Khalil Tate is the starting quarterback for the Arizona Wildcats. There’s no question about that.
But behind Tate are six inexperienced passers. Together, they have one completion at the collegiate level.
Arizona recently added Luke Ashworth to the roster, a walk-on from Arcadia High School (Phoenix, AZ). Andrew Tovar enters his second year in the program as a redshirt freshman walk-on from Cathdral High School (Los Angeles).
Arizona brought in two high-end 3-star quarterbacks in the latest recruiting cycle, the first being Rich Rodriguez’ long-time commit Jamarye Joiner, a hometown product that replicates the electrifying skill set of Tate.
But when Kevin Sumlin arrived with Noel Mazzone, the two made a push for Kevin Doyle, a pocket passer and former Michigan commit.
Rhett Rodriguez is the most experienced quarterback of the crop, making appearances against NAU and UTEP, holding the lone completion among the backup quarterbacks.
Then there’s K’Hari Lane, the 6-foot-1, 225-pound quarterback who redshirted as a freshman last season and took snaps as the No. 2 QB behind Tate this spring.
“I think he’s done good out there,” Mazzone said about Lane after the second fall camp practice. “With him, I think what he’s trying to be now is a more consistent player. It can’t be great play, great play, average play, bad play, bad play. We need him to be a little more consistent.”
While Lane had the entire spring as the No. 2 guy, the newcomers’ talent is hard to overlook, and they are serious contenders for the backup spot, if not the favorites for it.
“I’m really excited about three young guys we have,” Mazzone said. “Jamarye, Kevin Doyle and Luke. I think they all have a really good skill set. I like it because there’s some competition in the room.”
While there is some heavy competition for the two-deep, Mazzone says he won’t start assessing the quarterbacks and their progress for a few more practices.
“It’s still so early, it’s hard to say anything about the young guys because they’re still trying to figure out where the locker room is,” Mazzone joked. “To be honest with you, right now, the first three days, I want to bring the young kids up to speed, so everyone is on a level playing field.”
Once the freshmen are in a good spot, Mazzone is going to start narrowing his down his options.
“And like I told them in a meeting today, at some point, over the next week and a half or so, the competition begins,” he said. “It’s a level playing field. May the best man stand.”
Both Doyle and Joiner have the talent to win the backup job, but it comes down to their ability to process the playbook and step up as a leader, which can be difficult for those who just stepped on campus.
“At this point right now the hard part for quarterbacks is if they can get the terminology,” Mazzone said. “When you’re a tempo offense you don’t huddle, getting the signal, getting the other 10 guys on the same page, it’s just all the mechanics of playing the position.”
Mazzone wants to start with the basics, and ease the transition from high school to the Pac-12.
“I’m really not concerned right now about them making the wrong decisions in the course of the play,” he said. “The first is, ‘can we get everyone lined up? Can we get them going in the right direction? And do you know your assignment?’”
Doyle is in favorable situation. The new staff made him a priority on the recruiting trail, despite already having Joiner secured. And it is always interesting to see the dynamic between the new coaching staff and the recruits of the old coaching staff.
“You know, I think with Kevin, he didn’t play a lot of football,” Mazzone said. “He transferred as a high school guy. I think he’s got a really nice skill set. I like that he’s tall, I like his arm strength, he’s smart, he’s got all those types of things.
“I think the same with him and Jamarye, I’m really excited about both those guys. I think just for them, they just have to play more football.”
The new redshirt rule helps the development of quarterbacks immensely, allowing any them to play in up to four games in a season without losing their redshirt status.
Mazzone thinks it’s “awesome.”
“You’ve got kids like that, they know they’re practicing not just to be the scout team guy all year, but they have a chance to get in football games and you want to get those guys in football games, so I think it’s a great rule,” he said.
“They get four games, and it can happen at any time in the season so those two are a great example because you have two guys like that that hopefully, in the course of a season, you get them into a football game instead of just showing up next year and they’ve never taken a snap in the stadium.”