Aztecs safety Patrick McMorris making impression in bid for starting spot

San Diego State was so deep and experienced in the secondary last season that younger players like safety Patrick McMorris didn’t get many chances to show what they could do in a game.

When a midseason opportunity presented itself, however, McMorris made the most of it.

When senior Dwayne Johnson Jr. missed the team’s game at Nevada because of a death in the family, McMorris stepped in at the important Aztec position. That’s the 3-3-5 defense’s center fielder, who could act as a safety, cornerback or linebacker on a given play.

McMorris was among SDSU’s leaders against Nevada, getting seven of the 10 total tackles that he had on the season.

SDSU head coach Brady Hoke said, “Pat really did some good things in that football game where, as a coach, you’re looking and going, ‘This guy is going to be pretty good for us.’

“He’s continued to do that. … Within the defense itself he has some big shoes to fill. But he has really done a nice job.”

McMorris’ name has popped up throughout the spring, and he kept popping up all over the field during Friday’s scrimmage.

San Diego State junior safety Patrick McMorris (right) had two interceptions in Friday's scrimmage.

San Diego State junior safety Patrick McMorris (right) had two interceptions in Friday’s scrimmage.

(Derrick Tuskan / San Diego State Athletics)

He had the afternoon’s first interception of the day when he picked off a 30-yard pass from quarterback Lucas Johnson.

That ball was in the air so long that McMorris could have signaled for a fair catch.

He made a more athletic play later in the scrimmage on a 25-yard pass thrown by quarterback Jordon Brookshire, jumping over wide receiver Jesse Matthews to pluck the ball out of the air.

“He covers the field well,” Hoke said. “We’re really, really excited about how he’s playing.”

McMorris, a 6-foot, 210-pound junior from Santa Ana, is bidding to replace Johnson this season in an SDSU secondary that also lost starters Tariq Thompson and Darren Hall. All three players declared for the NFL Draft after the season.

Hoke said it’s a matter of getting McMorris more snaps, getting him familiar with more situations, and then setting him loose to make plays.

“I think he’s going to be one of those guys a little bit like Tariq,” Hoke said. “One thing Tariq did is he studied the game, he studied the opponent. Pat will do that. … His football IQ is really good.”

Quarterback update

Hoke was complimentary of quarterbacks Johnson, Brookshire and Jalen Mayden — the three QBs competing to be the Aztecs’ starter — in their ability to extend plays with their legs.

The coach also appreciated their focus getting the ball down the field.

Then there was the matter of the QBs “putting a couple balls up that were intercepted.”

Replace the word “couple” with the word “several,” as in seven.

Johnson was intercepted four times — the wounded duck hauled in by McMorris, a pass tipped at the line that linebacker Garret Fountain grabbed, a ball picked off by cornerback Isaiah McElvane on an overthrow and another intercepted by safety Trenton Thompson during a two-minute drill.

Johnson did guide the offense into the end zone three times with touchdown passes to tight end Daniel Bellinger and wide receivers TJ Sullivan and Ethan Dedeaux. The 20-yard pass to Sullivan showed nice touch to the right corner of the end zone.

Brookshire threw just one interception, by McMorris, and was fortunate not to have one or two others, on a couple wobbling throws.

His bright spots were a couple of first-down completions to Elijah Kothe on inside routes and a bad snap he picked up off the ground and turned into a first-down completion to Matthews.

But Brookshire also had wide receiver BJ Busbee wide open down the right sideline and overthrew him by 10 yards.

Mayden threw two interceptions — in the red zone by safety Allan Mwata and during the two-minute drill by linebacker Zyrus Fiaseu — and also lost a fumble that defensive lineman Dylan Taylor scooped up and ran with some 60 yards to the end zone.

“We have to do a better job as far as being more accurate and making sure we’re reading (the defense) right,” Hoke said. “At times, just throwing it and not hesitating. The timing of things has to continue to get better.”

Bellinger and the TEs

One of the more memorable plays of the scrimmage was when Bellinger took a short pass from Johnson, put a move on cornerback Tayler Hawkins and stiff-armed Thompson before diving past McMorris at the right cone for a 36-yard touchdown.

“I think Bellinger is a much better product this year and right now than he was last year,” Hoke said.

The coach is eager to get more out of the position with Bellinger complimented by sophomore Jay Rudolph and redshirt freshman Aaron Greene.

“We’ll continue to grow some of their roles within the offense,” Hoke said. “Get some mismatches.”

Say, aren’t you?

Among those spotted on the field at the scrimmage was longtime NFL coach and former Chargers head coach Norv Turner.

Hoke said Turner, a Del Mar resident, was making his second spring visit. Their paths crossed at Carolina in 2018, when Hoke was Panthers defensive line coach while Turner was offensive coordinator.

“He’s a great resource,” Hoke said. “We’re going to take any information we can to help us be better as a staff and help us be better as a team.

“Him being close and our relationship, it’s really been fun.”

Injury update

Running back Greg Bell, defensive end Keshawn Banks and safety New Zealand Williams did not participate in the scrimmage. Bell and Banks did some sprint work beforehand.