RichRod sifting through pile of QBs before UA spring game

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                </div>  Rich Rodriguez made it through the lean years, but this season the cupboard is full – of quarterbacks. The third-year head football coach at University of Arizona has made […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Rich Rodriguez made it through the lean years, but this season the cupboard is full – of quarterbacks.

The third-year head football coach at University of Arizona has made it a practice throughout his career to stockpile quarterbacks.  The more the merrier.

This year he has seven from which to choose a successor to B.J. Denker.  And all of them have been showing well in spring practice.  He will have just a couple of practices left this week in a spring program that began almost exactly one month ago, before the arrival of Saturday’s spring game that will wrap up the practices until the fall session rolls around.

He won’t make any moves toward selecting a starter for the 2014 season.  RichRod doesn’t even put a depth chart out there until just before that first game of the new season.

But this spring is definitely a major departure from the last two.  When Rodriguez took over the program he inherited one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12, Matt Scott.  The talented senior got him through his inaugural season in Tucson, leading the 2012 team to an 8-5 season and a bowl win.

Then, last year he was able to count on Denker, the only one on the short list of signal callers that had any game experience.  Denker had played in six games when Scott was unavailable.  His back-ups at that position were a junior, Jesse Scroggins, who had gained some playing time at a junior college, and two freshmen.  Rodriguez held his breath and worked his way through the season.

Fortunately, he had the top rusher in the country returning from the previous year.  Ka’Deem Carey carried the load in 2013, averaging 156 yards a game as the Cats managed a 7-5 record, good enough to get them into another bowl game and another victory.

But now Rodriguez has to replace both Denker and Carey.  He isn’t likely to find another Carey, but he’s got a good group of running backs to whip into shape before the Aug. 29 opener.

He can rotate in backs and use up several good prospects.  But that’s not the case at the QB position.  Rodriguez is unlikely to do any rotating at that spot, so he’s got a tough choice in front of him.

The high-profile candidate is the local favorite, Connor Brewer, who spent his first year out of Chaparral High School at the University of Texas.  By the time his second spring rolled around, he realized getting much playing time was turning into a long shot, so he decided last July to return to Arizona and signed on with the Wildcats.  He sat out last season in accordance with NCAA transfer rules.

Brewer was one of the most celebrated quarterbacks coming out of Arizona in recent years.  He threw for 7,574 yards while starting for the Firebirds, set a state record with 100 touchdowns, and led the Scottsdale school to three state championships and posted an incredible 41-2 record during those three seasons.

ESPN ranked him as the seventh-best QB prospect in the country and 247Sports rated him the fifth-best pro-style quarterback.  And that was perhaps his biggest downside in switching over to the Arizona program because Rodriguez needs a quarterback suited to his run-option type of offense.  But the local kid has spent a season on the bench watching and on the field playing with the practice squad, so he’s undoubtedly picked up his coach’s system by now.

Brewer will be competing with Jesse Scroggins, Anu Solomon, Nick Isham, Jerrard Randall, Khari McGee, and Adam Friederichsen.  Isham and Randall are redshirt freshmen, with Isham’s playing time last season limited to serving as holder for PAT and field-goal attempts and Randall is a JUCO transfer.  McGee is a redshirt freshman from California and Friederichsen is also a redshirt from California, but is on the roster as a walk-on.

Scroggins is a redshirt senior who has the seniority, but not necessarily an edge in experience.  He spent two years at USC watching from the sidelines and another year at a California junior college where he played in eight games.  Last year was more time holding the clipboard on the sidelines behind Denker.

But Rodriguez appears happy with Scroggins’ progress during the spring practices.  “Jesse’s gotten a lot better,” says his coach.  “He was lost quite a bit his first year, like most first-year quarterbacks are, but he’s taken it to heart and played really well.”

Solomon is a redshirt freshman, but could give Brewer and the others a run for their money.  The 6’2″ signal caller was a highly-recruited four-star prospect coming out of Bishop Gorman High School in Nevada, one of the top prep programs in the country.  He won all but three of the 60 games he started for the Gaels and took the program to four state titles.  He threw for almost 3,000 yards as a senior before being redshirted his freshman year to give him more time to learn the system.

“He’s had a great spring,” says Rodriguez.  “Sometimes, when you’re redshirting like him, you take the year off mentally.  We’ve reminded him that that year is over and it’s time to compete now.  He’s made great progress and he’s definitely right in the mix for that position.”

Rodriguez and his staff are looking for someone to step out from that mix and take the lead going into fall practice. They’re making sure that all their QB hopefuls are getting a chance to show what they’ve got, with each getting a share of reps during every practice session.  Saturday’s spring game may offer some additional clues as to whom should be considered the frontrunner at this point.

But you won’t hear Rodriguez admitting that – even if he saw it.

So the guys have to look for other signs.  And maybe their coach gave them a clue after last Friday’s practice when he was talking about Scroggins: “Sometimes he will see something and you can see the smoke coming out of his ears.”

Your coach is looking for the smoke, guys.  That’s how he knows you’re getting it.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)