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Arizona football: Taking at look at the wide receiver rotation

Dan Buckner

Dan Buckner is trying to be the leader of the receiving corps this season. Photo by Chris Morrison-US PRESSWIRE

Here is what the Arizona Wildcats lost from their receiving corps: 244 catches for 2,645 yards and 19 touchdowns. Three of the four players responsible for all that are in NFL camps, including fifth-rounder Juron Criner.

So, who’s left?

The remaining Arizona receivers are intriguing, albeit largely unproven.

For starters, the Wildcats have Dan Buckner and Terrence Miller, 6-4 seniors who give quarterback Matt Scott huge targets on the outside.

“You can’t really get any better than that,” Scott said.

But Miller didn’t even play much last season, when Criner, Gino Crump, David Douglas and David Roberts did most of the receiving work, so you can see that there is much to be proven by this group, especially in a new offense that will emphasize the run.

Arizona passed on 63.5 percent of its 908 plays last season.

New coach Rich Rodriguez, in 10 years as a head coach running the read-option attack, has kept to the ground on two-thirds of his offensive snaps (66.5 percent). He has never passed the ball more than he ran it in any season.

It should be noted right about here, though, that Rodriguez says it’s possible he might pass more than ever this season, taking advantage of Scott’s passing skills and reducing the quarterback’s exposure to big hits in the running game in an effort to keep him healthy.

Bottom line: The receivers are still going to have to plenty to do in the no-huddle attack.

“In a typical game, you would like to have six guys, maybe seven, that can play,” said receivers coach Tony Dews.

“If we’re going at a tempo we’re wanting to, I don’t think there is one wideout who can play 80 snaps and play at the pace and with the toughness and aggressiveness we want them to. Ideally, if we can have six or seven guys where there is no significant drop-off, that would be great.”

Rodriguez says most of the wideouts are learning multiple receiving positions, inside and outside, and there really won’t be a functional depth chart until sometime after Saturday’s second scrimmage. In the meantime, let’s take a look at who those six or seven receivers could be:

Dan Buckner, senior, 6-4, 215

Buckner is the Wildcats’ leading returning receiver, with 42 catches for 606 yards and two touchdowns.

“This is his time,” Rodriguez said at the beginning of fall camp.

“He is a very talented player, and I think he realizes that it is an opportunity for him. He hasn’t had to do this in his career yet. It is time for him to grow up and mature and do everything on and off the field right.”

Buckner has been known for his chirping during practices, something of the team comedian, but this is his last chance for the former Texas transfer to get seriously noticed as a big-play receiver — and not just a big target.

“I consider myself a versatile receiver, not just a big receiver,” he said.

“I think I can run a little bit. I can shock some people. We have to make big plays on the outside. There is going to be one-on-one coverage. Sometimes we put trips into the boundary and you get the whole field to yourself. You have to make one guy miss and take it to the house.”

Terrence Miller, senior, 6-4, 226

Having recovered from a lacerated kidney suffered in spring practice, Miller appears ready to thrive after being buried on the depth chart last season.

Miller caught just 11 passes in a season in which he appeared ready for a breakthrough. He made 20 receptions in a three-game span late in the 2010 season, indicating significant potential.

“First of all, I think Terrence is a good leader in the group. Guys listen to him,” Dews said.

“He’s a big, physical guy that is a presence. Terrence works extremely hard. He’s been catching the ball very well. He’s been able to go up in practice and make some plays on the ball in the air. That’s exciting.

“It seems like the quarterbacks are growing in confidence with him. He’s making the plays, so they’re starting to trust him.”

Richard Morrison, junior, 5-11, 183

The experiment with Morrison at quarterback appears to be over (barring serious injuries at the position, probably). He can devote himself to playing a significant role as a slot receiver.

It’s not so much that the coaches didn’t think he has potential there, but the emergence of junior college transfer B.J. Denker gave Rodriguez comfort in having a solid backup to Scott.

Morrison, who caught 22 passes for 201 yards last season, was one of the stars of the spring game. And having brushed up on quarterback, he’ll add a threat if RichRod pulls out some trick plays.

Austin Hill makes a short gain against USC last season. Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Austin Hill, sophomore, 6-3, 211

There is no mention of it in the Arizona media guide — and there has been no reference to it locally (that I can find) — but Hill’s dad is kind of famous.

That would be David Hill, who spent 12 years in the NFL with the Lions and Rams from 1976 to 1987. Known as a versatile and all-around tight end, Hill twice played in the Pro Bowl.

“I don’t really talk about it much,” Austin said of his dad’s career. “And he doesn’t really like to talk about his, quote, old days, anymore.

“But I learned a lot from my dad. Probably everything I know from my dad. And my brothers.”

Two older brothers played collegiately, including Aaron Hill, who was a receiver on the Oregon State teams in the early 2000s that featured Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

Austin missed most of spring because of a neck injury that affected his left arm to the point where he couldn’t swing the arm to run. He said he worked hard in the summer to regain the conditioning necessary in Rodriguez’s fast-paced offense.

“Not be able to display my abilities in spring right when (the new coaches) came in was difficult,” Hill said.

Hill spent most of last season as an understudy to Criner, flashing potential with eight catches for 128 yards when Criner missed the game at Oklahoma State.

Tyler Slavin, sophomore, 6-2, 205

Slavin was just outside of the rotation last season, appearing in five games, with the former coaches often talking about his need for more consistency.

He was one of the more impressive offensive players in the spring, including a three-touchdown performance in the final scrimmage.

“You’ve got to show what you have when the opportunity is given,” Slavin said at the time.


*Garic Wharton, sophomore, 5-11, 164 — Probably the fastest player on the team, which makes him a candidate for some kind of a role.

*David Richards, redshirt freshman, 6-4, 203 — Tall receiver generated some positive buzz last season on the scout team.

*Johnny Jackson, redshirt freshman, 5-10, 179 — Put himself on the radar with a solid spring.

True freshmen

Arizona has a trio of newcomers trying to crack the rotation — Trey Griffey, Clive Georges and Jarrell Bennett. Rodriguez said Bennett, a 149-pound speedster, could be a factor on punt returns.

Whether any of the three can crack the receiver rotation … well, we’ll wait and see.

“For me, you never rule anybody out,” Dews said. “My message to them is prepare yourself to play every day.”

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