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Arizona football: Q&A with Wildcats Quarterbacks coach Rod Smith

Talking all things Arizona QBs with the QB guru himself

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

With the Arizona Wildcats in the middle of their Fiesta Bowl practice schedule, it seemed like a good time to check in on how all the quarterbacks are doing with the guy who sees them every day, QB coach Rod Smith.

I sat down with coach to go over all things Arizona QBs. Here's what he had to say about the guys:

How much did Anu Solomon's injury actually effect him over the last month or so of the season?

Smith: Well, we don't want to make excuses, but there was obviously that he didn't play all the games. He didn't finish the games, so that bothered him at certain times. He was a hundred percent for the most part in most of the games towards the end, but there were times when the thing would aggravate and flare up and he just had no push off. You know it was tough, and I'm sure he'd tell you he tried to play through it. But was he the same? I don't know. At certain times he probably wasn't.

Is it the training staff's decision to take him out at halftime of the Utah and Oregon games?

Yeah. Basically they talk to him. They work him and diagnose him, and they let us know 'Yeah he can't go' or 'Yeah, he's trying to go'. I mean, it's not an injury where he's going to hurt it worse. It just is what it is, and it's tough to push off of it. But he's been feeling a lot better.

Where did Anu make the biggest strides forward in his game over the course of the season?

Probably from the first game through, he probably made some more accurate throws, particularly down the field. We missed quite a lot early on, and I think part of that was anxiousness. And I think part of it was probably some fundamental stuff as well. But I think as he got more comfortable with what we're doing, comfortable understanding the reads, he kind of settled in a little bit and I thought he did a pretty good job for being a redshirt freshman.

Are those things that you typically see from a freshman quarterback?

Yeah. And it could be typical anybody first time no matter how old you are. Sometimes you just gotta work through it, and he did. And we say it all the time, there's no experience like game experience. You can rep it in practice and hopefully it carries over, and that's what we try to work, but getting your feet wet in a game situation and actually seeing it and doing it are two different things. So when he had the chance to do that, I think he's gotten better as the year went on.

How do you assess the progress of guys like Connor Brewer and Brandon Dawkins when they're not getting as many reps in practice as the main three?

It's tougher obviously, because we can only rep so many guys. We try to have at least three guys ready. But those guys have done a pretty decent job for the amount of reps we've given 'em at times. You evaluate 'em and judge them by what they put on film, and you try to teach it. But what they're doing to is they're taking a lot of mental reps. They're learning from us coaching Anu and coaching Jesse at times, and what they mess up. So hopefully they don't make the same mistakes when they get their opportunity.

Does a lot of their progress come from watching film as a group too?

Absolutely. There's a lot of film study. A lot of position meeting work. That's where it mainly comes from.

When you assess Jerrard Randall, is his throwing accuracy the biggest thing he'll need to improve upon?

It's going to be big for him to continue to learn what we're doing. That's going to be the key for him. He's going to have to get more comfortable with who the read keys are once the snap happens. Making the decision. And then obviously the accuracy part will come in as far as him throwing the football. He's got an extremely talented arm, but he's got to learn. I tell him all the time, you gotta quit being a thrower, you gotta be a passer. You have to distribute the ball, and there's a difference. You can't throw a bullet through every target. You gotta be able to have some accuracy and throw some catchable balls, and that'll be a point of emphasis this spring.

Jerrard was telling me how he used to lock in on one receiver, and now he's not as much. Do you see that too?

Yeah, he's doing it at times. But he needs to get better. He's not as locked as what he used to be, which means he's starting to see things a little bit more, and that's good. But there's a long way for him to go in terms of that. These fifteen practices we're getting here for the bowl game are huge for him and be huge for his development, as well as the spring time when we get to that point.

Looking ahead to spring, will Brandon Dawkins be moving up into more reps at that time?

Yeah, he'll get more reps. We're trying to get him more reps now with our threes at times, just to see what he can do. Give him a look, not that anyone else is not doing anything, but let's just see what we got in him. But once again, these are the fifteen practices you can get your young guys some looks and get them started. It's going to be a huge spring for him, but I'm really, really excited about Brandon Dawkins and what he can bring to the table because I think he's got a chance to be pretty good.

What's Brandon's biggest strength?

He's a big kid that's got a very live arm. He's a good athlete. He seems like so far he's making pretty good decisions. He can throw the football vertically down the field, which is nice. He's got a little bit of a mixture. He's athletic enough to do the zone-read stuff and get on the perimeter and do it. And he's going to be good enough that he can sit in the pocket and he can push the ball down the field and hurt you. So I'm excited about him. It'll be interesting. I'm excited about Zach Werlinger as well. I'm excited about a lot of the guys. But Brandon, it's going to be a big spring for him.

Is it nice for you to have all those options?

Well, I don't know if they're options yet (while laughing), but we're trying to make them options. But it's going to be fun. I've got a good group in terms of they want to learn. We make a lot of mistakes right now I think because we're a young group. We'll be a more seasoned group as the fall comes around next year I'm hoping. By the time we get these fifteen practices in, and then we get the spring, hopefully we'll be a little more seasoned next year at this time than we were going into this fall.

Does it help Anu's development to have all of this potential competition behind him as well?

Oh absolutely. He's done a very good job for us, but he knows he can't just sit on what he did this year, because we're going to have competition all the time. No one's ever guaranteed spots. You gotta earn your stripes around here.

Thanks to coach Smith for all the time and the candidness about the quarterback situation.