The Arizona Wildcats’ most valuable offensive player will remain in bubble wrap in fall camp.
Senior quarterback Matt Scott, whose skills and experience give new UA Rich Rodriguez a chance to shrink the learning curve in the read-option offense, didn’t take a hit in the spring. He won’t in preseason camp.
He’s just too valuable to risk losing to injury before the Sept. 1 opener against Toledo.
“Talk about nervous. I’m nervous. I’ve never done that before,” Rodriguez said of going into a season with a quarterback who had not seen live action in practice. “Matt should be our healthiest guy.”
It would be a different story if Arizona had anybody behind Scott who had played in a college game. But it doesn’t, and the first couple of weeks of camp will be a furious battle to see who moves to the front of the queue as the primary backups (more on that below).
Scott is itching to go after redshirting last season behind Nick Foles. Rodriguez is grateful for that, saying at Pac-12 Media Day it was the “best decision the (former) coaching staff made,” playing the line for laughs rather than as a slam to the former group.
But it was a nice gift from coach Mike Stoops, and RichRod is determined to get as much mileage out of it as possible.
Slide, Matt, slide!
The coaches certainly will instruct Scott to be wise when he keeps the ball on those read-option plays. Looking for an extra yard (or two) isn’t as important as avoiding a big hit from a 245-pound linebacker or a punishment-seeking safety.
“At the same time, we’ve got to run our system,” Rodriguez said, conceding that Scott might not heed calls to slide anyway.
“That’s OK,” Rodriguez said. “If you run fast enough, they can’t hit you.”
Scott is a better passer than previous Rodriguez read-option pupils such as Pat White and Denard Robinson. Given that, and the need to get Scott safely through the season, Rodriguez says this team might not run the ball as much his previous squads.
Stoops mostly used Scott as a running change-up as a true freshman behind Willie Tuitama in 2008. Scott won the starting job as a sophomore in 2009, but that lasted only three games as Nick Foles took over through last season, with the exception of a 2 1/2 games in 2010 because of injury.
“The one thing I pride myself on is patience,” Scott said. “You have to be patient in this game, and life as well.”
That patience will have to serve him well through August; he won’t be able to finish a run, feel a tackle, until Sept. 1.
“My dad tells me I need to slide, but we’ll see how that goes,” said Scott, who ran a read-option attack in high school.
“I’m just going to play. I’m not going to go into it thinking I need to slide every time someone is coming. That is definitely not who I am. Every time I get the ball and run, I feel I’m going to score. But sometimes you need to slide, get out of bounds, to save yourself.
“It’s a long season.”
It likely would be a really long season for Arizona is Scott goes down with an injury.
His backup in spring was junior receiver Richard Morrison, who was trying to make the conversion back the quarterback he was in high school.
Rodriguez estimated Morrison — penciled in as a starter in the slot — was at quarterback 75 percent of the time in the spring. That figure will be flipped in fall camp; Morrison will be at receiver 75 percent of the time.
“He is still going to take some reps at quarterback because I think he has some skills,” Rodriguez said.
If Morrison doesn’t end up being one of the top backups, that’s more opportunity for these guys — junior college transfer B.J. Denker, and incoming freshman Javelle Allen and Josh Kern. Arizona also has Alex Cappellini, who walked in the spring.
Former Louisiana Tech starter Nick Isham, who isn’t eligible this season because of NCAA transfer rules, will also get reps in the first couple of weeks to get immersed into the system.
Rodriguez and co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith can split up the coaching duties at quarterback and give everyone ample reps in the first couple of weeks of camp. By the time the Cats hold a closed scrimmage on Aug. 18, Rodriguez said he wants a 1-2-3 order at quarterback.
Just don’t hit the No. 1 guy.
Save that for Toledo.
“My time is going to come eventually,” Scott said.