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Arizona football notebook: On quarterback competition, walk-ons, Devaughn Cooper, and more

Find out what Rich Rodriguez had to say on the eve of the team’s first practice

Arizona v BYU Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats have their first practice Monday, and Rich Rodriguez met with the media Sunday to discuss the upcoming season.

Here were some notable takeaways:

Arizona’s newcomers had an 80-minute workout recently, and Rodriguez said there were so many new faces, he had them tape their names to their helmets.

“First names, because I think last names are kind of informal,” he said.

“It was a good workout. ... I’m glad we did it, because even though they were half confused, I think they got a feel for what a Division 1 (practice) or what our practices are like. When we go tomorrow it will be a little easier for them.”

Rodriguez said this team has “by far the biggest number of newcomers” he’s ever had, but also the most talented.

Rodriguez mentioned at Pac-12 Media Day that there’s roughly 50 newcomers.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s 20 to 22 of them that wind up playing some for us this year,” he said.

Rodriguez said Arizona currently has 120 players on its roster and has the best walk-on program in the country.

“To get a spot on the team you just can’t show up off the street,” he said. “The first year (I was) here you could probably do that, but now to get one of those spots it’s pretty competitive and that’s by design.”

Though sitting at 120 players right now, the Wildcats will eventually have to cut their roster to 105 players by Monday.

“We have good players that want to play that won’t be in camp,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said defensive end/linebacker DeAndre’ Miller will not be with the Wildcats at the start of camp, but is hopeful Miller will be ready for the season-opener. The redshirt senior had foot surgery last week.

Rodriguez said he thinks there will be more competition at “all positions” than Arizona has ever had before.

“Literally it’s wide open at just about all of the spots as far as us trying to find 24 to 25 guys on both sides of the ball, including quarterback,” he said. “Brandon Dawkins is going to be the frontrunner because of what he’s done and what we think he can be, but he’s still gonna have to compete.”

Rodriguez said Arizona will give reps to seven quarterbacks at the start of camp, but will narrow it down to four within a week and a half.

“Some coaches feel you can only rep two, I think we can rep at least four or five,” he said. “I’m going to throw all the offense at all of them and see what they absorb.”

Rodriguez pointed out safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles as a player who can lead the newcomers by example.

“He’s interested in becoming the best version of himself everyday. That’s why he’s a great example of how you want your football players to approach their craft,” Rodriguez said. “Demetrius is a good one to follow. He has all the physical ability and our defensive coaches will take him to another level.”

Rodriguez said he has continued to look for ways to cut down on injuries, including changes to his players’ diets and weight room habits.

“I have really looked at it a lot in the last two years,” he said. “The year before (2015) we battled with [injuries] too, and I was like, ‘is there something we’re doing training-wise, nutrition-wise?’

“I have to evaluate everything. It wasn’t really anything different than we did the year before in [2014] when we stayed relatively healthy. So that was really frustrating. With that being said, we tried to amp up our guys’ consciousness of nutrition .... what they’re doing in the weight room.”

Rodriguez confirmed redshirt freshman wide receiver Devaughn Cooper is no longer with the team.

“I can’t tell you a whole lot about what he’s doing or where he’s going. I know he’s communicated again back with us, but I haven’t talked to him, so I don’t know where he’s at,” he said. “But we have a bunch of wideouts. We had eight or nine new ones out there this morning.”

Could Cooper return to Arizona?

“Until they talk to me and I approve that, that’s not going to happen,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said he tried to hire a long-time NFL coach as a football analyst, but was not allowed to because that coach had worked with one of Arizona’s walk-ons before.

“It’s ridiculous,” Rodriguez said. “The people that makes these’s worse than senators in Congress.”

Rodriguez also discussed the hiring of Chuck Cecil. You can find our writeup for that here.

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire