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Arizona Wildcats quarterback Javelle Allen: Ready or not?

Javelle Allen finishes off his 61-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter vs. NAU. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Javelle Allen finishes off his 61-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter vs. NAU. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Wildcats quarterback Javelle Allen can’t complain too much about having to be patient.

There he was after a recent practice, staying late, practically the last guy off the field, working on his passing.

Admirable, yes. He has to be ready. He’s next up. But, even he admits, he might have been more ready — shoot, he might be the starter right now — if a lack of conditioning hadn’t dogged him through spring.

“I could have been working on the stuff I’m working on now back in the spring,” he said.

Instead, he was focusing on getting in shape rather than his passing technique. Allen, 6-foot-2, dropped from about 230 pounds in the spring to 217 and has, in coach Rich Rodriguez’s words, “closed the gap” on struggling starter B.J. Denker.

“I think I started at the bottom, way at the bottom,” Allen said.

“To me, that was something to thrive on. It was like, ‘OK, I’m at the bottom and I’m going to work to get to the top.’”

He’s not there yet. Maybe soon. Only Rodriguez knows for sure how long he’s going to let it ride with Denker if things start going south tonight at USC (7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1) in the Trojans’ first game after coach Lane Kiffin was let go and replaced by defensive line coach Ed Orgeron.

Allen, a redshirt freshman, has only had mop-up time so far, through three easy non-conference victories and the lousy-weather 31-13 loss at Washington. He is 0-for-1 passing with a 61-yard touchdown run late in the NAU game.

“He’s probably the best runner of the whole group,” Rodriguez said, talking about his five eligible quarterbacks. “He can make all the throws. He just doesn’t have the experience yet.”

Through scrimmages and limited views of practice, there is no public evidence that Allen is a better passer than Denker. He’s said he’s working on his footwork, getting a good base underneath him, knees bent … and then driving the ball to his receivers.

“They have come a long way,” he said of his throwing mechanics.

Allen was a late bloomer in high school. He transferred to Prosper (Texas) High after his sophomore year and didn’t throw much as a junior before the team went to a spread offense in his senior season. He passed for 2,347 yards and 30 touchdowns, running for 1,539 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2011.

By then, he was a three-star recruit, although he developed so late that most of the top colleges already had their quarterbacks lined up. Not Rodriguez, who was cobbling together his first Arizona recruiting class. Quarterbacks coach Rod Smith, who spent 2011 at Indiana, had scouted Allen for the Hoosiers.

“In regard to why he got overlooked, he didn’t have great junior numbers,” Prosper High coach Kent Scott told TucsonCitizen.com in 2012.

“With our offense, we were putting him in position to take advantage of the skills he’s got. We had been very multiple and got sidetracked on some triple-option stuff, some flexbone, from the Pistol. It just didn’t lend itself to throwing the football.

“He’s a great runner, but we just weren’t utilizing him the way he was capable of being used. He is truly a dual-threat quarterback.”

Allen laughed when it was suggested to him that the backup quarterback is often the most popular guy on the team. Even though nobody has seen him take a meaningful snap at Arizona, there is hope that he can save the day — if the day needs saving.

He wasn’t ready to do so before.

He might have to be ready as soon as tonight.

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