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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Even without Criner, Arizona receivers poised to break out

Mike Christy/ Arizona Daily Wildcat

Richard Morrison, now No. 8.
Mike Christy/ Arizona Daily Wildcat Richard Morrison, now No. 8.

Under former head coach Mike Stoops, Arizona was consistently among the best passing teams in the nation. Led by Nick Foles, the Wildcats had the third best passing offense last year.

Foles, the UA’s all-time leading passer, was helped out by a variety of weapons at wide receiver in throwing for 4,334 yards in 2011, good for fifth best in the country.

Juron Criner is Arizona’s all-time leader in touchdown receptions with 32 and had 11 last season. David Douglas and Gino Crump combined for 1,276 yards and six touchdowns. Now, all three, along with Foles, have graduated to the NFL, and Stoops is gone.

The Wildcats have a new coach in Rich Rodriguez who is more famous for his run-first, spread-option offensive system and explosive running quarterbacks than anything else.

Still, despite the switch to a more run-oriented system, fifth-year senior quarterback Matt Scott can rely on his deep and athletic collection of wideouts.

“Matt’s been around,” senior receiver Dan Buckner said. “This isn’t his first year with the receiving corps. We’ve just been working hard through the summer running the same offensive things. We’re in the film room together, even when we don’t need to be, to make sure we’re on the same page.”

Getting on the same page with Buckner, who started every game a season ago, will be crucial to the progression of an Arizona offense that will have as many as six or seven guys who might see playing time at both inside and outside receiver.

“If a kid understands football, and I think sometimes an athlete that’s played multiple positions, he can come in with a broader picture with the whole scheme of things,” receivers coach Tony Dews said. “We all coach technique and fundamentals, but it’s fun to coach a guy that has some unique abilities.”

Of the seven wideouts that could see significant playing time, Buckner, who caught 42 passes for 606 yards and two scores in 2011, and Terrence Miller are the leaders, a role brought on by the fact that they are the only two seniors in the receiving corps.

“Dan can be a really good leader for us,” Dews said. “We all know he has a lot of physical ability, but where I like to see that he’s grown up is he’s maturing and being a leader because we know he’s a vocal guy. Terrence is a good leader in the group. I think the guys listen to him and he’s a big, physical guy that’s a presence.”

Buckner and Miller’s size — both stand at 6-foot-4 — give Scott and Arizona’s offense a height advantage over smaller corners and weapons to use in the red zone. Buckner is considered more of a possession receiver rather than a speedster, but he thinks he has the ability to be more than that.

“I consider myself a versatile receiver, a quick receiver,” Buckner said. “I think I can run a little bit, shock some people, but we have to make big plays on the outside. There’s going to be one-on-one coverage.”

The size of Miller and Buckner on the outside may be a daunting task for opposing corners, but the inside speed of the versatile part-time quarterback and returner Richard Morrison, who caught 22 passes for 201 yards and two scores last season has caught the eyes of Rodriguez and Dews.

“Richard is pretty important,” Rodriguez said. “We want him at wide receiver, all the way. We may try and give him a few reps at quarterback here and there because he’s explosive.”

“He played quarterback, so he has some football savvy and smarts,” Dews added. “He gives us someone else who’s athletic.”

Morrison tweaked a hamstring in the first days of fall practices, opening up playing time for less-heralded players Garic Wharton, Tyler Slavin and walk-on Johnny Jackson to showcase their talents in the new offense.

“It’s a fast offense, so I would fit anywhere,” Slavin said. “They have me at outside right now, but I’m just switching positions, trying to see what fits best. Either way, as a receiver group, we’re going to do the best we can do.”

Wharton and Slavin have impressed Dews with their athleticism and toughness in fall practices, which could mean an increase in playing time in an offense designed to feature multiple receiver sets.

“If we’re going at the tempo and the pace we’re wanting to, I don’t think one wideout can play 80 snaps and play at the pace and with the toughness and aggressiveness that we want them to,” Dews said.

Jackson, who joined the UA as a walk-on last December, is a 5-foot-10-inch freshman and adds another weapon to a receiving corps that boasts size, speed, toughness and athleticism, but has captivated coaches’ and players’ attentions.

“Johnny’s going to play,” Rodriguez said. “He’s done enough that we certainly think if we can get a scholarship, if we have room for a scholarship, he’s the next in line.”

There are question marks abounding from a team that only won four games a season ago, with a new coach, new offensive and defensive systems and a new starting quarterback. But, if anything, Arizona has the talent at wide receiver to be just fine. Between Buckner and Miller, Wharton and Slavin, Austin Hill and Jackson, Matt Scott will be just fine.

“I know coach Rod wants everyone to make plays,” Miller said. “We’re called playmakers for a reason, so if your number is called, you have to make a play.”

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