Spring football for the Arizona Wildcats is starting a little later than it has in recent years, but it’s almost here. With Kevin Sumlin’s first full practice as UA coach scheduled for March 19, we will examine the state of his team over the next several weekdays. We’ll begin with the most important position on the field.
Who’s here: Khalil Tate (6-2, 215, JR), K’Hari Lane (6-1, 245, RS FR), Rhett Rodriguez (6-0, 186, SO), Andrew Tovar (6-2, 169, RS FR)
Who’s coming: Kevin Doyle (6-3, 210, FR), Jamarye Joiner (6-2, 200, FR)
The big question: Who will emerge as Tate’s primary backup?
If Tate remains healthy and continues to improve, it’s reasonable to assume Arizona will be competitive in every game it plays this season. If he gets hurt and misses any significant chunk of time, well, things will get interesting.
With Brandon Dawkins announcing that he will transfer after graduating in May – and the possibility of Rodriguez following suit – the Wildcats face the prospect of not having a single QB on the roster with college experience except Tate.
This is not an uncommon occurrence; heck, some teams face this prospect with their projected starters. (This isn’t quite the case at USC, but it’s close.) It’s worrisome nonetheless.
You’d feel better about the situation if Rodriguez were to stick around. He is currently in school, on the roster and planning to participate in spring ball. Beyond that, his future is unclear.
Rodriguez faces an unusual set of circumstances, to say the least. The school he is attending fired his father. Is Rhett just supposed to forget about that and pledge his undying loyalty to the Wildcats and Sumlin?
Is the younger Rodriguez going to be allowed to talk to us media types – and if so, are we allowed to ask about his dad? If Rhett remains on the team, will Rich and Rita come see him play at Arizona Stadium? Talk about awkward.
I’m not trying to make light of this situation, by the way. Rhett’s in a weird, unenviable position, through no fault of his own. It’d be perfectly understandable if he decided to leave. If he ends up staying – which seems, from the outside, like the less likely outcome – he’d provide Arizona with reassuring depth and a positive presence in the QB room.
The only other scholarship quarterback on the roster is Lane. Frankly, we don’t know much about him.
We caught glimpses of Lane in training camp. He flashed a powerful arm and intriguing athleticism, and that was when he wasn’t in tiptop shape. Lane is presumably fitter and better acclimated now. But he remains a project. Additionally, like all the other QBs, he has to learn a new offense.
It’s entirely possible that Doyle or Joiner will leapfrog Lane (and/or Rodriguez) in training camp. The Wildcats got a ton of production out of their freshman class last year. But none of those guys played quarterback.
Ideally, Lane will be the one making the leap this spring, earning the trust of the coaching staff and establishing himself as the clear No. 2. Tate probably won’t run quite as much under Sumlin and Noel Mazzone. But the dynamic junior still will run, and he’s never been one to shy away from contact.
Whether it comes into focus by the end of spring or the end of training camp, Arizona needs to have a backup plan.