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Familiarity with system, extra ‘body armor’ making Arizona QB Jayden de Laura more comfortable in pocket

arizona-wildcats-jayden-delaura-football-wsu-quarterback-transfer-weight-injury-2022 Arizona Athletics

Jayden de Laura has been penciled in as Arizona’s starting quarterback for 2022 pretty much from the moment he decided to transfer there from Washington State in January. Nothing about his play in spring practice changed that, even though the player himself wasn’t particularly impressed with the performance.

“I wasn’t really confident with the plays,” de Laura said Wednesday after Arizona’s first preseason practice. “I wouldn’t say I was just thrown out there, but I didn’t really have everything underneath me. I was just going out there trying to improvise, trying to make stuff happen. I know coming into fall camp I got everything down.”

The reigning Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year bulked up since spring, packing 205 pounds onto his 6-foot frame. That’s up from the 185 he played at with WSU, where he threw for nearly 2,800 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2021 (including 259 yards and four scores against the UA last November in Pullman).

“I kind of told (strength coach Tyler Owens), when I first got here, was I wanted to get back to a healthy weight to where I was able to play all year and take a couple of hits,” said de Laura, who missed one game because of injury last year and was knocked out of the Cougars’ bowl game. “Set the goal to about 200. And then all spring I got up to about maybe 190 at the heaviest. I went back home for two weeks, and I came back at about 205 or 206 just in the two weeks back home. I ate a lot. And that weight just kind of stuck to me.

“Honestly, you just got to prepare for the worst,” he said. “You don’t really know what’s gonna happen. As long as I’m prepared I know I can make it make it through the game if worse comes to worse.”

Coach Jedd Fisch said de Laura has gained 24 pounds since his arrival in Tucson in January, and every pound of what he called “body armor” matters when it comes to keeping the QB from getting too beat up in the pocket.

“These guys take hits and you need to be able to protect yourself,” Fisch said. “And he needed some armor in there. He’s stronger, faster. And most importantly, I think his body is far more protected than it would have been in a lighter way.”

When taking out sack yardage, de Laura ran for 208 yards with nine carries going for 10-plus yards in 2021. Arizona is giving him the greenlight to freelance, when necessary, but he plans to stick within the pro-style system as much as possible.

“I’m trying to do it that much this year,” he said. “This system works. It’s proven. I mean, it’s obviously proven in NFL to work, so I feel like we got the guys to do it. We got the whole team to do it. Now we just have to stay on it and execute it. You don’t see Matt Stafford run around like 10 plays a game.”

Unlike a year ago, when Arizona’s quarterback situation was so uncertain that the trio of Gunner Cruz, Will Plummer and Jordan McCloud rotated with the first-team offense all camp, de Laura is locked into that spot with McCloud and Noah Fifita battling for the backup job. But that doesn’t mean de Laura doesn’t still have a lot to learn before opening day, Fisch said.

“He needs a lot of coaching,” Fisch said. “He needs to learn a whole new offense. Whole new verbiage, fundamentals we teach are a little bit different, technique. We want to balance out playmaking ability with living in the pocket and recognizing the importance of going through progressions and reads. Coach (Jimmie) Doherty has done a great job of continuing to work with him to teach him what we’re trying to get done. Get him to become a, let’s call it a better communicator, louder communicator, more confident in what we’re doing. So he needs to work in every area.”