- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez is mad. And by mad, we mean in both senses of the word -- angry and crazed. He was vexed when practice began Wednesday and he was volcanic when it ended. With each, er, colorful verbal explosion, the collective shoulders of reporters a football field or so away from the closed practice slumped just a little bit more.
There would be no affable exchange of pleasantries about his quarterback competition or any breezy banter on sundry topics that typically are covered during a post-practice media session. While many coaches' calculated fits of pique during practices are pure motivational theater -- and there was some comic element to Rodriguez's stomping around like vintage Earl Weaver hounding an umpire -- there is no question his cataclysmic frustration is genuine. He expects more from his players than they are giving him and he can't stand it that they are not responding to his challenge.
"I'm allowed to be mad," he harrumphed to reporters. "It's my right."
He was then asked -- carefully, softly -- if this was just one bad practice among many great days of growth during preseason camp.
"I ain't seen enough growth anywhere. Nowhere," he groused.
So, yeah, don't expect much of a revelation about the Wildcats' quarterback competition, which officially remains a wide-open race between four guys, though most observers see redshirt freshman Anu Solomon as the leader at present. That conclusion is based on Solomon getting the most reps with the first-team offense. Senior Jesse Scroggins, the consensus leader after spring practices, missed a lot of offseason work because of injuries suffered after a automobile accident. Jerrard Randall, the most physically talented of the four, continues to struggle with the mental side of the Wildcats' scheme, while Connor Brewer is steady but brings the least to the table athletically.
Rodriguez is on edge because the winnowing is coming. Must come. With a scrimmage Saturday, he and offensive coordinator Rod Smith both said they want to narrow the field heading into next week. That means tightening the screws in practice, and that process often means delivering an earful and seeing how the recipient of said verbal projectiles reacts. As Rich Rod often says: He wants his guys to become comfortable being uncomfortable.
"I've never been one to treat [a quarterback] with kid gloves," he said a few hours before said practice. "I don't worry about their confidence. Hell, I'm worried about my confidence."
Rodriguez has an interesting team, one that has some holes but also has enough returning talent to become a factor in the Pac-12's South Division -- if it gets solid play behind center. With a deep and talented crew of receivers and one of the nation's most experienced offensive lines, the guy who ends up winning the job will have a lot to work with.
Rodriguez knows why reporters are obsessed with his quarterback competition. For one, the Pac-12 has 10 returning starters at quarterback and Cyler Miles is the front-runner at Washington, so Rodriguez's situation is the most wide-open and intriguing. He also doesn't resist the notion that fans and media should be obsessed because he readily admits you can't compete in the Pac-12 without a good QB.
"You have no chance to win unless you get good quarterback play. You can't win a championship," he said. "I don't think you can have a winning season unless your quarterback play is pretty good."
Solomon's apparent rise, though not yet decisive, comes with a notable advantage over Scroggins: It would mean that for the first time in Tucson, Rodriguez and Smith would have a returning starter for the following season (when Solomon becomes a redshirt sophomore). That's not a present concern, Smith said, but he acknowledges the future benefit.
Rodriguez's and Smith's track record with first-year starters at Arizona so far has been outstanding. Matt Scott, the 2012 starter, earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors and is playing for the Cincinnati Bengals. B.J. Denker might have been the conference's most improved player from Week 1 to the end of the 2013 season, transforming from a liability to a QB who outplayed Oregon's Marcus Mariota in the Wildcats' upset victory over the Ducks.
Solomon was a touted recruit after a spectacular career at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. His team went 57-3 and won four state titles with Solomon as a four-year starter. He passed for 10,112 yards and 138 touchdowns with just 17 interceptions. Yet he seemed overwhelmed as a true freshman, and his naturally mellow demeanor sometimes didn't mesh with the high-strung Rodriguez, who wants his QB to be a take-charge sort. Solomon also had a tendency to mix a few forehead-slapping plays into practices.
"He's not making as many of those ‘oh no' moments. He's been more steady," Smith said. "He's made some progress. He's starting to get comfortable with what we are doing. He's more in control now. He's trying to be more vocal -- that's what he wasn't doing in the spring. He's got some talent. He can make some plays. He can do some things with his mind and arm."
While Solomon was made available to the media for the first time this week, that was the exception for the QBs. It's also clear that Wildcats players have been well-schooled on keeping their evaluations of the QB competition to themselves.
Rodriguez rated the odds as pretty good that he'll play more than one guy early in the season, though he won't pull a starter who's playing well. It also wouldn't be surprising if Randall, an LSU transfer who has two years of eligibility remaining, gets a package of plays because his talent has intrigued coaches.
If Rodriguez's mood doesn't improve, it's also possible we won't know his mind until just before UNLV visits on Aug. 29. Such a thought actually make him grin, though. He recalls how his hiring was announced by athletic director Greg Byrne.
"I might pull a Greg Byrne and tweet it two hours before kickoff," he said.
19hSam Khan Jr.