The Arizona Wildcats are expected to release their Week 1 depth chart Monday, at which point some personnel questions will be answered.
But not all of them.
The depth chart is sure to be filled with “AND” and “OR” designations, which can be frustrating for fans and media members. But it also reflects the reality at most college football programs: There are very few sure things in this sport at this level.
UA coach Rich Rodriguez doesn’t even like to use the words “depth” and “chart” in the same sentence; he prefers “position chart.”
But unless you’re Jim Harbaugh, for whom the rules don’t seem to apply, every team releases a two-deep during game weeks. We’ll get a pretty good idea of how the Wildcats will line up against Northern Arizona soon enough.
In the meantime, here are five unanswered personnel-related questions entering NAU week:
1. Who will be the No. 3 quarterback?
Although Rodriguez hasn’t officially said who the No. 1 quarterback will be, it’s pretty safe to assume that redshirt junior Brandon Dawkins will start the opener, with sophomore Khalil Tate as his backup. If the NAU game goes as expected, Tate should play at some point.
The situation is less clear behind them. Rhett Rodriguez and Donavan Tate, a pair of freshmen with disparate backgrounds, are vying for that spot. Ideally, neither will have to play this season. But stuff happens in football, especially at Arizona, as the Wildcats learned the hard way last season.
The guess here is that Rodriguez would get the nod in an emergency situation. He has a much firmer grasp of the playbook and wouldn’t be overwhelmed if forced to enter a game. Although not as physically developed as he needs to be, Rodriguez could run the offense.
Tate is the opposite: All the physical tools are in place for the former MLB prospect, but so is the rust from not playing football for almost a decade.
2. Who will complete the offensive line?
Two spots were up for grabs when the Wildcats opened training camp: right tackle and left guard. Based on the lineups used in Arizona’s last two open practices, it appears that senior Gerhard de Beer and redshirt junior Christian Boettcher will open at those positions.
De Beer returning to the first unit would complete a commendable comeback. De Beer started eight of the first nine games last season before suffering a knee injury that knocked him out for the final three. He also missed all of spring practice.
Cody Creason played well in de Beer’s absence and seems to have cemented a spot in the top eight. He also can play left tackle.
Boettcher, a former walk-on, filled in at both guard spots last season. He seems to have held off the charge of powerful redshirt freshman Michael Eletise, who might be among Arizona’s most improved players.
It’s not inconceivable that Eletise eventually will displace Boettcher. That might be the best situation for the team, as it would enable Boettcher to serve as a backup at all three inside positions.
3. Who will provide a pass rush from the edge?
Entering the “Beanie Bowl” this past Friday, the leading candidates to start at defensive end and “Stud” were Justin Belknap and Lee Anderson III. But neither participated in the dress rehearsal, casting some doubt over their availability for Week 1.
Most of the first- and second-team snaps at the end spots went to two veterans, Jack Banda and Larry Tharpe Jr.; and two freshmen, Kylan Wilborn and Jalen Harris. All are expected to contribute early in the season, along with Belknap and Anderson, assuming they’re healthy.
It seems unlikely that senior DeAndre’ Miller will play in Week 1. Miller has yet to practice after having foot surgery in July. His best-case scenario might be Week 2 against Houston.
Miller, a projected starter, is expected to return sometime in September. He has been plagued by injuries throughout his UA career.
It would be impractical to rotate seven players at two positions. Performance and health will help the coaches whittle down the rotation entering Pac-12 play.
4. How many freshmen will start the opener?
Two appears to be the floor, four the ceiling. Vegas would set the over/under at 2.5.
Tony Fields II is a virtual lock to start at “Will” linebacker. His speed, aggression and activity level have impressed coaches and teammates since spring.
Although Rich Rodriguez and defensive coordinator Marcel Yates have said they have no issues playing multiple freshmen at once, it seems unlikely they would pair Fields with fellow rookie Colin Schooler in the opener. That being said, Schooler is expected to play significant snaps at “Mike” linebacker and eventually could start.
Scottie Young Jr. opened at free safety in each of the past two open practices and likely will remain there. He’s been battling sophomore Isaiah Hayes, who did not participate in either practice because of an undisclosed injury.
Young and fellow freshman Troy Young were the breakout stars of training camp, but Troy Young isn’t about to supplant junior Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles at “Bandit” safety.
The other freshman who could start is Wilborn, who recorded a strip-sack and a safety in the Beanie Bowl.
5. Who will handle the kickoff and field-goal duties?
Rodriguez indicated last week that incumbent Josh Pollack and freshman Lucas Havrisik were in a dead heat for the placement job. The strong-legged Havrisik had the edge for kickoffs.
Yet in the Beanie Bowl, Pollack handled most of the kickoffs. Many were of the popup variety, so it’s possible the Wildcats were working on executing that particular kick.
Each kicker had one field-goal attempt and made it.
Rodriguez said it’s possible Pollack and Havrisik could share the job, with Havrisik kicking the longer field goals.
Like most of the rest of the depth chart, it’s a fluid situation.