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Khalil Tate’s return, Grant Gunnell’s arrival set Arizona up well at QB moving forward

khalil-tate-arizona-wildcats-heisman-quarterback-senior-2019-training-camp-preseason-healthy-ankle Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If Kevin Sumlin’s long coaching career has taught him one thing, it’s that you can never have too many players on the roster at a particular position. This includes quarterback, the lone spot that tends to have the least amount of change during the course of a game.

The Arizona Wildcats ended the 2018 season with five scholarship QBs on the roster, and barring any departures they will begin spring practice with six. And the two most important members of that sextet, Khalil Tate and Grant Gunnell, had their future presence confirmed on Wednesday.

On the same day that Gunnell, one of Arizona’s most-prized members of the 2019 recruiting class, signed his national letter of intent, Sumlin confirmed Tate would return for his senior season.

“He’s excited to be coming back, excited to get back to work,” Sumlin said of Tate, who had been rumored to be considering leaving either for the NFL Draft or another program as a transfer. “More than anything else he talked about being excited to come back here and get started in spring. Get better at some of the things he needs to work on, how he can get better.”

Tate’s 2018 season was one that began with enormous expectations, including a Sports Illustrated cover, but never manifested in the way anyone thought. A change in offensive scheme, combined with a left ankle injury suffered in the second game of the year, handicapped Tate’s running ability.

Despite that, he still finished with 2,530 passing yards and 26 touchdowns. That TD count was fifth-most in school history and most since Anu Solomon had 28 in 2014.

Tate’s return ensures Arizona will have an experienced passer in a quarterback room that, otherwise, would have been fairly green. Junior-to-be Rhett Rodriguez has appeared in nine games, including a start in place of an injured Tate at UCLA in October, while freshman Jamarye Joiner got into two games midway through last season but retained his redshirt.

K’Hari Lane has not taken a snap in two college seasons, nor did Kevin Doyle in his first year in 2018. Gunnell will be a true freshman.

“Rhett is the only guy that’s played meaningful minutes,” Sumlin said.

Gunnell is enrolling at Arizona in January, meaning he’ll be part of spring practice.

“There’s going to be some competition, as we go forward, certainly a year from now,” Sumlin said. “You have enough guys right now that we can work with.”

Sumlin’s thoughts on Gunnell

The new guy in the room, come spring ball, comes with some pretty good accolades attached to him. So it goes when you pass names like Nick Foles and Drew Brees en route to throwing for 16,108 yards, the most in Texas high school history.

“Last time I checked there’s been some pretty good quarterbacks there,” Sumlin said of Gunnell. “That’s a heck of a statistic.”

The 6-foot-6, 192-pound Gunnell is a 3-star prospect that 247Sports rates as the No. 403 player in the 2019 class. He’s ranked 15th among pro-style passers.

“He’s a tall guy, he can throw it,” Sumlin said. “He’s thrown it a lot and likes to throw it. He’s smart and has won a lot of games. That combination is something you look for, something I look for.”