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Arizona football: Wildcats’ quarterback situation has ‘changed for the better’

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Arizona has seven options at quarterback, and Rich Rodriguez said he is willing to play three

Arizona v UCLA Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Last season, we saw the Arizona Wildcats cycle through five quarterbacks because of injuries, one of whom was a tight end.

Looking to avoid having history repeat itself, head coach Rich Rodriguez enters 2017 with seven quarterbacks on his roster, and said he needs three to be ready to play.

“Why do you have seven on the roster? Well, I've got to have three that can play, and my odds are better with seven than with four,” Rodriguez said Wednesday at Pac-12 Media Day. “I want to make sure we have enough quarterbacks so we can win this season.”

Brandon Dawkins enters the season as the clear starter in his fourth season with the program. The dual-threat quarterback led an Arizona rushing attack that ranked first in the Pac-12, but was prone to inconsistency as a passer.

Dawkins completed just 53.8 percent of his passes for 1,348 yards, eight touchdowns and six interceptions in 2016.

“Brandon Dawkins is a talented guy that's still getting better,” Rodriguez said. “I think Brandon is learning how to be a quarterback from learning leadership and all of that. But he's a good football player. Really good football player.

“But the best way to expedite his process is to have competition.”

And that’s where Khalil Tate comes in, the second quarterback on the depth chart. Now a sophomore, Tate was forced onto the scene last season after Dawkins went down with an injury.

It may have been too big a role for Tate, who was a true freshman, but it did get him some valuable experience on the job.

Now Tate has become a legitimate option at quarterback if he can get in shape and put everything together consistently.

Rodriguez has several options at third-string quarterback. Walk-on Zach Werlinger returns, while the Wildcats added at least three quarterbacks to the roster — K’Hari Lane, Rhett Rodriguez and Donavan Tate — to help beef up the competition.

“Whether it's a couple guys we signed (Lane and Rodriguez), or from a guy that's a former pro baseball player that's bringing some maturity to the room, that dynamic in that quarterback room changed, and it's changed for the better,” Rodriguez said.

Donavan Tate, a 26-year-old walk-on, has been drawing a lot of interest given his obvious age gap and MLB background.

Tate, a former four-star recruit, signed to play college football at North Carolina, but wound up taking a different route, pursuing a professional baseball career instead.

He was selected third overall by the San Diego Padres in the 2009 MLB Draft. However, after a slew of injuries and substance abuse issues, he was waived by the club in 2015. Tate had a brief stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but that lasted less than a year. He never made his MLB debut.

And that’s when he turned back to football.

Rodriguez recruited Tate when he was the head coach at Michigan, and was intrigued when he learned from a friend that Tate was no longer playing baseball — especially since he has four years of eligibility left and the Padres are paying his way through school.

“So does he really want to do this?,” Rodriguez asked himself.

“After talking to the guy, he paid for his own visit to come visit campus, and he's worked his tail off. ... I don't know what kind of player he's going to be right now, but I know this: The maturity in that quarterback room has changed already. Here's a 26-, 27-year-old grown man, married with three kids.”

Maturity has been a key word when describing Donavan Tate, and we’re going to see just how much that really means and how it gets him as he enters back into the world of football. He hasn’t played organized football since high school.

Arizona’s quarterback room is also going to include Rhett Rodriguez, another guy lauded for his maturity.

Rich Rodriguez said his son is “19 going on 39.”

“So the maturity level in that quarterback room has changed already. And that's going to help us,” Rodriguez said.

At minimum, Rich Rodriguez has options at quarterback. He values the experience that Dawkins has, the athleticism and potential that Khalil holds, the maturity Donavan brings, and the knowledge Rhett possesses.

Arizona’s running backs and experienced offensive line should provide UA a decent running game, and now it comes down to which quarterback can best complement the ground game and bring consistency to the offense.

“We've got to get better at throwing the ball,” Rodriguez said. “That's one thing we've challenged Brandon and the quarterbacks and the receiving crew, that we've got to be able to get better at throwing the football.”