Morrison's inconsistencies open doors for unproven Wildcats
When practice ends, Arizona receiver Richard Morrison can still be seen running routes, trying to get better.
The one-time starter in the slot for the Wildcats has seen a decline in playing time on offense, in part because Morrison has dropped at least two sure touchdowns near the end zone and muffed one punt this season.
“He’s been having a rough couple weeks,” sophomore receiver Austin Hill said. “Mentally, I think he’s fine. I have confidence in him.”
Morrison is working to make sure his confidence doesn’t dip in case he gets a big break, like he did against Washington on Saturday in returning a punt 63 yards for the Wildcats’ first punt return touchdown since the 2009 season.
“I wouldn’t say it’s affecting my confidence, but … I don’t like to fail,” Morrison said. “I’m determined to stay out on this field and get better.”
Because of injuries and inconsistencies among Morrison and the slot receiver group, Arizona coaches have split time between Morrison, sophomore Garic Wharton and walk-on Johnny Jackson, who missed the game against the Huskies due to an injury.
“[The position battle] is fun,” Hill said. “It keeps things interesting. You never know who’s going to start. With these coaches, if somebody has a good week, they may start over someone who had an average week.”
Wharton posted career highs in receptions and receiving yards against Washington, catching three passes for 59 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown reception. Jackson was the star against Stanford, catching 10 passes for 75 yards before going down with an injury.
“I think all of our guys understand that we have open competition for every position, every day, and not just on game day,” Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said. “The guys like the fact that they have to perform and compete every day. It gives us great depth.”
Morrison has not started since the Sept. 1 Toledo game, but he is still third on the team with 23 receptions for 171 yards and two scores. His punt return numbers are almost as good, with 11 returns for 126 yards and the 63-yard score against the Huskies.
Although he has lost some time in the slot, Morrison still sees the logjam at his position as an open competition.
“I look at it as, we’re all competing, and we’re all like brothers,” Morrison said. “So once one brother goes down, another has to step up and not take his spot, but do what he can in that position for the offense.
“I don’t look at it like he took my spot or I took his, I look at it like we’re all sharing and we’re all competing and we all play the same position.”
Morrison’s post-practice individual workouts have not gone unnoticed by his teammates and position coaches.
“He just has to do the little things to get back on the field, and he’s slowly improving every single week,” Hill said.
Although Morrison has lost time in the rotation, the emergence of Wharton, Jackson and David Richards signifies that the receivers may be the only group on the team that is not razor-thin in terms of depth.
They have been ravaged by injuries, most notably to senior Terrence Miller and Jackson, but the fact that there hasn’t been much drop-off speaks to how much unearthed talent the Wildcats had a season ago and in the spring, when Morrison was also listed as a backup quarterback.
“[The depth] helps us because of how fast the tempo of our offense is,” Morrison said. “We have all types of receivers. You just have to come out here to practice and compete with everybody. You just don’t know [who’s going to start].”