Arizona senior Richard Morrison, seemingly stalled in his football career, decided he needed to move backward in order to push forward.
Morrison, who has been a quarterback, receiver and punt returner in his four years in Tucson, went to coach Rich Rodriguez this semester and put in for a transfer to a new position. Hey, coach, let me try defense.
Morrison, who has been working on his backpedal for several weeks, worked out with the cornerbacks Saturday morning as the Wildcats opened spring practice.
He’s happy to be spending his time going backward on the football field.
“Basically, since I got here when I was a quarterback, I had always wanted to play cornerback if I didn’t play quarterback,” Morrison said. “I got switched to wide receiver and I was good at it, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do.
“I went and talked to Coach Rod and he was a little iffy about it at first and then he was like, ‘OK, I’ll let you try it out.’ So he gave me the opportunity and I’m trying to make the best of it.”
Morrison’s timing is good because Shaquille Richardson and Jonathan McKnight, who combined to start 20 games last season, are limited this spring while they recover from shoulder injuries.
“It’s a big blessing because if they were here, I probably wouldn’t get these reps,” Morrison said.
“I probably would be third (team) or like on the scout team. Right now, I get more reps and the opportunity is great for me. … I feel like I can play any position and I was like, this is my chance, my last opportunity.”
Morrison practiced as a quarterback through spring of last season but he went back to receiver after the coaches became comfortable in the fall with B.J. Denker as the backup. Morrison made 23 catches for 171 yards as a slot receiver in the first six games, but he fell out of favor because of some dropped passes. He ended up as a reserve quarterback when starter Matt Scott had a concussion problem late in the season.
Morrison didn’t have a catch in the final seven games and he lost his punt return job in the final four games.
Arizona’s best and deepest position is probably receiver, but the Cats need someone to push Richardson, McKnight and Derrick Rainey at cornerback.
“I think he knows we need some competition there,” Rodriguez said.
“We’re down a few corners this spring so he’s going to get a lot of reps. He’s athletic enough to help us. I don’t know if I have moved anybody this late in his career for that, but if you’re athletic enough you can do it.
“Our scheme is simple enough that it’s not going to burden him from that standpoint. I like Richard; he’s a good football player. He can play offensively; he can always go back to the other side.”
Morrison arrived as a dual-threat quarterback from Royse City (Texas) High School but switched to receiver after redshirting in 2009. He has 64 career receptions, including four for touchdowns, and is hoping to cash in that experience in order to shorten the learning curve at cornerback.
He played some safety in high school.
“I know how to read the hips and I know the intentions of the quarterback and the wide receiver,” he said. “Basically, I’ve been doing it my whole life. It’s easy to read. It’s a little different on defense, but I feel I have a better advantage than other corners do.”
Morrison said he’s hoping to get another crack on punt returns — a 63-yarder for a score was his 2012 highlight — and he’s able and willing to help elsewhere on special teams. He worked as a kick blocker off the edge in early periods of Saturday’s practice.
This experiment might be a long shot, but at least Morrison fits the description of RichRod’s kind of guy — hungry.
“He really wants to play and he wants to prove himself,” Rodriguez said, “so I thought this was a good move.”
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Another possibility at cornerback: junior Jourdon Grandon, who started nine games at free safety last season. He’ll practice with the cornerbacks for now, although he could always move back to safety.
“There is a lot more fundamental work you have to do at corner rather than free, so Jourdon doing that this spring is going to give us a little more depth there,” Rodriguez said. “And he’s fast enough to do that.”