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Arizona football depth chart: Anu Solomon leads group of improved quarterbacks

Everyone's better!

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If all goes as planned this season, there's only one quarterback that we'll really have to worry about this year, and that's Anu Solomon, who is the first returning starting quarterback of the Rich Rodriguez era at Arizona.

People may worry that there are only three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster this year, but from where they all were last year, they've all significantly improved.

Key losses: Jesse Scroggins

Key returners: Anu Solomon, Jerrard Randall, Brandon Dawkins, Zach Werlinger

Key newcomers: None

After dealing with an ankle injury over the course of the second half of 2014, Anu Solomon showed up to fall camp as a much stronger, more athletic quarterback, and that's paid off in a big way as far as his physical game is concerned.

But as Arizona Wildcats fans know, it's the mental side that Solomon had to get better at, and quarterbacks coach Rod Smith believes that he's done that.

"I think he needed to continue to grow within the offense, and to understand situational football," Smith told me about Arizona's starting quarterback. "I think he took time in the offseason to really study, and kind of watch. And we've worked certain things. We'll do drills in certain series, where we put them in situations of two minute drill, third down, down by two, all those types of things."

"I think the more he's done it, the better he's going to be. It's just like anything. The more you do it, the better you're going to be, and I think that's where he's going to be."

With the release of the official depth chart on Friday, it confirmed that the primary backup will be Jerrard Randall, and the third-string quarterback will be Brandon Dawkins.

Randall is a senior now, after appearing in five games last year after transferring from LSU and community college. He didn't complete any of his three pass attempts, but he seems to have reigned in his cannon for an arm this year.

"I think he's gotten better," Rod Smith said. "He's starting to understand more of what we're trying to do. He's worked on his throwing. He's got a laser for an arm. He throws the football as hard as anyone I've ever seen, and that's good and bad. He's gotta learn at when to take a little something off, and I think he's gotten better at that. He's shown some touch here in fall camp, and that's pretty impressive for us."

"I think he just gets so amped and juiced up that he gets ramped up and he's gotta learn to control his body motions a little bit and calm down."

A lot of focus in the spring was on redshirt freshman Brandon Dawkins, and whether or not he would vault himself up the depth chart and possibly challenge Solomon for that starting job. But that never panned out, and it got to the point where people were wondering if he was going to transfer, especially with the next two recruiting classes the Wildcats have lined up at the position.

But he's still in Tucson, and he seems to be a victim of bad timing more than anything.

"I like Brandon Dawkins, I think he's got a bright future ahead of him," Smith explained. "But he needs to get ready for this year, not the future, so we're pushing him. And I think he just needs to continue to get reps. He needs to learn where his eyes need to be, make sure he's reading coverage correctly. He's probably got the most work to do out of all of them, but at the same time, he's progressing."

"I think he is," Smith said when I asked if Dawkins is in a similar place to where Anu was at this point last year. "It's a constant, daily growth. There's always something that they can get better at. I tell them all the time that if we can be a little bit better than we were yesterday, we're making strides."

People may worry about what lies behind Anu Solomon, but as a group, these quarterbacks are more equipped to handle the potential of playing in a game than they were last year. Having three guys that all have at least a year of experience in the system is going to do nothing but help. And it doesn't hurt that only four guys are getting reps.

"I think we're further along from a mental standpoint," Smith continued. "I think the guys are stronger physically, but there's a mental part that goes along with that. It's easier to divvy up reps. You can spend a little more time specializing with certain guys because you don't have as many. You have a little more time to personalize your coaching for certain guys."

As a late twist here, both tight ends on the two-deep, Josh Kern and Matt Morin, were both quarterbacks just a few years ago as freshmen at Arizona and San Diego State respectively. But don't expect to see any trick plays as of yet.

"In pre-practice we just take some snaps at quarterback, but we haven't done anything in actual practice yet," Morin told me. "But with Coach Rod you never know what's up his sleeve."