They entered the Cole and Jeannie Davis Sports Center together for Arizona football media day. They sat on opposite sides of the field during interviews.
Quarterbacks Gunner Cruz and Will Plummer are roommates. They’re also combatants. Their friendship, which predates their time as Wildcats, is one of many fascinating variables in a QB battle that will be the focal point of UA training camp.
“Once you get on the field, it’s business,” Cruz said Wednesday. “You’re all vying for the same spot. It’s a good competition, and we’re all looking forward to it.”
Unlike spring, it’s no longer a two-man race. Transfer Jordan McCloud has joined the mix. The coaches want to give him every opportunity to compete for the starting job. But they’re also aware that time is precious. When camp starts Friday, the Sept. 4 opener against BYU will be less than a month away.
Quarterbacks coach Jimmie Dougherty summed up the dilemma as follows: “You want it to declare itself as soon as (it) can. But you also don’t want to rush to make a decision too early either.”
Dougherty acknowledged that McCloud will face a learning curve. While Cruz and Plummer were able to participate in spring ball — 15 practices apiece in a new scheme — McCloud didn’t get here from South Florida until June. He has had every resource at his disposal, including an iPad and access to film, but he’ll have a lot of catching up to do when Arizona hits the field. Plummer said the wristbands given to the quarterbacks contain 150-200 plays.
“There’s going to be some things that are going to come up,” Dougherty said. “That’s what practice is for. That’s what all the time in fall camp is for, to iron out those things and work on the techniques and the simple things, taking the snap from center, calling the play in the huddle, all those things that maybe he hasn’t done as much of throughout his career.
“We’re definitely going to give him an opportunity to see what he can do. There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to get out there. But at the same time, it’s not spring ball. You’re up against a clock. You’re trying to get the team ready to play in that first game.”
UA coach Jedd Fisch said the quarterback snaps would be divided into thirds for the first five practices. At that point, the staff will re-evaluate the situation. That doesn’t give McCloud a ton of time to make up ground.
Cruz and Plummer both said they have come a long way since the start of spring. Both said they could teach the playbook if necessary.
Plummer looked lost early in spring before coming to an important realization.
“The first couple weeks of spring, I was in my head a little bit,” the second-year freshman said. “It was a new everything for me. Finally one day I was just like, ‘Just play football.’ And that helped me out a little at the end, just going with the flow and going back to what I know.”
Plummer was able to make up an early deficit and pull even with Cruz by the end of spring. Cruz’s biggest issue was timing, especially on deep throws, after he enrolled at the UA the same week spring practice began. He has spent the offseason trying to fix that problem.
“I’ve thrown thousands of routes to all these guys now,” said Cruz, who transferred from Washington State. “I know their speed, I know their strengths, I know their weaknesses, how they come out of cuts.”
The lingering unknown is who will win the job. The coaches are as eager to see how it all plays out as the participants.
“It’s gonna be an epic competition,” Dougherty said. “Because you’ve got three players that are physically talented and can do it. Now it’s going to come down to who can develop the best and the most between now and then, who can master the offense the best and master the situations of the game.”
One player the quarterbacks won’t get to throw to during camp, at least not at full speed, is receiver Jamarye Joiner.
Joiner underwent offseason surgery after rebreaking his left foot during the April 24 spring game. He is targeting a late-September return. Arizona concludes non-conference play Sept. 18 against NAU and opens Pac-12 play the following week at Oregon.
Joiner said he’s about 70% recovered. He can run in a straight line but can’t do any cutting yet. He “runs” routes at a walkthrough pace to stay sharp and ready.
“It’s been frustrating at times,” said Joiner, who has 46 catches for 663 yards and six touchdowns in 17 games since switching from quarterback to wideout. “But I can only control what I can control.”
Joiner had surgery for a Jones fracture during the 2020 offseason. He said his foot felt sore but he played through it. While executing a double move during the spring game, Joiner refractured the foot. He kept running and made a 61-yard reception.
Surgeons put additional screws and a plate in his foot, and the improvement is palpable.
“I don’t know if it’s because it’s my second time having it and I’m more used to it,” Joiner said. “I’m not as scared to step on it. It feels a lot better.”
Fisch said 115 of 118 players have received the COVID-19 vaccine, up from 110 a little over a week ago. He said he is “hopeful” the entire team will be vaccinated sooner than later. “I just think that’ll be an incredible message,” Fisch said. “It would be a great message to the world, to the state of Arizona and to campus.” He added that unvaccinated players will be subject to protocols – including masking indoors – that vaccinated players won’t, per Pac-12 guidelines.
Christian Young, the projected starter at “Viper,” played the entire spring with a meniscus tear in his knee. He knew about the injury but wanted to prove himself to the new staff. Young had surgery soon after and is 100% entering camp.
Defensive tackle Myles Tapusoa has returned to the team after missing spring practice.
Defensive coordinator Don Brown praised walk-on cornerback Treydan Stukes, repeatedly referring to him as a “dude.”
Offensive lineman Davis DiVall, a late-arriving transfer from Baylor, initially will work at guard.
Former NFL coach Brian Billick, one of Fisch’s mentors, will address the team via Zoom on Thursday night to kick off training camp.