TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - Arizona had a prolonged battle at quarterback a year ago, lasting from spring drills until the first game.
B.J. Denker was named the starter just before the opener and stayed under center through the rest of the season.
The Wildcats have another quarterback quandary heading into this season and it may be even more difficult than the last one.
“I really don’t know who not just number one is, but I don’t know who number one, two, or three is,” Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez said during Pac-12 media days last month.
Arizona’s QB pecking order has become a little more defined since then, though the competition is far from over.
Redshirt freshman Anu Solomon appears to have nudged ahead of the pack, taking the majority of the first-team snaps in practice.
Even so, senior Jesse Scroggins, a former USC quarterback, is not far behind and Texas transfer Connor Brewer has shown glimpses of why he was one of the nation’s top quarterback recruits in 2012.
Jerrard Randall has spent the shortest time in Arizona’s system and still makes mistakes as he tries to figure it out, but is an athletic dual-threat quarterback who spent two seasons at LSU before transferring.
Rodriguez expects the quarterback situation to sort itself out in the weeks before the season opener against UNLV on Aug. 29, but has used more than one quarterback in the past and won’t hesitate to do it again this year.
“I don’t look at it differently than any other position,” Rodriguez said. “If a guy is playing well, performing well, or two guys are playing well and performing well, you’re OK. If one guy is clearly better than the other, you want to play one. It’s pretty simple.”
Whatever happens at quarterback, the Wildcats should be in good shape after winning eight games and a bowl game each of the past two seasons.
Here are five things to look for in Arizona’s third season under Rodriguez:
HILL RETURNS: Austin Hill was a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award and was being counted on heavily by the Wildcats last season. Instead, a torn ACL in spring drills derailed his entire junior season. Healthy again, Hill is expected to be the leader of a talented receiving corps that includes leading returner Nate Phillips, Texas transfer Cayleb Jones and Notre Dame transfer DaVonte’ Neal.
REPLACING CAREY: The Wildcats had no concerns about their running game the past two seasons with hard-running Ka’Deem Carey in the backfield. An All-American and the school’s all-time leading rusher, he’s gone after being a fourth-round pick by the Chicago Bears in this year’s NFL draft. His absence leaves a big hole for the Wildcats. Arizona has some talented backs and plenty of depth, but filling Carey’s cleats will be tough and may be done with several players instead of just one.
BUILDING DEFENSE: Arizona’s offense has been unstoppable at times in two seasons under Rodriguez. It needed to be with the struggles the Wildcats had on defense. Arizona had almost no depth on defense when Rodriguez arrived and he’s slowly been building it up. The Wildcats finally have some depth, quality returning players and made some nice additions, including LSU transfer Jordan Allen at defensive end. For once, they may not have to outscore teams to have a chance to win games.
BONDURANT’S DECISION: Safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant was a disruptive force last season, intercepting four passes and making 72 tackles. He was expected to be a key cog again this season, but put his future in doubt by leaving the program earlier this month after failing to complete his punishment for a disciplinary action. Bondurant rethought his decision and rejoined the team, but will have to work his way back into favor with the coaches. If he does, Bondurant could play like he has something to prove this season.
NOT-SO SPECIAL TEAMS: Special teams have been a disaster at times and mostly mediocre since Rodriguez arrived. He’s hoping that part of the game gets better this season. Punter Drew Riggleman was inconsistent last season, following big punts with shanks, so he needs to be more consistent. Arizona also will have to find a new kicker now that Jake Smith is gone. What’s encouraging are the rest of the special teams. The Wildcats will have some talented players and the addition of Neal as a returner should add a dynamic quality.
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