the most outstanding college football player who began their career as a walk-on. A 6-foot-4, 305-pounder who was an All-Catholic League and All-City selection in Philadelphia, Morrissey chose to be a preferred walk-on at Pitt over scholarship offers form Lehigh, Bucknell and Colgate. He earned a scholarship after enrolling at Pitt.

The Burlsworth Trophy is named after the late Indianapolis Colts offensive guard Brandon Burlsworth, a former walk-on at Arkansas who earned a scholarship and became a consensus All-American. Burlsworth was killed in a car accident on April 28, 1999 in Alpena, Arkansas 11 days after he was drafted.

“I was happy to go back to Pittsburgh and finally meet with the Burlsworth family in person,” Morrissey said. “The Burlsworth Trophy is a special award, just because it obviously remembers Brandon Burlsworth and such an amazing but tragic story he had.

“It really honors walk-ons all across the country. It’s a tough battle to get a scholarship and play and have a successful career in college. I was really fortunate and that’s an important award to me that I will always remember. It was pretty cool to me going back home.” 

Morrissey has his work cut out for him against Simmons, who leads all NFL interior defensive linemen with 7 ½ sacks and five sacks in the past two games.

“He’s a fantastic player, but every week you are going to play a fantastic player,” Morrissey said. “One of my best friends in the league, his name is Brian O’Neill, I played with him in Pittsburgh. When I was in college I was like, ‘What’s the difference between college and NFL?’

“He was like ‘In college, you circle three games like guys you are going to see that are going to be high draft prospects, in the NFL you see them every week.’ Jeffery Simmons is one of those dudes. He’s at the top of the list. I’m excited to play him and it will be a good challenge.”

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