While plenty of schools around the Pac-12 have their own “traditional” quarterback competitions stretching from spring into fall, another – this one less traditional – is brewing in Tucson.
Sort of. Not really. But kind of, maybe.
Anu Solomon is Arizona’s starting quarterback. For now. That means very little in May. His standing is contingent on several factors. Some of which he can control. Some, he can’t.
The "can"s are self-explanatory: continue to grow within the offense, continue to work on efficiency, etc. The "can’t"s are more difficult to project. People can’t project injuries. Solomon can’t project trying to slide and a defender’s knee finding its way into his earhole.
Another factor out of his reach is the rise of redshirt sophomore Brandon Dawkins, who played well enough this spring to give the coaching staff reason to declare that Solomon’s standing atop the depth chart isn’t iron-clad.
“He’s closed the gap,” said quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith. “He’s gotten better in terms of understanding our offense and the overall execution of it. He’s given us another option that we know we feel comfortable playing should something happen.
"Now, we’re going to let them battle it out and see who is the most efficient and the guy that runs the offense the best all summer and all camp and go from there.”
No translation or reading between the lines is needed. The spot is up for grabs -- until it isn't.
It’s no secret that coach Rich Rodriguez is tough on his quarterbacks. Every year at Pac-12 media days, someone will ask him about his quarterbacks and he’ll make a joke about how he’s eased up over the years. Everyone will laugh. Then Week 1, we’ll see the should-be-patented RichRod scowl at the first misfire.
Is it possible that Rodriguez and his staff are simply trying to ignite a little fire under Solomon’s backside? Maybe. But Smith said he’s not concerned with Solomon’s motivation. It’s keeping him on the field and healthy that is the priority.
“I think he’s frustrated,” Smith said. “He wants to play. He’s a competitive kid. Everyone talks about him having a disappointing year. I think the disappointment comes from the injuries. He was on track to have better numbers than he did his first year if he’d played all year. He’s got to stay healthy. That’s the key. He didn’t do that last year.”
As far as the numbers go, Smith is on point. Solomon upped his completion percentage from 58 to 62.1. He threw for fewer touchdowns and yards, but that was a product of 210 fewer passing attempts because of time missed for injuries. As it stands in two seasons, Solomon has thrown 48 touchdowns to just 14 interceptions.
So whether Dawkins really is making a push remains to be seen. Like every other school with a quarterback competition, it’s very much speculation until an actual Week 1 depth chart is declared. And if Solomon keeps his gig, the Wildcats are comfortable with their backup plan.
“They run the same things and they do it with pretty good effectiveness,” Smith said. “Brandon gives you a little more of a running threat from a zone-read pull. He can hurt you more with his legs on the pull reads than what Anu does. But nothing changes in terms of how we call our system or our plays between those two.”