“He’d be the first to tell you there’s room for improvement,” says new Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin of quarterback Khalil Tate. “He’s got huge potential. There’s some things we can help him with.” Tate unofficially was 18 for 28 for 239 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the spring game.

Kevin Sumlin has talked about Khalil Tate as consistently as he hopes Tate will play this season.

The first-year Arizona Wildcats coach has not hyped Tate for the Heisman Trophy — even though Sumlin knows exactly what a Heisman-winning quarterback looks like. Sumlin frequently has referenced how relatively inexperienced Tate is. The coach has noted Tate’s potential and how much work lies ahead.

Sumlin stuck with those themes Monday, when he participated in a Pac-12 coaches conference call to wrap up spring practice.

“Everybody has seen his talent,” Sumlin said. “He’d be the first to tell you there’s room for improvement. He’s played in some games, but he’s only started eight (in 2017). He’s been dynamic in probably six or seven of those eight. He’s got huge potential. There’s some things we can help him with.”

Tate, who will be a junior next season, has received extensive on-field tutoring from new quarterbacks coach Noel Mazzone, who’s also Arizona’s offensive coordinator. Tate also has met with Sumlin to talk about leadership “and all the things that come along with it,” Sumlin said.

For the first time in his college career, Tate will be in charge of running players-only practices during the offseason. It’s a critical time for him to develop as a leader and player.

Tate and his teammates are in the process of adjusting to a new offense that shares traits with former coach Rich Rodriguez’s scheme but features difference snap-count and play-calling operations. Once the 2018 season starts, Tate will have to adjust to how opponents are playing him.

He got a preview of that last year. In his first six games as Arizona’s regular quarterback, Tate rushed for 1,207 yards. He had at least 137 yards in each game.

In his final three games – all losses – Tate gained only 118 yards on the ground. But he excelled as a passer in the last two games, completing 28 of 39 attempts (71.8 percent) for 434 yards with five touchdowns and one interception in what amounted to six quarters of work.

Tate started the regular-season finale at Arizona State 10 for 10 before getting hurt on a half-ending Hail Mary attempt. He missed most of the second half.

Tate set a UA postseason record with five TD passes in the Foster Farms Bowl about a month later. He unofficially completed 18 of 28 attempts for 239 yards with one touchdown and one interception in Arizona’s spring game on April 14.

“He’s got a big upside,” Sumlin said, “and he needs to continue to grow.”

ASU QB questions

Like Arizona, ASU has a returning starter at quarterback in Manny Wilkins. Like the Wildcats, the Sun Devils have questions marks behind him.

With the transfer of Blake Barnett, Wilkins’ top backups are redshirt sophomore Dillon Sterling-Cole and redshirt freshman Ryan Kelley.

Like Tate, Sterling-Cole was pressed into starting duty as a freshman and struggled. He passed for 302 yards and accounted for two touchdowns at Oregon on Oct. 29, 2016, but also threw three interceptions. The former four-star recruit redshirted last season.

“If Dillon has to play, we feel like he can go in there and hold the offense together. But we’ve gotta help him,” ASU coach Herm Edwards said during the conference call. “We won’t ask him to do the same things Manny’s able to do. We’re ready to do whatever we have to do to make Dylan successful if he has to (play).

“He can make some plays that are unannounced. For him, more than anything else, it’s settling him down in an offense that he can flourish in. … We have some things that we feel like he can do. He’s played some. I think going forward, we understand his strengths. If he has to play, we’ll design an offense around those strengths.”

Kelley is the only other scholarship quarterback on the roster. ASU doesn’t have a quarterback in its 2018 recruiting class. With Wilkins set to play his final season, Edwards said the Sun Devils will sign two QBs for 2019.

‘The right fit’

Sumlin didn’t rule out the possibility of adding transfers to the UA roster before training camp, citing offensive line as a position in need of reinforcements.

“We could,” Sumlin said. “We have some room for that. It would have to be the right fit. … We are in the market and looking at all options.”

Arizona has only one known commitment from the graduate-transfer pool: Cal punter Dylan Klumph.

The website GradTransferTracker.com lists more than 60 uncommitted grad transfers, including six offensive linemen and three of Sumlin’s former players at Texas A&M.

Arizona likely will have only a handful of roster spots available, although that number could increase over the offseason because of transfers and medical retirements.

Extra points

  • Although Arizona has only one commit for 2019, Sumlin said recruiting is going “pretty well.” Coaches hit the road to recruit last week, and Sumlin said the UA is emphasizing an “inside-out” approach – starting with its top targets in the state. Sumlin will be in the Phoenix area this week to attend the Pac-12’s annual meetings.
  • Edwards raised eyebrows recently when he said he would cut underperforming players from the football team. This isn’t an uncommon practice. However, coaches usually aren’t so open about it. “Football, like life, is about competition,” Edwards said Monday. “I just want to make sure players and people know that every day is a competition day. That’s how we survive. That’s how we get better as a football team. That’s how we get better as people.”


Michael is an award-winning journalist who has been covering sports professionally since the early '90s. He started at the Star in 2015 after spending 15 years at The Orange County Register. Michael is a graduate of Northwestern University.