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Arizona QB competition: B.J. Denker eager to chow down on the pressure

B.J. Denker completed 12 of 14 passes vs. Colorado last season. Photo by Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

B.J. Denker completed 12 of 14 passes vs. Colorado last season. Photo by Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Forget about B.J. Denker’s left arm. Never mind his fairly fleet feet.

His one year of experience in the read-option system of Arizona Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez is only tangential to the discussion.

What Denker hopes to assert as his advantage in the Wildcats’ wide-open quarterback race rests between the ear holes of his red, white, blue or copper helmet.

“My brain,” the senior said.

Well, that and his stomach. More on that later. Back to the brain.

“I hope the coaches realize I’m the smartest guy on the field,” he said.

“I don’t want me to think it; I want them to think that. I know what I’m doing every single play. That’s the big thing. At this position in this offense, it’s knowing what to do with the ball, where to go with it and executing.”

It’s the lack of that last part that had Rodriguez a bit steamed through the first few practices. He wasn’t in it’s-time-to-panic mode. It’s was more of a we-can’t-cut-these-guys-any-damn-slack message.

It’s all part of the plan: make his quarterbacks — shoot, all of his players — get comfortable with being uncomfortable. If these mostly inexperienced QBs can’t handle stress and pressure and yelling at practice, how will they ever get it done on game day?

“I’m putting a little extra pressure on them just to see who will step into the fold,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez saw better performances Tuesday night and let his top two contenders for the job — Denker and junior Jesse Scroggins — talk to the media for the first time this camp. Freshman Anu Solomon is off limits, like all newcomers, for a while longer.

“In this position, there’s pressure. Coach Rod is going to get on me,” Denker said.

“He did that the first two practices, and that’s fine. … He’s doing it because he expects the best out of me. I just have to be more confident. You have to get used to it when you play under RichRod. That’s fine. I can take it.”

Denker was the backup to Matt Scott last season, starting the Colorado game in which Ka’Deem Carey did the heavy lifting in the easy win, rushing for a Pac-12 record 366 yards. Denker had what coaches called a good spring, but competition was lacking. Scroggins was out because of a toe injury; Solomon was still in high school.

Perhaps Denker is right and his brain power will carry him to winning and keeping the starting role. Or maybe he will need his legs to help him get there.

“The thing that we don’t practice is my ability to make plays when things break down,” he said.

“You can’t simulate that in practice. That will come during game time when I’ve won the job. Because not everything is going to go right, and when things break down I can use my legs and scramble a little bit and extend the play.”

And when he does keep the ball and run, he will be better equipped to take a hit. Denker, who has been a too-lean 6-foot-3, is fattening up. Chalk one up to the new Bear Down Kitchen in the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility, where the program is serving players three solids a day.

Denker, listed at 173 pounds, said he has put on about 15 pounds since the end of spring ball, with six or seven pounds coming just since the start of last weekend when camp began and Bear Down Kitchen opened.

“They make you wake up and make you eat breakfast,” he said. “I’m not a big breakfast guy. I’ll be lucky to get two, two-and-a-half meals a day usually. But here, three meals a day and a snack help a lot.”

Put him at 187 pounds right now, with the goal to be at 195 by the end of camp, being able to play between 190 and 195 during the season.

“That will be the heaviest I have ever been in my life,” he said. “So, it will be good.”

What a good problem to have, right? Gotta eat to put on weight. He doesn’t have a specific calorie count, only a general philosophy.

“It’s just eat until I’m full and then eat a little more,” he said.

“I have to get three plates at least. That’s the worst feeling; I’m bloated 24 hours a day now. All the girls are probably like, ‘Oh my god, that’s such a tough life.’ I hate it. I hate eating. But I have to do it.”

Arizona holds its first practice in pads Wednesday morning before leaving for Fort Huachuca. The team will do some scrimmaging Saturday night at the Army post.

“No one knows who is going to play, who is going to start,” Denker said. “I gotta show the coaches they can win with me.”

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