Four quarterbacks are competing to be Arizona head coach Rodriguez's starter
TUCSON, Ariz. — A dozen days before their season opener, the Arizona Wildcats have yet to name a starting quarterback.
Head coach Rich Rodriguez says he hopes to whittle down the pool in the coming days but could wind up playing two or three at the position in the early games.
The apparent front-runner is senior B.J. Denker, who saw some game action — including one start — as backup to Matt Scott last season. But transfers Jesse Scroggins and Nick Isham are in the mix along with true freshman Anu Solomon.
The unsettled quarterback situation was the No. 1 issue as the team gathered for its media day Sunday.
"I would like to say we're sitting here today and it's clearly defined, the pecking order, but it's not yet," Rodriguez said. "It might be going on through the season."
The coach said he'd be pleased if two players, let alone one, emerged above the others.
"Then they could get the majority of the reps," Rodriguez said. "That hasn't happened yet."
Last season, Rodriguez's first at Arizona, he inherited a terrific quarterback in Matt Scott, the fifth-year senior who stuck around through the coaching change. Scott became only the second Arizona quarterback to accumulate 4,000 total yards in a season.
Denker, who transferred for his junior season from Cerritos College, played in six games as Scott's backup, completing 25 of 37 passes for 259 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. He started the Wildcats' 56-31 victory over Colorado, going 12 of 14 for 136 yards. But passing was inconsequential in that game, because Ka'Deem Carey smashed the Pac-12 rushing record by gaining 366 yards, matching the school record with five touchdowns.
Rodriguez said Denker was the front-runner coming out of spring practice.
"Him being the front-runner, the guy with experience, we've probably been more demanding and put more on him than any of the other guys," Rodriguez said.
Denker said he understands that.
"I think that comes with the territory," he said. "I've got experience playing under his system. I'm a senior. He wants the best out of me. He wants me to be the best quarterback that I can be. He wants me to be able to lead this team, and when I make a mistake, it frustrates him."
Scroggins indicated he's just figuring things out after missing almost all of spring practice while recovering from foot surgery, then sitting out a week of fall practice with a concussion.
"Being on this level you need those type of reps," he said. "That's why I've been really working after practice, an extra couple of drops, trying to get 100 throws a day, stuff like that, lifting, just getting back in the groove."
Rodriguez said the coaches "have been putting pressure" on Scroggins "and his attitude has been absolutely terrific."
Scroggins was at Southern California for two seasons, then played a year at El Camino College before coming to Arizona, where the adjustment to the high-energy, react-on-the-fly requirements of the quarterback has been an adjustment.
"This past week I think I've progressed a lot," he said. "I just thought 'OK, it's time to switch it."
Isham has emerged after coming to Tucson as a non-scholarship player after transferring from Louisiana Tech, where he started seven games as a freshman under then-coach Sonny Dykes two seasons ago.
"He's a smart guy. He's a team player," Rodriguez said. "He's going to be our starting holder. He's going to play a role for us no matter what."
Isham just wants to make the most of his opportunity.
"Accuracy, decision making, keep the ball moving, leadership skills," he said. "I'm just trying to be accurate with the ball and have good decisions while I'm out there."
Solomon, from Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, might have the most uphill fight for playing time, given the fact he's a freshman.
"The speed of the game, it's a big transition from high school to college," he said.
Especially in Rodriguez's offense.
"We do things at what we call a jet tempo, which is really, really fast," Solomon said, "then there's the normal tempo, which is still fast."
The quarterback, whoever it is, will face defenses obviously geared to stop the prolific Carey.
"That's a smart thing, and I can also take that as a slap in the face," Denker said. "'OK, you're going to stop Ka'Deem because you don't think I can beat you. I'm going to take that as a challenge. You load up the box and I'm going to try to beat you with my arm and my legs."
Rodriguez said he may not name a starting quarterback before the Aug. 30 opener against Northern Arizona, even to his players.
"I want them to think no matter who's back there, we're going to play well," he said.