Right now, the only thing keeping B.J. Denker from being the Arizona Wildcats’ starting quarterback — at least on paper — is a two-letter word.
The senior from Torrance, Calif., is listed on the top line for QBs on the UA’s first depth chart of the season, which was released Monday. But right after his name is the word “or.”
The depth chart lists Denker or Jesse Scroggins or Javelle Allen as the possible starter for Friday night’s opener against NAU.
But it was hard to listen to coach Rich Rodriguez speak during his first news conference of the season on Monday and think anyone other than Denker will be the first QB lining up behind center Friday.
“B.J. Denker was the front-runner coming in, and then in the beginning of camp there was a mix all the way around,” Rodriguez said Monday. “In the last week or so, B.J. has gotten better. So, he’s still the front-runner.”
Combine that comment with the fact that Denker worked mostly with the first group throughout fall practice, and it seems the left-hander will be the starter.
Denker said his routine will stay the same this week, whether he’s the man or not.
“I’m still preparing the same way,” Denker said. “I’m still preparing like I am the starter. I’m not not trying to get better or get smarter or get in the film room because I haven’t been named the starter. There’s no difference.”
The senior said he’s not surprised his coach hasn’t formally announced who will take the first snap on Friday.
“He’s smart; he knows what he’s doing,” Denker said about Rodriguez. “He likes to play mind games with us, with the media, with the other team. He’s trying to drag it out as long as possible.”
Even if Denker is the starter, Rodriguez said Monday he could play two, three or even four quarterbacks against NAU.
Scroggins’ quest for the job has been hurt by injuries. The coach said the former USC quarterback is still playing catch-up after missing nearly all of spring drills recovering from offseason foot surgery and then suffering a concussion before fall camp.
“I think missing the practices in the spring and missing a few this fall camp has set him back a little bit,” Rodriguez said. “He’s trying to get caught up. There were a couple of days, when he was out, that Javelle played pretty well. Jesse is still getting reps, but he missed enough time to set him back a little bit.”
Neal, Cats still waiting
Rodriguez said the UA still hasn’t heard from the NCAA about receiver Davonte’ Neal’s eligibility for the upcoming season.
Neal, a Notre Dame transfer, is seeking a hardship appeal to be able to play right away this season. Rodriguez said last month he didn’t think Neal would be cleared, but on Monday said he’s trying to be optimistic about the situation.
“He’s still practicing with us; he’s enrolled in classes,” Rodriguez said. “We may find something out this week about Davonte’. To me, it seems like we should have found something out by now. I don’t know why it’s taking so long. He’s had a great attitude. I think the decision will ultimately come down pretty soon.
“I wouldn’t gather a guess what the NCAA is looking at.”
The coach said Neal is mostly working with the scout team in practice.
LB Jackson not listed
The depth chart included a couple of mini-surprises on defense.
Sir Thomas Jackson, who started 12 of the UA’s 13 games last season at linebacker, isn’t listed on the two-deep. Jackson is healthy and Rodriguez said he will likely play some on Friday. But for the time being, it seems he’s been passed over by sophomore Keoni Bush-Loo and freshman Scooby Wright.
The right cornerback spot seems to be up for grabs between seniors Shaquille Richardson and Derrick Rainey. Richardson was thought to be the starter, but is facing some competition from Rainey.
Jonathan McKnight, unsurprisingly, is listed as the starter at left corner.
UA may land Cal LB
Former Cal linebacker David Wilkerson was a spectator at the UA’s practice Monday night and could join the Wildcats this season.
Wilkerson, who was ranked as a four-star recruit in 2010 by the Scout.com recruiting service, announced he was leaving Cal earlier this month.
He will have to sit out the upcoming season and would likely join the UA program as a preferred walk-on.
Out of Monte Vista High School in Danville, Calif., Wilkerson had offers from Cal, Michigan (Rodriguez’s staff), Nebraska and Oregon.
Wilkerson missed last season with an ankle injury. The San Francisco Chronicle reported the linebacker was slated to be a backup this season for Cal, but had been passed by on the depth chart, leaving him looking for somewhere else to play out his eligibility.
As a sophomore in 2011, Wilkerson played in 10 games and made three starts for the Golden Bears. He had 17 tackles, with 5½ going for loss. His true freshman season in 2010 was cut short by a season-ending injury, and he was granted a medical redshirt season.
Denker said the UA will wear blue jerseys, blue pants and copper helmets for Friday’s opener at Arizona Stadium.
Left tackle Mickey Baucus missed a couple of practices last week with an injury. If the junior isn’t ready for Friday’s opener, Rodriguez said guard Chris Putton would slide over and play tackle.
Lene Maiava or Faitele Faafoi would likely play guard if Putton moves over.
True freshman Khari McGee has moved from quarterback to wide receiver.
Rodriguez said the staff recruited McGee as a quarterback, but knew he was a good enough athlete to play a couple of different positions.