Arizona Wildcats coach Jedd Fisch won’t name a starting quarterback this spring. That isn’t an unexpected development.
The two leading contenders who are on campus, Gunner Cruz and Will Plummer, had minimal college experience — and none in the type of offense Fisch runs. Additionally, transfer Jordan McCloud isn’t here yet, and he’s going to be given every opportunity to compete with Cruz and Plummer for the starting job.
Those two have participated in all 13 spring practices, with two more to go. Each has had periods in which they’ve impressed and struggled. Fisch and quarterbacks coach Jimmie Dougherty said there isn’t much separation between Cruz and Plummer at this stage.
“You’d always like to see that,” Fisch said. “But we were going in thinking that was probably not going to happen in the spring because of the fact that neither one had a foundation in our system.
“This has been a massive immersion of football thrown into their heads. We’ve tried to give them as many reps as possible ... and see if there is a separation. Currently there’s not much. Currently they’re just battling back and forth.”
Dougherty described that duel as a work in progress. Plummer appeared to be ahead early. He then hit a wall, allowing Cruz to surpass him. Over the past several practices, Plummer has rebounded and closed the gap.
“There’s been a lot of good; there’s been some bad,” Dougherty said. “We’re still in the process right now. It’s still under construction. But we have seen a ton of improvement out of these guys. They’re starting to grasp the offense and own the offense more.”
It should come as no surprise that Cruz started slowly. The transfer from Washington State enrolled right about the time spring practice began on March 23. He had minimal exposure to the playbook and no time to meet his new teammates, let alone throw with them.
“I got here, and the first time I get in the huddle and look around, I’m like, ‘Wow, I really know maybe two of these guys’ names,’ ” Cruz said.
Cruz knew fellow Arizonan Jamarye Joiner from high school. Receiver Stanley Berryhill was the first Wildcat to introduce himself in the locker room.
“It’s been very impressive to see him come out here and compete the way that he has with not a lot of lead-up time,” Dougherty said. “This is not an offense just to pick up overnight. He’s prepared really hard. He works hard at it in the classroom and during his free time to be able to come out here and execute.
“But you also can’t substitute the fact that he’s got to throw more balls. He needs more time on task. He needs to complete more deep balls and actually do it live with the receivers to get that timing ironed out.”
Cruz (listed at 6-5, 224) has a bigger frame and a stronger arm than Plummer (6-1, 205). But Cruz often has overthrown receivers on deep passes. He knows he needs time to created that chemistry and will work on that over the next few months during player-run practices.
“Over the summer we’ll get to rep it a ton, and we’ll just keep taking steps forward,” Cruz said. “The more reps we get, the easier and the more subconscious it will be.”
Starting about the third practice of spring, it became clear that Plummer was thinking too much and playing indecisively as a result. Like Cruz, Plummer was learning not only a new playbook but a different way to play the position. Fisch’s system often places the quarterback under center, requiring footwork and timing that aren’t integral to spread-style schemes.
“This offense relies on timing,” Plummer said. “If it’s a five-step drop, a hitch and throw, if you don’t hit it on time, then you’re gonna be off.”
Plummer, who appeared in three games as a freshman last season, struggled for about a week. Then something clicked, and he started to play with more confidence and rhythm.
“Probably in the last three or four practices, he’s taken a big leap,” Dougherty said. “It goes back to that ownership of knowing exactly what to do and just trying to find that consistency. If he does what we ask him to — just run the play, make your read, trust your feet, your eyes — he can make all the throws that we ask of him.”
Plummer said that over the past two weeks “it’s starting to feel like just football again. That’s what they want it to feel like — they want you to think less and play more.”
Fisch said he and his staff will thoroughly re-evaluate the quarterbacks after spring ball concludes Saturday. The competition will continue during training camp, with McCloud — who appeared in 20 games at South Florida — joining the mix. Fisch acknowledged that “we gotta make a decision at some point” but is no hurry to make that call.
“We all want it to happen right now,” Dougherty said. “We’re all super anxious for it to happen and feeling that urgency, because we know that time is ticking. But at the same time, they’re both (Cruz and Plummer) still really young in this offense.”
Added Cruz: “It’s a constant race. You’re never there. You’ve never gotten to the point where you’re like, ‘OK, I have it. I’ve made it to the top. I understand it all.’ So there’s definitely work to do.
“But coming from the first day to Day 13, I definitely am proud of the progress that me and the rest of the guys on this team have been able to make.”
‘Justice was served’
The verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin came down about two hours before the Wildcats began practice Tuesday, so Fisch didn’t have a chance to address the issue with his team.
He said they would discuss it during the weekly “We Educate Wednesday” program. Dr. Tammi Walker, an associate professor of law and psychology in the UA’s James E. Rogers College of Law, was scheduled to speak to the team about social-justice issues and the Chauvin case specifically.
“From everything that I know or that I’ve seen, justice was served,” said Fisch, who has a degree in criminology from the University of Florida.
Receiver Tayvian Cunningham had perhaps his best practice Tuesday, catching a long touchdown pass from Cruz in 11-on-11 play and recording another TD on a deep ball in one-on-ones. Cunningham also has been serving as Arizona’s primary return specialist.
Cornerback Treydan Stukes had a terrific pass breakup in one-on-ones, using his heavily wrapped right hand to knock down a pass down the left sideline.
Cornerback Christian Roland-Wallace made three stops in a row – a pass breakup, an interception and another PBU – during one-on-ones inside the 5-yard line.
The offense couldn’t move the ball successfully in a practice-ending two-minute drill, but Fisch gave the “win” to that side because of a penalty and made the defense run afterward.
Tailbacks Drake Anderson and Michael Wiley, who did not participate in last Saturday’s scrimmage, dressed but weren’t very involved in 11-on-11 work. Tailback Jalen John remained out.
Defensive end JB Brown returned after missing the scrimmage.
The Wildcats experimented a bit with their offensive line, at times shifting Donovan Laie from left guard to left tackle and inserting Josh Baker into the left guard spot.
Fisch said about 200 football alumni are expected to attend Saturday’s spring game and that he’s looking forward to seeing Lance Briggs and Nick Folk, among others.
Contact sports reporter Michael Lev at 573-4148 or email@example.com. On Twitter @michaeljlev