The Arizona Wildcats have passed the halfway point of spring practice and there has been some competition across many positions for Arizona. Rodriguez has said that there is no depth chart, merely a position chart, allowing him to move guys where he feels the team needs.
Some positions have more competition than others, given the youth of the returning guys on the roster. But that's not to say that there are guaranteed spots for the starters last season. Below are a few key position groups that have had some competition this spring that will continue throughout the fall.
It seems as if Brandon Dawkins has a legitimate shot to unseat Anu Solomon for the starting job. With his performance at Arizona State this past season, he showed the coaches what he's capable of doing, earning their trust and a whole lot of confidence.
A third-string quarterback doesn't just get thrown into the fire in one of the biggest games of the season and execute the offense. Of course his performance wasn't flawless, that's to be expected of any new quarterback, but what he did seriously put him in contention for the starting role.
Anu Solomon is a great option; he has the experience and has the calm, cool and collected demeanor. But his issue has been his health, whether it's his ankle, head and now hamstring, which has held him out of spring practice this year. It makes you wonder how much more he can handle, especially suffering multiple concussions within one calendar year.
But it will be Dawkins as the beneficiary, gaining first-team reps and taking advantage of any and all opportunities when Solomon steps out. The way it stands, Brandon Dawkins has won the trust of his teammates, and they're working with him to push Anu Solomon. Whether he wins the job or not, it will make the team better having the two quarterbacks battling it out.
It's hard to imagine Solomon not being named the starter for the season opener, especially going up against a much stronger non-conference opponent than we're used to in BYU. But it would not be surprising if Dawkins overtakes the starting job, and definitely not surprising if Dawkins should Anu Solomon's injury issue linger into 2016.
Michael Lev of the Daily Star sums it nicely here.
Nick Wilson will figure to be the premier back of the system, but that's not to say that Orlando Bradford isn't going to get a large bulk of the carries, if not a 50/50 split. Much like Solomon, Wilson has also battled injuries throughout his two-year playing career at Arizona.
Orlando Bradford has proved to be an effective runner, despite only handling the ball 47 times this past season. But when you compare Bradford's carries to Jared Baker, who served as the third-string running back 2012-2014, it's almost double that of Baker, who proved to be a nice back in his final season. The amount of confidence the staff has in a true freshman running back like Bradford shows how much they value him. Bradford can take some mileage off of Wilson, making this a nice two-headed beast in the backfield.
But things start to get tricky after Bradford. Rich Rodriguez has said that the third running back spot is open, with Branden Leon and Zach Green likely the top two in contention. Zach Green seems to always be close to seeing the field, but not quite ready, with his conditioning and game shape holding him back. Brandon Dawkins had said that he looks good and could provide a lot for Arizona this season. But Rich Rodriguez has mentioned Branden Leon a few times after spring practice and I think he looked a little better than Green in the open practice.
Arizona is also adding JJ Taylor this summer, who was the Los Angeles Player of the Year. He's a small back, but he's strong and productive. He figures to be in the mix upon his arrival.
While the third string running back isn't the most interesting, they're still a relevant piece to the offense, especially if there's an injury ahead of them.
Maybe not so much a competition here, but Arizona has a lot of depth that can be rotated often. The locks at receiver would have be to Trey Griffey, Samajie Grant and Nate Phillips. Cam Denson has impressed this spring and seems to be more of a natural on offense and there's still Tyrell Johnson and Shun Brown as some explosive slot receivers.
Tony Ellison was a hot name last spring, with guys like Will Parks giving him his seal of approval. His name keeps coming up this spring and Samajie Grant had said he was 99% sure that Ellison would be starting at some point this season. Rich Rodriguez also said he feels that Ellison will work his way into the starting rotation as well.
Arizona will also be adding 6'6" receiver Shawn Poindexter and speedster DeVaughn Cooper from the 2016 recruiting class. Given Poindexter's size and his limited years of eligibility, he figures to be a guy immediately in the mix as well. Poindexter was planning to appeal to regain some of his eligibility, as there were some issues in his enrollment at Cal Baptist. The way it stands, he will have two years to play two, but if he wins his appeal he will be getting four years to play three.
This could be Freddie Tagaloa's spot if he's able to recover from his injuries that have now lingered into spring practice. Christian Boettcher was running first team in Tagaloa's place, and after Boettcher it gets foggy. Alex Kosinski is a guy who could fill in at guard, perhaps Nathan Elderidge or Levi Walton as well, who have also been snapping for Coach Michalczik.
Seems as if Zach Hemmila is the favorite to win the job for now, but Coach Michalczik did have a handful of guys getting reps at center this spring, as many as six, including the guys named above in the left guard contest.
DaVonte' Neal seems to be a lock to retain his starting spot, leaving one spot open. The way it looks now, I'd put my money on Dane Cruikshank. Things have finally come together for him after his redshirt season and he's a taller corner as well, especially compared to Sammy Morrison and Jace Whittaker, two corners who started last season. Kwesi Mashack is a guy I liked last spring, and we'll see how he does stacked up against the depth.
I left off defensive line and linebackers because those are two groups that seem to be solidified, for the most part, in terms of an unofficial depth chart....the linebackers more so than defensive line. Cody Ippolito, Paul Magloire Jr. and DeAndre' Miller look to be the starting linebackers. But Jake Matthews should be healthy by the time the season rolls around. Jamardre Cobb worked his way into the first team defense towards the end of the open spring practice, which would be huge for himself and the linebacker group.
The defensive line has Jack Banda in a walking boot right now, who would likely come in as a starter upon his return. Parker Zellers I think has locked up that nose guard spot on the defensive line. Sani Fuimaono should retain his spot as well. Justin Belknap is a guy who has worked his way up to the depth chart and could be a rotational guy. Arizona also adds 4-star defensive end Josh Allen in the summer, who should be able to get a solid chance as well.
Rich Rodriguez has said that safeties are an area of concern, which is something that he addressed in recruiting. When I spoke to some of those safety recruits, they said that the staff believes they could contribute very early in their career and Rich Rodriguez has said that freshmen will definitely be in the mix. We're still uncertain about the status of Tellas Jones, but we know that Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles has the spur spot and Anthony Mariscal has worked his way into the free safety spot, or so it seems. Jarvis McCall made the switch to safety and has worked out of the bandit, replacing Tellas Jones. Until the freshmen arrive on campus, we won't really know a whole lot.