Arizona remains a mystery heading into opener
TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez did something this fall he hadn’t done in, well, forever as a football coach.
And, no, we’re not talking about his continued secrecy regarding a starting quarterback. That, apparently, won’t be known until the Wildcats take their first snap on Friday night against Northern Arizona.
But from Rodriguez’s perspective, the greater mystery will be how the Wildcats respond to a training camp that was light on hitting.
The upside is that preseason camp has “been relatively injury free,” Rodriguez said, but “it does make me a little bit nervous going into the first game with our blocking and tackling.”
Light hitting means fewer injuries. And for Arizona, a team with depth problems, that’s a good thing.
“The colleges I have talked to have all cut back a little bit,” Rodriguez said. “More than anything it’s because of the concussion issues.”
The reviews from the players were a matter of perspective.
“I thought it was great,” said senior running back Daniel Jenkins. “I think it was a smart coaching move on (Rodriguez’s) part. We had a tremendous decrease in injuries, nicks and knacks.
“There wasn’t the usually beating of fall camp, but still got a lot of work in,” he said.
Senior defensive lineman Tevin Hood said he didn’t like it.
“I know the offense liked it, but I was mad,” he said. “You have to go full speed, but you have to tone it down. You can’t play defensive line or offensive line and not have contact. But it did keep people healthy, so that’s good.”
History doesn’t offer much in the way of comparison, but one prior example turned out horribly, although the competition level was much higher. Back in 1999, No. 4 ranked Arizona went to State College, Pa., to face No. 3 Penn State.
Then-UA coach Dick Tomey opted for a light-hitting camp. The Wildcats were pummeled 41-7 by the Nittany Lions and had a short stay in the national rankings.
As for the quarterback situation, it was the first question Rodriguez heard Monday, and he continued to play it coy.
He said he felt no special need to make that announcement on Monday.
“We don’t treat the quarterback position different than any other position,” Rodriguez said. “You could be starting on Tuesday and not on Wednesday. With the inexperience we have, it’s an ongoing competition. We treat this position like the rest of them; rolling guys in and getting them a lot of reps. Whoever the best one is at game time gets the start.”
Rodriguez repeated his earlier statement that senior B.J. Denker is the “front-runner” and has improved as camp has progressed. He’s been listed as the No. 1 starter on the recently released depth chart.
Jesse Scroggins is listed as No. 2, with Javelle Allen at No. 3.
“We could play three or four,” Rodriguez said. “Four is probably the most.”
Another great unknown
Uncertainty seems to be the theme of the week, as it also applies to junior All-America running back Ka’Deem Carey, who was cited during the off-season for misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct — though the charges eventually were dropped.
Rodriguez was quoted last month as saying he’d determine Carey’s discipline during camp.
On Monday night, Rodriguez said he “probably has determined” what will be done and will “figure it out by the end of the week” but hasn’t discussed it with Carey or his coaching staff.
Rodriguez said “there’s a lot of stuff can happen” when asked if Carey could miss the whole game against the Lumberjacks.
Carey led the nation in rushing last season with 1,929 yards, averaging 6.37 per carry, and ran for a school-record 23 touchdowns.
In one final note regarding matters yet to be determined, there is still no word from the NCAA on whether Notre Dame transfer DaVonte’ Neal will be eligible to play. Rodriguez had been saying it could be any day now … for the last two to three weeks. He said the same thing on Monday.
“I’m always optimistic, ain’t I,” he said. “I guess I’m more realistic. He’s had a great attitude. He’s prepared either way (it’ll go). “
Neal, a wide receiver/running back, petitioned the NCAA to play immediately and cited the need to be closer to his family, which includes an infant child.