It wasn’t a real scrimmage and it was against the second-team defense, but for the first time this fall camp, quarterback B.J. Denker was at the center of some praise rather than criticism tonight.
The UA practiced for close to two hours in front of an estimated 5,000 fans at “meet the team day” at Arizona Stadium.
Denker was sharp and in control and it was noticed.
“He’s been getting better and I think he’s going to be game-ready when we need him to be on Aug. 30,” senior linebacker Marquis Flowers said. “We all believe in B.J. and for him to come out and perform like this, it just shows that he can handle the pressure.”
Coach Rich Rodriguez thought Denker—and the entire offense—was sharper Saturday night, but obviously still has a ways to go. He was most encouraged and excited about the fact that Denker didn’t turn the ball over and made smart decisions.
“I don’t think he threw a pick and that was a bonus because we had problems with interceptions and forcing things,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t think we forced things. I think there was one throw that a quarterback made that forced some things. It was better from that standpoint. That had been our biggest problem, was throwing the ball into coverage and not taking off and running. Tonight, they did a better job of running.”
Rodriguez’s tone and mood was considerably different than it was a week ago after the team’s open practice at Fort Huachuca. Then, he was so mad, he didn’t let any of the offensive players speak to reporters after.
Tonight, was a different story.
“All of our quarterbacks aren’t close, but they are closer than they were a week ago,” Rodriguez said.
Some other news, notes and quotes from tonight’s open practice.
• For the most part, the first group on offense looked like this: Offensive line: Mickey Baucus, Cayman Bundage, Steven Gurrola, Chris Putton and Fabbians Ebbele. Wide receivers: Garic Wharton, Johnny Jackson, Terrence Miller and at times, Trevor Ermisch. Running backs: Ka’Deem Carey and Daniel Jenkins (they played together a lot). Quarterback: B.J. Denker (Jesse Scroggins got one drive with that group).
• The first team defense mostly looked like: Defensive line: Reggie Gilbert, Tevin Hood and Kirifi Taula. Linebackers: Jake Fischer, Marquis Flowers and Keoni Bush-Loo. Secondary: Shaquille Richardson, Jonathan McKnight, Jared Tevis, Tra’Mayne Bondurant and Jourdon Grandon.
• The defense had two interceptions during the 11-on-11 portion of the practice. They came from Jonathan McKnight and newcomer Tellas Jones. McKnight picked off Jesse Scroggins in the end zone and Jones intercepted freshman Khari McGee in the middle of the field.
• Denker had a quick punt on a fourth down situation and it was actually a very nice one. It was near midfield and he landed it inside the five-yard line.
• The only field goal attempt came from Casey Skowron and he missed on a 42-yard chance.
For more on the scrimmage and how Denker played, read tomorrow’s Star. I have some rough, unofficial stats in there.
Some quotes from after the practice:
• Rodriguez on the overall practice: “We got a lot done. We got a lot of situational stuff done. We have a lot of film to watch. I guess the execution was a little better (than last week) in all three phases, but I’ll have to watch the film.”
• Rodriguez on having some fans at the stadium after hosting an official grand opening of the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility earlier today: “I think it’s nice. We had a great ribbon-cutting ceremony with a lot of our supporters and I thought there was a really good crowd. I don’t know how much it was advertised, but it was a nice crowd and I hope they enjoyed the atmosphere. Obviously the new end zone seats, I think the folks that were looking at them are pretty serious about maybe buying some tickets. We need to sell this place out.”
• Denker on the practice, which the defense “won” 52-49: “I thought it went well. When I was in, we moved the ball pretty well. Obviously I’m disappointed we lost the scrimmage, but I feel like I got in on that last play. It was a good practice. We ran the ball and executed well. I was happy with my performance and the offense’s performance.”
• Flowers on the offense: “Everybody on the offense is getting better and that’s what we want to do. ‘Coach Rod’ does a great job of putting pressure on his quarterbacks and getting them in game-like situations. As a defense, we do a good job of getting them to work a little bit.”
• Denker on where he is now compared to the start of camp: “I’m a lot more improved; a lot more confident. Coach was getting on me, but it was for this moment right here so I could perform well in the scrimmage. It’s one more practice week until the game. I’m feeling good. I’m feeling confident. I’m excited to see how we progress and improve in the next week until game week.”
• Scroggins on his performance: “I just have to compete, be confident and play with my swag. Everyone has their own type of swag and I’m going to play with my swag within the offense. I’m feeling a lot more comfortable than a week ago, I can tell you that much.”