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Coaches still waiting for QB to emerge as Arizona's training camp enters Week 2
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ARIZONA FOOTBALL

Coaches still waiting for QB to emerge as Arizona's training camp enters Week 2

Arizona quarterbacks Will Plummer, left, and Gunner Cruz took the majority of reps in Friday morning’s practice at the Dick Tomey Practice Fields. Quarterbacks coach Jimmie Dougherty, center, watched intently as they went through their progressions.

Jedd Fisch likes to use a golf analogy regarding the Arizona Wildcats’ quarterback competition. He has made multiple references to “moving day” — a term often used to describe the volatility of the third round of PGA Tour events.

As Arizona enters its second week of training camp, Fisch is still waiting for someone to make a move. He conceded Friday that he doesn’t have a great feel for “the leaderboard” as of yet — a possibly worrisome sign given how many practice reps two of the combatants have had since spring.

“We’ve gotta figure out our quarterback position, who’s gonna become our starter,” Fisch said. “We’ve gotta come up with that decision sooner rather than later.”

Fisch is trying to be patient and let the process play out. The Wildcats haven’t held a full-fledged scrimmage yet. The first of two is slated for Sunday night at Arizona Stadium.

But Fisch also knows the Sept. 4 opener against BYU isn’t that far away. He knows the three quarterbacks battling for the job can’t take a third of the snaps apiece in perpetuity.

In a sign that that might be changing, Gunner Cruz and Will Plummer took the majority of the reps Friday while Jordan McCloud was the third man in. The order has rotated daily, so it remains to be seen if that rotation will stick over the weekend.

Regardless, Fisch is looking for one of them to string together several good practices in a row.

“One of these days we have to separate ourselves,” he said. “You can’t just have a great day, then not a great day.”

Fisch broke down some of the issues the quarterbacks are having.

Cruz: “Gunner has a big arm, and then misses the ball down the field or is late (with) it.”

Plummer: “Will has a very accurate throwing motion, very clean, but we’ve got to be cleaner at the line of scrimmage.”

McCloud: “Jordan (has) got to make more throws down the field. We can’t leave stuff ... inside. You can’t miss outside-the-numbers throws inside. If you do that it’s interceptions, and it’s interceptions for touchdowns.”

Fisch concluded by saying: “We’ve got to find the guy that’s going to make the least amount of mistakes. That’ll be the key right now.”

If that’s the No. 1 criteria, Cruz might have an edge. He has done a good job of protecting the ball — keeping it in the fairway, if you will. But he also has held onto it too long at times, and that could lead to sacks in real games.

Jordan McCloud wings a pass at Friday morning's practice on campus.

Plummer gets rid of the ball the quickest and has made the most plays. But he also has thrown the most interceptions, including one Friday. He’s the golfer who can cut off the corner on a dogleg but also might put his ball in the rough.

McCloud is struggling to make the proverbial cut at the moment, an unsurprising development given that he didn’t arrive on campus until June. He’s running out of time to make up ground.

Hodge heating up

Arizona added five linebackers via the NCAA transfer portal. The least heralded among them has made the strongest early impression.

Rashie Hodge Jr., via New Mexico State, has been buzzing around the practice field this week. After recording three tackles for losses Thursday, including a sack, Hodge had an interception Friday (the aforementioned pick of Plummer). He also played perfect coverage on a sideline pass intended for tailback Michael Wiley that fell incomplete.

“I saw a guy flash, make a play, flash, make a play,” defensive line coach Ricky Hunley said. “One thing that we can’t teach is speed, and he’s got it.”

Hodge attended Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix and Glendale Community College before playing for NMSU in 2019. He started 11 of 12 games for the Aggies, recording 90 tackles, including 10 tackles for loss. The Aggies didn’t play last season because of the pandemic.

Hodge is listed at 5-11, 214 pounds and seems well suited to serve as a nickel linebacker in Don Brown’s scheme, if not more.

“Rashie Hodge’s name in the last 24 hours has circulated probably the most in our building,” Fisch said. “It’s because he’s fast and explosive.

“He’s working his tail off. He showed up here and said, ‘Coach, I just want to be a part of this team.’ You watch him every day, you watch his excitement, his energy, how quickly he hits, and it’s pretty impressive.”

Extra points

Tight end Bryce Wolma made a lunging touchdown catch on a pass from Cruz in 11-on-11 work Friday. Wolma and Alex Lines appear to be the top two tight ends.

Receiver BJ Casteel broke free down the right sideline for a touchdown on a pass from Plummer during the last outdoor 11-on-11 session.

Defensive end Nahe Sulunga and linebackers Kenny Hebert and Malik Reed had sacks during 11-on-11.

Freshman Stevie Rocker Jr. might be the No. 2 tailback at the moment behind Wiley. Rocker continues to impress. Drake Anderson remains in the top three.

Hunley seeks four things from his players — attitude, effort, knowing assignments and staying out of trouble off the field. “You can do those four things, you can stick around for a while,” Hunley said. “You can’t, get on with your life’s work.”

The defensive tackle group was depleted by injuries. Starters Trevon Mason and Kyon Barrs were out, as were young backups Paris Shand and Shontrail Key. Dion Wilson Jr. and Alex Navarro-Silva moved up to the first unit. Veterans Aaron Blackwell and Myles Tapusoa are still playing catchup after missing spring.

Hunley on Wilson, a redshirt freshman with good size (6-4, 285): “‘Tank’ has been a pleasant surprise. He’s been spot on with all of his assignments. He’s been giving great effort. And he doesn’t say boo. He just works hard and continues to get better.”

Cornerback Treydan Stukes returned after missing the last several practices.

Brown compared cornerback Christian Roland-Wallace to Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Byron Jones, two defensive backs Brown coached at Connecticut who are still in the NFL.

Brown on freshman Kolbe Cage, who moved from safety to weak-side linebacker despite being undersized (6-0, 205) at this point in his career: “He’s a little light in the butt. But we’ve made that move because that’s where he’s going to play in his future. ... He’s a run-and-hit guy. So we’re going to let him run and hit.”

In a break from tradition, Fisch had the winning side run during the scrimmage-like portion of Thursday night’s fully padded practice. “We treated it like ... playoffs,” Fisch said. “If you win, you advance. If you lose, you watch. You earn the right to get better. If you win a competition — just like if you win a game or win a match — you play the next round. So in this case, you go run.”

The Wildcats worked out in helmets without pads. They will wear shoulder pads Saturday morning and full pads Sunday evening for the scrimmage. Both weekend practices will be accompanied by fan fests.

Contact sports reporter Michael Lev at 573-4148 or mlev@tucson.com. On Twitter @michaeljlev


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