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What condition are Arizona’s quarterbacks in heading into spring practice?

Wildcats have Khalil Tate back, but who will be his backup?

arizona-wildcats-spring-football-practice-report-quarterbacks-khalil-tate-grant-gunnell-kevin-sumlin Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This is the first in a series of reports in which we try to determine if the Arizona Wildcats’ position groups are in strong, stable, unstable, serious or critical condition heading into spring ball, which begins Monday. First up this year are the quarterbacks.

Returning Starter: Khalil Tate

Backups: Kevin Doyle, Jamarye Joiner, Rhett Rodriguez

New Addition: Grant Gunnell

The 2018 season was not at all what we had expected. Arizona was returning one of the most electrifying players in all of college football under an improved coaching staff in a weaker conference. It gave everyone hope for a Pac-12 South championship.

But quarterback play was questionable all season. Between injuries, play-calling and a lack of experience, hope quickly went out the window as each week passed. The offense just didn’t look the same as it did under Rich Rodriguez.

There was heated debate all season regarding the quarterbacks. How badly was Tate injured? Is offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone forcing Tate to be a pocket passer? Is Tate out to prove he’s more than a runner? Will we ever see Kevin Doyle get a shot? Are we over Khalil Tate? The questions were countless.

Tate looked much better as a passer last season, and while his stats are a bit skewed starting two more games in 2018 than 2017, his statistics were far better as well.

He completed 170 of his 302 attempts fora 56 percent completion rate, throwing for 2,530 yards and 26 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. In 2017 he completed 62 percent of his 179 pass attempts, throwing for 1,591 yards, 14 TDs and nine interceptions.

There were plenty of forced throws and poor decision-making in 2018. He still developed far more as a passer, but that came at a cost.

The big difference was on the ground, where Tate rushed just 74 times for 224 yards and two TDs. For comparison, he ran over twice as much (153 attempts) for 1,411 yards and 12 touchdowns the year before.

Tate will enter the spring as the starting quarterback, but perhaps the young depth below takes a big leap this spring to challenge him for the starting role.

Rhett Rodriguez is the veteran of the backups. He got his first career start last October at UCLA and nearly led Arizona to a huge win no one was expecting at the time. He finished the season completing 52 percent of his passes for 516 yards, three TDs and two picks.

With Rodriguez, you have the high-IQ guy who is a little undersized and lacks the arm strength. But when he is in you know he’s going to understand the defense and know where to put the ball. Kevin Sumlin and staff opted for him as the short-term starter so we’ll see if Rodriguez can retain that spot heading into 2019.

A RichRod recruit, Jamarye Joiner has a nearly identical skillset to Tate with explosive speed and long-ball potential. He saw playing time on a few occasions, but each time he was put into a very poor situation that was going to be hard for him to succeed in.

In his limited action he threw four passes, completing three, for 17 yards. He ended up netting one rushing yard on seven attempts.

It was truly a disservice to a true freshman quarterback, and it was hard to expect much out of him when he gets thrown in backed up into his own end zone against Cal or goes in cold at Utah, but at least he was able to get some game reps and carry that into the off-season. Depending on the direction that the staff goes with, he’s an easy replacement that can take over a series without totally disrupting the game flow. It all depends on how he can progress this off-season.

Fellow true freshman Kevin Doyle did not see the field last season, which was surprising given the desperate times. Previously committed to Michigan, Mazzone was able to make a late push and add him to the 2018 class. Being a hand-picked quarterback, and an extremely talented prep prospect, it was a bit disappointing that he didn’t get a chance to compete, especially given the new redshirt rules.

He has good size at 6-foot-3, an accurate arm and some mobility that can make him dangerous. He’s going to need a big spring to show some improvement and force his way onto the depth chart.

Lastly is perhaps the most intriguing quarterback of the bunch, Grant Gunnell. At the time of his commitment he was a borderline five-star prospect ranked inside the top 50, turning down LSU and Ohio State in the process. He shas ince dropped to a three-star prospect ranked outside the top 400, despite the numerous awards and records he claimed during his senior season.

He graduated early and enrolled for the spring, getting him a jump start to his college career. He also brought his No. 1 high school target and four-star receiver Jalen Curry with him as well, giving him a little chemistry while he transitions to the college game.

He’s a smooth 6-foot-6 specimen who has played in a lot of football games and didn’t lose much. He has great pocket presence, mobility and can make all throws you need to. If all things shake out, he’s Arizona’s long-term solution at quarterback and the eventual starting quarterback.

If he has a strong spring, perhaps his career as starting quarterback comes this season.

Condition: Stable

Last year I had the quarterback group as strong, despite having a weaker group in total given the inexperience the backups had. This year I’ll say as a whole there is more talent from top to bottom, but I just can’t get myself to say it’s a strong group.

Despite being year two in the new system, I think Tate is what he is at this point and don’t buy into the big-leap progression and development thought-process. But knowing what we received last season, the floor does seem higher in 2019.

Tate is coming in as the starting quarterback, but all the questions we had last season still seem to apply as we enter this season.


What condition are Arizona’s quarterbacks in?

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