RB Morrison practices on defense, might switch position

Redshirt senior running back James Morrison high-fives fans outside of Tillman Tunnel during the ASU football team’s Spring Game in April. (Photo by Sam Rosenbaum)

Senior running back James Morrison wore a white defense practice jersey Sunday for the first time.

He could possibly follow in the same footsteps as redshirt sophomore Deantre Lewis, who made the switch from running back to defense.

In Morrison’s case, it would be at defensive end. Morrison observed the position for most of Sunday’s practice, which would be a typical Tuesday practice session focusing on first down situations in team sessions.

“He’s still backing up at running back,” coach Todd Graham said. “We’re just seeing if he can rush the passer. We pulled him down today. He was down there the whole time today, but he’s still got to be able to backup.”

While Morrison is poised with the task of understanding two positions before ASU’s road game Thursday at Colorado, he’ll have his big test at defensive end Monday. Morrison will get more reps at the position in what would be a typical Wednesday practice focusing on third down situations.

“What I see, I see (junior defensive end) Junior Onyeali,” defensive coordinator Paul Randolph said of Morrison. “Junior had three sacks the last game we played. Speed, power and explosiveness. When we look at James, we see the same thing, about the same build and everything.”

Morrison said Graham proposed the idea about four weeks ago. Graham asked Morrison if he’s ever rushed the passer. The Phoenix St. Mary’s Catholic High School alum spent a few weeks of his sophomore year at the position.

As Morrison quickly found out, the position is different in college.

“Tackles are stronger, and it’s a lot more emphasis on technique and knowing where you got to be,” Morrison said. “You still got to be prepared for the run because they might just run the ball on third-and-long or wherever. You never know, so you got to be prepared for both of them.”

Graham said Morrison was one of the best 11 players on offense and nicknamed “The Tank,” but he hasn’t seen the field much. The Sun Devils are deep at running back with senior Cameron Marshall, junior Marion Grice and freshman D.J. Foster. He’s only had three carries this season for nine yards, all against Utah on Sept. 22 in the final minutes of a 37-7 blowout win.

“It was kind of frustrating and a little stressful coming out to practice and not getting a lot of reps,” Morrison said. “But at the same time, our running back group is very talented. We’re winning games and doing some positive things.”

Morrison has been in this situation before under former coach Dennis Erickson, where Morrison had a strong spring or fall performance but only saw the field on special teams.

“I look at everything in a positive way,” Morrison said. “There’s always a positive in something, even if you don’t really see it at the point in time. I just look at it as an opportunity to get on the field and wherever I can get on the field at, I just go to do what I got to do.”

Randolph is excited for Morrison’s transition to defense. Randolph wants his defensive players to be extremely relentless. He feels Morrison will translate those tough blue-collar traits he had at running back over to his new position.

“James no doubt on offense has that same tenacity and relentlessness as far as trying to block, trying to run, whenever he’s got the ball in his hands trying to score,” Randolph said. “He has that same mentality on defense.”

 

Reach the reporter at mtesfats@asu.edu