When the Arizona Wildcats opened training camp earlier this month, Jesse Scroggins and Jerrard Randall seemed to be the early frontrunners at quarterback.
Scroggins, a senior, had a strong spring and showed improvement following a disappointing 2013.
Randall, the best athlete of the four contenders, had a summer to learn Rich Rodriguez’s offense and impressed coaches with his strong arm and quick feet.
But with the season opener less than two weeks away, both quarterbacks are swimming upstream in their pursuit of a starting spot.
Scroggins revealed Sunday that he was involved in a car accident this summer that resulted in a concussion. It was his second head injury in less than a year.
“It slowed me down this summer,” Scroggins said. “The guy basically T-boned me. I feel like I’ve just had a case of bad luck.”
The quarterback had a sluggish start to training camp, and the accident may explain why.
Randall, as much as he studied the playbook and watched film, has had a difficult time perfecting the UA’s spread offense.
The result has been more reps with the third and fourth strings.
“I know every play (coach Rich Rodriguez) has. Every play,” Randall said. “But it’s not about knowing them, it’s about owning the plays. I’m not owning the plays yet. I need to get there.”
Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Anu Solomon has emerged as the new leader at the position. He’s taken the majority of the snaps with the first-team offense the past two weeks.
But Rodriguez insists he hasn’t made a decision yet.
“I think it’s still a competition,” Randall said. “I think I’m still there. I think I’m still in the mix. I don’t know about starting right away, but when I do get in, I’ll be ready.”
Randall knows his issues are more mental than physical.
The 6-foot-1-inch, 179-pound quarterback can do everything on the field. He just doesn’t always do it the right way.
“I’m kinda behind the eight-ball mentally,” Randall said. “Physically, I get the job done. I should adapt a little more as we keep going. The transition is up and down sometimes. Some days I look good and some days I look bad.
“That’s part of being a quarterback.”
Randall can be tentative on the field. The quarterback, who transferred to Arizona from Northeast Mississippi Community College after two seasons at LSU, has such a strong arm that he’s gotten in the habit of waiting to make sure his receiver is open before throwing.
Rodriguez wants Randall to trust his receivers more and throw the ball quicker. The coach’s entire offense is based on timing, and Randall’s has been off.
“You have to be decisive; you have to have it all down pat,” Randall said. “I don’t have it to where I can dissect the defense and run from the defensive line and know what my receivers can do. I’m the guy who holds the ball and makes sure guys are open.”
Scroggins makes decision faster, but has his own issues. He seems like the most capable challenger to Solomon with Connor Brewer splitting time with Randall on the third and fourth teams.
But the senior is still trying to recover from his slow start to camp.
He doesn’t blame it on the accident as much as he does his own anxiety.
“When I first started camp, I was really, really anxious because it’s my last year,” Scroggins said. “I felt like I had to prove something. Coach sat me down, and said, ‘You need to adapt and relax. When you relax, you’re smooth.’
“It’s all about relaxing and taking it play by play and not doing everything at 100 miles per hour.”
Rodriguez routinely tells Scroggins that he’s improving. The quarterback is so close to breaking through that he can practically taste it.
See, Rodriguez gives out candy bars to the top performers in each practice.
“I’ve gotten a few Snickers lately,” Scroggins said with a smile.
They key to his improvement?
“I’m not throwing rockets anymore,” Scroggins said. “I got my ‘touch ball’ right. I got my timing right, my accuracy right. I know my protections. Even though the defenses are disguising, I know what I’m doing.”
Rodriguez said the competition between Solomon, Scroggins, Randall and Brewer will continue through this week. As for when or if he’ll name a starter?
“I might do it on Twitter like an hour before the game,” Rodriguez said, laughing. “So I can be like the new Greg Byrne of social media. We’ll do whatever we feel like.”
- Linebacker Keoni Bush-Loo is now listed on the UA’s roster as Makani Kema-Kaleiwahea. He told the Star earlier this month he was going to change his name to honor his grandmother.
He’s in the process of a legal name change.
- Linebacker Hank Hobson has changed jersey numbers from No. 19 to 59. A backup linebacker and special teams contributor, it’s possible Hobson could be on the field at the same time as receiver DaVonte’ Neal, who also wears No. 19.
Rodriguez said last week Neal could get some snaps this week at cornerback. The number change is an indication that could happen.