Denker's speed, experience will drive Arizona football efficiency
After Arizona’s spring game, in which senior B.J. Denker shined, completing 13-of-20 passes for 246 yards, four touchdowns and a tipped interception, reporters asked the quarterback what his two best attributes are.
Denker’s first answer was textbook: He’s a leader on and off the field.
The second came with a little more swagger.
“I’m the smartest guy on the field,” Denker said. “There’s nobody that knows this offense better than me and there’s nobody that knows football better than me on the offensive or defensive side of the ball.”
This type of bravado could be seen as cocky and conceited. And it is.
But, for a college quarterback, that’s exactly what you want. With his growth on the field and his confidence off it, Denker is developing into exactly what Arizona needs under center this year, while head coach Rich Rodriguez develops incoming freshman Anu Solomon.
“I’ve seen [Denker] make a lot of strides this spring,” Rodriguez said. “Getting more confident, having great eye discipline, making the right decisions. There are a couple throws he’d like to have back, but he’s had a pretty solid spring.”
Denker doesn’t have the pedigree of the two players he’s battling against for the job — Solomon and junior college transfer Jesse Scroggins. He wasn’t a four-star recruit coming out of high school and he doesn’t have the arm strength of Scroggins.
But even with the odds stacked against him, Denker has unwavering confidence. That, plus his play last year on the field, makes him the best possible choice for quarterback in the upcoming season.
He already passed his audition with flying colors. In Denker’s only career start, he went 12-of-14 for 136 yards and two touchdowns and added 44 yards rushing and another score on the ground in a 56-31 win against Colorado.
Obviously it’s a little easier to throw when you’re going against one of the worst teams in the nation, and it also helps when your running back breaks the Pac-12 rushing record with 366 yards.
Denker shouldn’t have to apologize, though. It may have been a perfect storm, but he did exactly what he needed to do and the Wildcats rolled to an easy victory at home.
In Denker’s six games, he completed 25-of-37 for 259 yards, three scores and a pick-six against Oregon. The seven yards per attempt is a little low, as Denker more often than not made the safe throw. But, quarterback Matt Scott only had a 7.26 ypa average, so the offense can succeed with accurate, short passes.
The passes will probably have to be short as well. The senior’s biggest issue is arm strength, which gives Scroggins a big advantage in the battle. Against Colorado, Denker’s big bomb was more of a falling duck than a bullet when he hit a wide open Dan Buckner in the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown.
While arm strength is mostly an innate trait, it still can be improved upon.
Denker said he’ll be in the weight room all summer working on his strength and size. Accuracy and speed are two things that a player either has or doesn’t. Denker has both, and it’s exactly what the spread-option offense needs.
Scroggins lacks the speed to make the option work and Solomon will be raw and his decision-making slow. If Denker is right about being the smartest player on the field, he’ll be able to make up for a lack of arm strength with a deadly efficient read-option attack.
And honestly, the injury to star receiver Austin Hill helps Denker’s case.
The loss of Hill handicaps the offense and the lack of a top receiving option hurts any quarterback; it also puts more emphasis on the ground game. Denker’s speed, decision-making and experience should help him run the read-option to perfection.
Handing the ball to running back Ka’Deem Carey is what any Arizona quarterback is really meant to do.
The Denker that played last season wasn’t quite ready for primetime. He was just lucky his only start came against Colorado. If he keeps working and improving, though, Denker is the answer at quarterback next year.
Fortunately for him, it sounds like he has the motivation.
“My goal every day, every practice, was to get better and prove to them that I’m the guy who they can have to win games and be successful,” Denker said. “I think I went out and competed my butt off every single day. I’m just here trying to have some fun and trying to win this job. We’ll see what happens in fall camp.”