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Explaining Jamarye Joiner’s gradual return to the quarterback position

It’s not as easy as you think

arizona-wildcats-football-jamarye-joiner-college-quarterback-receiver-fisch-plummer-2021-tucson Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Why don’t they just build the whole plane out of Jamarye Joiner?

As Arizona’s quarterback depth took hit after hit this season, both literally and figuratively, more and more fans have been clamoring for Joiner to return to the position he was recruited to play in college. If only it were that easy.

The redshirt sophomore did log 10 snaps at QB last week against Washington, up from two the previous game at Colorado, and all signs point to him getting even more reps in the backfield when Arizona (0-7, 0-4 Pac-12) visits USC on Saturday. Head coach Jedd Fisch all but confirmed that he and starting quarterback Will Plummer will become more of a tandem at the position during his Monday press conference.

“He’ll have another week of reps, so I believe that there’ll be some more opportunity to expand his package,” Fisch said.

Joiner had four carries for 25 yards and a touchdown against Washington, his first career rushing score. He was 0 for 1 passing the ball, and for the season is 1 for 2 with a 10-yard TD pass to Michael Wiley on a trick play against UCLA on Oct. 9.

For those scoring at home, that means Joiner has accounted for all of Arizona’s touchdowns in the past three games. Yet there are no plans to make him the full-time QB, shifting the offense from a pro-style into a modified spread attack.

“I feel like we’re really building an offense and still having our old offense that we have, our NFL-style offense or pro-style offense,” Joiner said Tuesday. “Still doing those plays but not going away from what I’m good at.”

That includes looking back at Joiner’s high school film, when at Vail’s Cienega High School as a senior in 2018 he threw for 2,196 yards and 26 TDs and ran for 1,399 yards and 18 scores.

“We’ve done a lot of film study of looking at my high school film,” he said. “Do you like this play? How did you guys run it, what’d you read?”

Joiner was ranked by 247Sports as the No. 18 dual-threat passer in the 2018 recruiting class, and though he committed to the UA in September 2016 he didn’t sign until after Rich Rodriguez was fired and Kevin Sumlin was hired. He took official visits to Baylor and UCF between the early and late signing periods before ultimately sticking with his pledge.

A very brief stint at QB as a true freshman—he appeared in two games midway through the season—was all he got at that spot before getting converted to receiver the following summer. That switch paid off, as Joiner led the UA in receiving yards (552) and TDs (five) in 2019.

He played much of the 2019 season with a foot injury, which resulted in surgery for a Jones fracture in his right foot in May 2020. The late start to the 2020 season, due to COVID, enabled him to play the whole year, but he only caught 12 passes for 111 yards and a TD in five games.

Joiner was poised for another breakout year at receiver in 2021 when he reinjured the foot during Arizona’s spring game, leading to a second surgery. He said this procedure added five screws and a plate to the one screw that was put in the first time—“it’s a pretty gnarly X-ray”—and all that extra metal has made him feel “a thousand times better.”

Joiner didn’t make his 2021 debut until the fourth game of the season, and didn’t catch his first pass of the season until the Colorado game, by which time he was already starting to get used in the backfield.

Now he says he’s going back and forth between the position rooms for both QB and WR, as well as alternating drills at each spot in practice. Each requires a completely different approach in terms of preparation, he said.

“Quarterback is a mental game, receiver is a mental and more physical game,” he said. “So just working on my releases as a receiver, working on my route-running when I when I do have receiver drills, and then when it comes to quarterback it’s really film study and then knowing where I’m going to go with the ball, so it’s not really anything more than what it is. I try not to make it too stressful because when you’re stressful you’re not gonna reach your maximum potential. Just just play the game. I’m not trying to overthink it. Just let my athleticism and IQ do the rest.

“Once you’re a quarterback you’re always a quarterback. It’s something that you don’t lose, it’s like riding a bike. And it really helped me play receiver, so I didn’t really think of it like I’m not gonna go back to quarterback or I’m gonna stay at receiver, it’s really like, I’m at receiver, let me ball at receiver, let me do what I have to do to help us and then (this) transpired and I’m back.”

The back-and-forth also factored into his throw to Wiley for that TD pass against UCLA. He said he initially wanted to put the ball in the corner of the end zone but didn’t think a running back could “open his hips like a receiver and go get it” so he instead threw it ahead of Wiley and let him catch it in stride.

The irony of Joiner’s first college TD of any kind coming as a wide receiver was not lost on him, considering his journey.

“I don’t know if I told Stan (Berryhill) or BJ (Casteel) a couple weeks prior, I said watch I’m gonna throw my first touchdown as a receiver,” he said. “And they laughed at me, but I was serious, I’m going to throw my first touchdown as a receiver.”