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Arizona football: How close is the quarterback competition?

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Everyone wants to know

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So all spring long we’ve hyped up the Arizona Wildcats quarterback competition between Anu Solomon and Brandon Dawkins. Arizona had 15 spring practices. Anu Solomon missed four due to a hamstring injury, giving all the first team reps to Brandon Dawkins, which will be extremely beneficial for his development when all is said and done.

Now, people want to know how real the competition is, and if Dawkins actually has a legit shot at taking the reins.

Stay tuned for a posts on Cam Denson and Scooby Wright as well. I really enjoyed reaching out on Twitter to find out what everyone wants to know about. We'll try and make this is a continual thing so feel free to tweet at me or leave a comment below.

Now back to the quarterback situation.

We wouldn’t be talking about a quarterback competition if we didn’t at least have a reason to believe that there is indeed a quarterback competition. So for that reason, I think it’s close. You know what you have with a two-year starter like Anu Solomon, but the intrigue of Brandon Dawkins continues to grow ever since the ASU game.

The Arizona State game gave the coaching staff a new confidence in Brandon Dawkins. He was able to show them what he’s capable of doing and now he says he feels like the staff is taking him more seriously. It’s going to take a lot more work on Dawkins’ side, but he knows that he has a real chance to unseat Solomon, and will continue to put that work in.

There’s nothing wrong with Anu Solomon’s ability. He makes the right reads, limits turnovers, and can run the offense. But he’s been plagued with injuries throughout his career, whether it was the ankle injury in the last half of his redshirt freshman season, or his multiple concussions this past season. So right off the bat, it’s the durability issue; can Solomon complete an entire season? The offensive line did him no favors last season, and it’s hard to believe that yet another decent hit to Solomon’s head wouldn’t trigger another concussion.

Was the blow to the head vs. Utah unnecessary roughness/targeting? Definitely. But whether the flag was thrown or not, he still would have had a concussion.

I like Solomon. A redshirt freshman doesn’t just start the season 3-0 and then lead a comeback vs. Cal to start 4-0. They also don’t go to Eugene and hand Oregon their only loss of the regular season. Quarterback is the most important position on the field and he led the team to a 10-3 record and a Fiesta Bowl berth.

This past season I was really impressed with the strides Solomon made in the non-conference schedule. Of course those are three games that Arizona shouldn’t have to think twice about winning, but Solomon showed a stronger grasp of the offense, making all of the right reads, limiting turnovers. And that’s what he does really well.

But the offense stalls. A lot. For Rich Rodriguez to have such an explosive offense at his disposal, sometimes it feels like a boom-or-bust situation. Whether that fell more on Solomon, play calling or just good defense, it's a case by case situation.

The offense doesn't do a whole lot of favors for the defense when they go three-and-out, resulting in a 50-second drive, a drive that probably took a minute and a half of real time, forcing the dilapidated defense to go back on the field.

When all hope was lost, in came Dawkins vs. Arizona State,  getting no first team reps that week prior to the game. But despite the lack of reps, he almost led Arizona to a monumental comeback for the Territorial Cup. That’s not to say he didn’t make any mistakes, but for the third-string guy to come in and torch ASU’s defense like that, that’s going to turn some heads. And it made us wonder why he had been third-string all season long.

He showed the coaching staff what he could do and that’s given Brandon, and the coaching staff, a whole lot of confidence. When I watched Brandon Dawkins last spring, I always noticed the coaching staff barking at him a little more than the other quarterbacks. At the time, I felt that Brandon was just that far behind, but now looking back, I feel like it was mostly because they see how high his ceiling is, and they were trying to make him better with every single rep.

He’s a physical specimen. He’s an extremely well-built 6’3" 200lb quarterback with great mobility. And he can take some hits, maybe more than the coaching staff would want, but durability is what you need in your quarterback.

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So how do I see this playing out? Solomon remains the starter to open the season, especially with a bigger non-conference game in BYU. But if he goes down with an injury or starts showing some hurt, I don’t think Rich Rodriguez hesitates to put Dawkins in. From there, it’s up to Dawkins to show he’s ready.

Rich Rodriguez is never one to just give all his returning starters their job back, and you hate to see a kid lose his role due to injury, but this would make for an interesting decision going forward. Rodriguez never likes to talk about injuries, mostly because he doesn’t get too involved with it, letting the medical trainers do their job.

He pulled Solomon vs. Colorado and put Jerrard Randall in to get something going for the offense. I feel like that was a pretty big statement. Late in the season, when Rodriguez would say he wouldn’t know whether Randall or Solomon would start, I think a good amount of that is actually true, not just him keeping things close to his chest for the media's sake.

If this had been a year with a typical NAU, UNLV, Nevada, UTSA type non-conference schedule, I’d give Brandon Dawkins a greater chance, since he has three extremely winnable games, or what should be. But BYU puts the pressure on just a little bit more.

It's still extremely early. While Arizona is done with their spring practice, most schools are just barely getting into their practices with full pads. We still have the entire summer and fall to let this one play out, and it should be a fun competition to watch as we get closer to the season opener.