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Arizona football (non)-scrimmage: Three things to watch tonight

B.J. Denker

B.J. Denker and the other QBs will be trying to impress tonight. Photo by Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The scrimmage won’t be much of a scrimmage.

The Arizona Wildcats will hold their Meet the Team event Saturday night at Arizona Stadium, showing off their new north end zone facilities while not exactly showing off the team in a lot of full-on live football action.

The athletic department will hold a select-a-seat event, starting at 4:30 p.m., followed by a practice/scrimmage and then a one-hour autograph session.

Coach Rich Rodriguez said he will put his Wildcats through about 30 minutes of tackle football, as opposed to the more typical 75 minutes if Saturday night was a regular scrimmage.

“We need more like a regular practice than a true scrimmage,” he said after Friday afternoon’s practice. “We’re just not ready for that. That’s kind of scary because we’re two weeks away from a game.”

With that season-opener against NAU looming on Friday, Aug. 30, here are some storylines to check out as Arizona tries to take a step forward Saturday night:

1. Quarterbacks

Camp has been all about the quarterback race. Nobody has emerged as a clear frontrunner. Based on Rodriguez’s comments, guys have their good days and bad days.

For now, let’s assume senior B.J. Denker is a tiny, teeny favorite. Junior Jesse Scroggins might have bigger upside, but was described as “rusty” by Rodriguez earlier this week after missing spring ball (toe surgery) and a few days of fall camp (concussion).

Sophomore Nick Isham might not have all of Scroggins’ tools, but he has earned Rodriguez’s praise for his smarts and his effort. Saturday night could help show what kind of a grasp on the offense touted true freshman Anu Solomon has so far.

And redshirt freshman Javelle Allen can’t be dismissed. He’s been generating more buzz in the past week or so.

“He’s just getting more of an opportunity. We kind of needed to see him,” Rodriguez said.

“And Javelle knows this: He was kind of in the doghouse in the spring because I thought his effort could have been better, on and off the field. His effort was better academically at the end of spring and it’s been better so far.

“He’s worked hard to get in shape and he’s in the mix. He still has a ways to go, but he’s a lot more focused now than he was four or five months ago.”

2. Freshmen

RichRod used nine true freshmen last season and figures to play several this year as well, mostly in backup roles or on special teams.

A couple in particular, though, have a chance for even bigger roles.

Slot receiver Nate Phillips was one of the first freshmen that Rodriguez singled out for mention, and he has impressed the coaches with his strength and shiftiness. Linebacker Scooby Wright (6-1, 235) has worked with the first-team defense at times, alongside veterans Jake Fischer and Marquis Flowers.

“I really thought our young group of linebackers was going to be able to help us — and probably had to help us some this year because they have some size,” Rodriguez said.

“Scooby has some natural instincts. … Scooby has stood out in about every practice.”

(Just a point to note, here: Phillips and Wright were each rated as only two-star recruits by Scout.com and Rivals.com. … so you never know.)

Rodriguez said he likes all his freshman ‘backers, which also include Derrick Turituri (a burly 250 pounds), DeAndre’ Miller and Ryan Dunn. The coach added that any third-down pass-rush specialist could come from his young linebacker group, including sophomores Sir Thomas Jackson and Keoni Bush-Loo.

In addition to Phillips, Samajie Grant provides more potential help in the slot. Cornerbacks Devin Holiday and Derek Babiash are vying for second-string duty. Rodriguez mentioned defensive tackle Luca Bruno as another freshman who “has a chance” to play.

Walk-on freshman receiver Aaron Lacombe is another to watch.

3. Position battles other than QB

–There has been a lot of shuffling at receiver to cover for injuries and defections, with redshirt freshmen Clive Georges and Trey Griffey needing to make an impact. We’ll see how much Arizona uses senior slot Richard Morrison, moved back from defense this week.

Senior Terrence Miller is probably the only somewhat sure thing to be a starting receiver. For now, look for Garic Wharton, Georges and Griffey to help Miller on the outside (while David Richards gets healthy). Johnny Jackson, Phillips, Morrison and Grant are among those working in the slot (while waiting to see if Davonte’ Neal gets eligible).

–The coaches have been rotating opportunity at center among junior college transfer Steven Gurrola, sophomore Jacob Arzouman and sophomore walk-on Carter Wood. He’s the son of former Arizona All-Pac-10 defensive tackle David Wood and the brother of committed tight end Trevor Wood from Scottsdale Chaparral High.

“Carter is a tough, little competitor,” Rodriguez said.

“He was hurt in the spring a little bit, and he’s overcome some injuries, but he’s a tough guy and knows our system pretty well. He’s competing for some time, for sure.”

–One of the big questions on the defensive line is how much of an impact redshirt freshman end Kyle Kelley can make. He could be part of the answer to the team’s pass-rushing woes.

“He’s a strong guy,” Rodriguez said. “He’s had a pretty good camp. He’s going to play a lot of football for us.”

Kelley and junior Reggie Gilbert are the top choices at end, with senior nose guard Tevin Hood and senior tackle Sione Tuihalamaka leading the way at the other spots in the three-man front. Hood, who is close to 300 pounds, might be the most irreplaceable player on defense because of his size and strength.

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