It’s a ritual of training camp: Reporters ask veteran players which newcomers have stood out the most.
The reflexive response is to cite a player from the same position. Safeties pick safeties. Linebackers nominate linebackers. They’re around one another the most. It makes sense.
Arizona Wildcats receiver Shun Brown ran a different route when asked that question late Saturday night.
“I like the quarterbacks,” the senior said. “The quarterbacks are looking good.”
Brown specifically referenced freshman quarterbacks Jamarye Joiner and Kevin Doyle.
“I feel like they’re more developed coming in,” Brown said. “They’re hungry. They ask me questions. They always want to throw, do extra stuff. They want to win. That right there speaks for itself.”
Whether Joiner or Doyle can climb the depth chart to become the next-best option behind junior starter Khalil Tate remains to be seen. They are competing with second-year players K’Hari Lane and Rhett Rodriguez. The four have one career passing attempt among them.
UA offensive coordinator and QB coach Noel Mazzone told his young quarterbacks Saturday that the competition won’t really being until “some point in the next week, week and a half.” By then, Mazzone explained, he can “bring the young kids up to speed so everybody’s on a level playing field.”
As prepared as they might be upon arrival, Joiner and Doyle have a lot of catching up to do and a short time to do it.
“It’s hard to say anything about the young guys yet, because they’re still trying to figure out where the locker room is,” Mazzone said.
“At this point right now, the hard thing for quarterbacks is just the terminology. When you’re a tempo offense and you don’t huddle, reading signals, getting the other 10 guys on the same page. It’s just the mechanics of the position.
“I’m really not that concerned right now if they’re making some wrong decisions in the course of the play.
“The first step is, can we get them lined up? Can we get everybody going in the right direction? And then, do you know your assignment?”
Mazzone did say that Joiner, Doyle and another freshman – walk-on Luke Ashworth from Phoenix Arcadia – all look the part. “They’ve all got a really good skill set,” Mazzone said.
Doyle is the only scholarship quarterback Mazzone recruited, having worked his East Coast connections to add Doyle to Arizona’s 2018 class and boost the depth at football’s most important position.
“He’s tall. He’s got good arm strength. He’s smart,” Mazzone said of Doyle. “The same with … Jamarye. They’ve just gotta play more football.”
Joiner starred as a two-way threat at Cienega, where he also excelled in track. UA coach Kevin Sumlin quickly and decisively shot down any notion of Joiner shifting to another position, saying: “Those guys are all playing quarterback right now.”
Lane, who generally has been the second man up during the portion of practice open to the media, looks more like a quarterback now. The 6-1 redshirt freshman could have passed for a fullback or linebacker a year ago, when he was listed at 245 pounds.
He’s now 222.
“K’Hari’s a guy that worked hard at it over the summer to be that guy, because he needs to,” Mazzone said. “What he’s trying to be now is just a more consistent player. It can’t be great play, great play, average play, bad play, bad play.”
Rodriguez also transformed his body. The 6-footer from Catalina Foothills is now listed at 201 pounds, up from 186 a year ago.
The arrival of the newcomers and the improvement of the holdovers has created the effect Mazzone was seeking.
“I like it,” he said, “because there’s competition in the room.”
Denson resumes career at NAU
Cam Denson’s career as a Wildcat was cut short by a foot injury. It presumably meant the end of his football career, period.
But the former Salpointe Catholic standout has resurfaced at Northern Arizona.
Denson is listed as a graduate student on the NAU roster, wearing No. 16 and playing wide receiver.
Denson was one of the most decorated prep stars in recent Tucson history, earning all-state and All-America honors as a three-way threat for the Lancers. He was the 2013 Big Schools Player of the Year in The Arizona Republic.
Denson played cornerback during his first two seasons at Arizona before switching to receiver in the spring of 2016. He showed promise late in the ’16 season, making15 catches for 242 yards and two touchdowns. However, a foot injury suffered the following spring limited his practice participation and prevented him from moving up the depth chart.
Former UA coach Rich Rodriguez announced in October 2017 that Denson was expected to medically retire. He appeared in one game last season, catching one pass for 5 yards.
Now Denson apparently is giving it another shot with NAU, which opens its season Sept. 1 at UTEP.
The Wildcats’ first full-pads practice is slated for Wednesday. … Receiver Darick Holmes Jr. is no longer with the program. The former three-star recruit did not accumulate any stats in his three seasons in Tucson.