Editor’s note: This is the start of a weeklong positional preview series. We’ll look at Arizona’s personnel at each spot and break it down. We start today with the offensive skill positions. Up next: offensive line and tight ends on Tuesday.
When receiver Austin Hill reports for the start of fall camp Saturday, he’ll have no idea who will be throwing him passes with the first-team offense.
But like everyone following Arizona football these days, he has his theories.
“I don’t know if I have a starter in mind, but I do have a couple that should be in the last two quarterbacks that coach (Rich) Rodriguez is picking from,” Hill said. “I’m running routes with a couple of them more than the others.”
Hill isn’t the only one trying to guess which direction Rodriguez will go at quarterback when the season opens.
But the coach won’t reveal much publicly during camp, so it’ll be anybody’s guess who gets the first snap of the season.
“I may not know until kickoff,” Rodriguez said. “Last year, it wasn’t as close as it is right now. If you screw up this year, it will be the next guy’s turn.”
And that may be the philosophy at each premier offensive position this season.
It will be your time until it isn’t this fall at the skill position spots.
Rodriguez has plenty of options at running back, where he’s searching for a replacement — or six — for Ka’Deem Carey. At wide receiver, he has more talent than he’s had at any point during his time at Arizona.
Here’s a closer look at the skill positions:
Projected two-deep: No. 1: Jerrard Randall or Jesse Scroggins; No. 2: Anu Solomon or Connor Brewer
Breakdown: Our best guess is, come late-August, this race will turn into a two-man battle between Randall and Scroggins. Solomon and Brewer will enter camp with realistic chances at winning the job, but seem to be behind Randall and Scroggins at the moment.
Solomon is still learning the offense after a redshirt season, and as the youngest of the group, is still developing strength.
“I think he had a good summer,” Rodriguez said. “When I saw him, he was working really hard. I think he knows he has a chance to be in the mix.”
Rodriguez said Brewer has “a strong-enough arm” and can make all the throws, but he doesn’t have as much arm strength as Randall or Scroggins.
Of Brewer, Rodriguez said, “I don’t want him to back down from the competition. He needs to throw himself squarely into the mix and compete.”
Scroggins saw the most time with the first-team offense in the spring, and Rodriguez said he “took a big step” during that six-week stretch.
Randall has gotten more comfortable with the offense, and offers the most athleticism of all the choices.
Quotable: “I hope they got better over the summer. We can’t watch them throw, so I haven’t seen that, but I hope they’ve worked on their throwing and got that part of it down. And then they need to understand what our system is. We don’t have a whole lot different in the spring, so if they studied in the spring, they should pick it up pretty quickly when we start practicing.” — Rodriguez
Projected two-deep: No. 1: Terris Jones-Grigsby or Jared Baker; No. 2: Nick Wilson or Adonis Smith.
Breakdown: There’s not a lot of clarity at this position right now. About the only thing Rodriguez knows for sure is he won’t have Carey as an option.
The coach said running back is “wide-open” and “everyone will get a chance to show what they can do early.”
It’s unlikely the Wildcats will have a workhorse back this season like they’ve had in Carey the past two seasons.
Jones-Grigsby doesn’t offer much flash, but is dependable, and Rodriguez likes his work ethic. He also may have the best understanding of the offense.
Baker should be cleared for practice after suffering a torn ACL in the season-finale against Arizona State.
The Wildcats also added another option in the summer when former UNLV back Adonis Smith transferred to Arizona as a preferred walk-on.
Rodriguez said Wilson and freshman Jonathan Haden “both have a chance if they can learn what we’re doing fast enough.” The UA will also give carries to receivers T.J. Johnson, Samajie Grant and DaVonte’ Neal in the fall to see who handles it the best.
Arizona lost one option this summer, when former four-star recruit Pierre Cormier was forced to retire because of an injury.
Quotable: Pierre “was still behind. He was going to be a good little player, but he wasn’t in the top three. Jones-Grigsby, Jared Baker, DaVonte’, Samajie, T.J., they’ll all get a look. Adonis has got a chance. Nick Wilson is there. We’ll see how the young guys learn. We certainly have a lot of options.” — Rodriguez
Projected two-deep: Outside starters: Cayleb Jones, Trey Griffey or Nate Phillips
Outside backups: David Richards, Samajie Grant
Slot starters: DaVonte’ Neal, Austin Hill
Slot backups: T.J. Johnson, Kaelin DeBoskie
Breakdown: As many options as the Wildcats have at running back, they have more at receiver. Rodriguez said he always aims to use at least seven or eight receivers in a game, and that should be doable this season.
Hill has shed the knee brace he wore all spring after tearing his ACL before the 2013 season. He’s regaining his speed and ability to cut, and should be 100 percent by the team’s first game.
Jones and Neal have been the stars of the practice field since transferring last year.
They both now have a chance to bring those skills to the field on game days, and are both projected starters.
Rodriguez gushed about Griffey last week, saying, “Trey needed another year to get stronger and know what we were doing. But by the end of the year, he was a guy that could play consistently on the outside.”
He’ll battle with Phillips, who missed the spring with an offseason shoulder injury. Richards, Grant, Johnson, DeBoskie and Johnny Jackson should all add depth and give Rodriguez talented options as backups.
Quotable: “I definitely think the guys look up to me. I’ve been the dynamic playmaker that all the other receivers want to be. Even if they don’t want to admit it, I think they look up to me and watch me a little more closely than the other receivers. It’s hard, because receivers are hardheaded, so it’s hard to be a true, true leader of receivers. But I definitely like to speak through my actions and be a leader.” — Hill