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Arizona still waiting for backup quarterback to emerge

Who’s going to back up Khalil Tate this season? That’s still anyone’s guess.

Arizona v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The only quarterback competition the Arizona Wildcats have this year is determining who’s going to backup Khalil Tate.

The season-opener is only two and a half weeks away, but it’s still anyone’s job, as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Noel Mazzone said Wednesday that none of UA’s six backups have separated from the pack.

“Thank goodness (the season) doesn’t start tomorrow,” he joked.

True freshmen Jamarye Joiner and Kevin Doyle are seen as the likeliest options to win the job, given their sheer talent. Joiner, a dual-threat quarterback, starred at local Cienega High School while Doyle, a pocket-passer, was a high-three-star recruit and once a Michigan commit.

That said, sophomore Rhett Rodriguez and redshirt freshman K’Hari Lane have been in Mazzone’s offense since the spring, putting them a step ahead schematically. There’s also walk-ons Luke Ashworth and Andrew Tovar.

But Arizona is at the point in camp where it can only give reps to so many quarterbacks, so it’s only a matter of time before a No. 2 option emerges.

Mazzone discussed that and more with the media Wednesday. Here are some of the tidbits from that conversation.

Coach (Kevin) Sumlin said the other day that you’ve reached the point where you can’t give all seven quarterbacks a ton of reps...

No, you saw today that there’s been three or four. We’ve kinda been rotating that. Obviously Khalil I think has had a really solid camp and I’m really, really excited about where he is as far as our passing game. He’s really picking that up and starting to make some good progression reads and reading and understanding coverages and those types of things.

After that, it’s just kind of a committee of guys. It’s hard. You can’t give several other guys enough reps, So we basically just kind of paired down and grab a different two every day and kind of give them a lot of reps and now today was a big scrimmage for a lot of those younger guys and and then now we gotta start making some hard decisions about those guys.”

On what each backup quarterback brings to the table...

Everybody’s got different skill sets. I think what we’re looking for is guys that can come out everyday and be consistent, which is hard when you’re not getting reps every day, right? So you’ve got to learn how to take mental reps with actually not being on the field because your opportunities aren’t like Khalil’s who’s got 50 snaps a team a day, and you might have 10. So it’s a little bit harder on those guys.

I think K’Hari is really working hard on being more consistent, instead of making two great plays and then, oh, what was that? Right now that’s where he is.

Rhett’s had a solid camp. He’s a pretty smart guy. Obviously he knows football, so he’s got to learn to play within his abilities and what he can do as a quarterback.

I’m really excited about the two young guys, Jamarye and Kevin. For both true freshmen, I think those are two guys that have definitely have the skill set, definitely love to play the game, definitely kind of get it. I like how they act as quarterbacks and for them it’s just a matter of how many reps you can get them, and then Tovar and Luke is the same thing.”

How much of an advantage do you Rhett and K’Hari have from being here in the spring?

Yeah, him, K’Hari and Tovar all have a definite advantage because they got 15 practices in this offense ahead of the other guys.

What do you hope to get out of your backup quarterback? Is it to do the same things the first guy can do?

Obviously as a play-caller in the back of your mind you know who’s in the game and kind of what his strengths are. I mean, I would hopefully play to what he does best. And obviously if it’s Kevin Doyle in there, I’m maybe not calling the exact same plays I’m calling with Khalil Tate, right?

But we don’t coach that way. We expect them all to learn all the exact same stuff and be just as well versed in the offense as the next guy.”

So you don’t put a limit on them?

No, we don’t. We don’t spoon-feed them.

What have you seen out of Khalil with his intermediate passing?

I think when he stays in his progression and his system, I think he’s been awesome. And there’s that fine line and then sometimes he gets out of it and he goes and does a little street stuff and just makes plays. I don’t want to coach that out of him. I still want that part, but at times I want them to stay within the boundaries of the offense.

What is Coach Sumlin’s level of involvement in the quarterback room?

Coach Sumlin and I have been together a long time and he’s been around a lot of great quarterbacks, so he’s invaluable. Every now and then you need that good cop, bad cop deal going, right? He’s got some great insight and so it’s nice that they can go to him. Like sometimes as a position coach, you get locked down into the details of what’s going on out there. ... instead of seeing the big picture of down-and-distance, field positioning, those types of things, which Sumlin’s really good at. So he’s back there and he keeps talking to them about that part of it, which is really good. It actually makes my job a lot easier.

So is he the good cop or the bad cop?

I can’t give that information away. Then you’re blowing the whole gig. (laughs)