The Arizona Wildcats have two legitimate options at quarterback in 2017: Brandon Dawkins and Khalil Tate. The rest are simply fillers for the time being.
Three-year starter Anu Solomon, who saw a steep drop off in his career after the Fiesta Bowl loss, transferred to Baylor, and now there will be seven quarterbacks on the roster.
Key losses: Anu Solomon
Key returners: Brandon Dawkins, Khalil Tate
Key newcomers: K'Hari Lane, Rhett Rodriguez, Donavan Tate
“We’re getting better,” quarterbacks coach Rod Smith said during fall camp. “There’s obviously a progression of development. We have to keep going through and I think early on we looked rusty, but each day we’ve gotten a little bit better, a little more progression.
“I’m excited about their effort and progress so far and we still have some more time.”
Dawkins is entering his fourth year in the program, and his first offseason as the favorite to win the starting quarterback job. He still has a lot of work to do, but he’s working on the smaller details to advance.
“He has a better grasp obviously of what we’re doing offensively,” Smith said. “He looks more comfortable, trying to tighten his motion down a little bit ... there’s still some work that needs to be done.”
Dawkins has the size, mobility, and arm strength to be successful. It just all comes down to making the right reads, keeping his eyes downfield and hitting the target — things that are all easier said than done.
“He’s a lot more comfortable offensively as far as knowing where guys are at," Smith said. "We have to keep getting better at being more instinctive, in terms of anticipating throws, anticipating windows and things like that, that’s our next phase.”
Dawkins is going to need to be more comfortable in the pocket, rather than rolling out and looking for yardage on his own. He may have a 6-foot-3, 210 pound frame, but he took some unnecessary big hits at times, which kept him off the field.
Arizona led the Pac-12 in rushing last season, and Dawkins was a huge contributor. The dual-threat quarterback finished eighth in the Pac-12 in rushing yards last season (944), and fourth in rushing yards per game (94.4).
Dawkins only threw for 1,348 yards, though, with eight touchdowns to six interceptions, and an unimpressive 53.8 completion percentage.
Khalil Tate, now 18 years old, has had an entire offseason to get his head above the water.
“Khalil’s gotten better mentally as well,” Smith said. “Obviously he’s not ready, but he’s a lot further along than where he was. He’s throwing the ball much better, with velocity, with touch. He’s always had a little touch but he’s thrown the ball a lot better, more accuracy this fall.”
Tate looked sharp in the spring and has a load of potential; it’s just a matter of keeping things consistent and getting into shape to run the offense, which is something he has been working on this offseason as well.
You would have thought Tate had the mindset that he can come in and compete for the job as a true freshman, but that wasn’t the case. He admitted that he didn’t take conditioning seriously and didn’t think he was going to play last season.
Unprepared, Tate was young and got thrown into the fire. We saw some promising things from him last season, and some really bad things. But he has the physical tools; mobility, arm strength and accuracy. And like Dawkins, he needs to put it all together at once.
“Excited about him, kids got a load of talent we just have to keep coming mentally, progressing mentally and the lights will kick on here soon enough,” Smith said.
Overall, this is Dawkins’ job to lose. Until Tate can mature a little more, get in shape and understand the full scope of the offense, Rodriguez will have to go with who he trusts more.
Rodriguez has said multiple times that Dawkins is much further ahead, and Smith stating that Tate isn’t ready enforces that. It’s still likely that Tate plays at quarterback, whether that’s to pick up some momentum or come in to replace an injured Dawkins. Regardless, Tate is going to need to be ready.
Donavan Tate was a very surprising addition to the roster that was announced at an alumni event in Tempe. The 26-year-old and former No. 3 pick in the 2009 MLB draft will enter the program as a true freshman walk-on.
“Very talented kid. He’s not a kid, he’s a man,” Smith said while laughing. “When you’re away from football as long as he was, obviously there’s going to be some rustiness, some kinks you have to work out.”
Coming out of high school, Tate was originally a four-star quarterback prospect committed to North Carolina, before he decided to pursue his professional baseball career.
He has since overcome a drug addiction, sports hernia, ATV accident, sprained shoulder, concussion, and Achillies tendon tear before finally giving up on his professional professional baseball career.
Considering the fact that Tate has been away from football for about eight years or so, and this long list of injuries, expectations should be extremely low for him. Back in the day, scouts would rave about Tate, but it’s hard to believe that eight years later he can pick up Arizona’s playbook and go.
“He’s going to be good by the time he’s sharpened up and ready to go,” Smith said about the 26-year old freshman.
Next is the guy who had no D-I offers until a Bleacher Report feature shared his story, K’hari Lane. A Montezuma, Georgia product, Lane finished the season with a remarkable state line at Macon County High School.
He threw 199 for 319 for 3,740 yards, with 56 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He also added 290 yards on the ground and eight touchdowns. How he went unnoticed in Georgia’s 4A class is unknown, but Rodriguez took a flyer on this kid to add another dual-threat quarterback to roster for the future.
How he stacks up is also unknown, but we’ll soon found out when he arrives on campus and starts to compete. He’ll need to get to work quickly, adjusting to the Pac-12 and Rodriguez’s offense. Like Tate, he also needs to step up his conditioning. He enters the program at 6-foot-1, 245 pounds.
Then there’s the coach’s son, Rhett Rodriguez, who probably knows this offense more than anyone else in Tucson. At Catalina Foothills, he had the reigns and called the shots on offense, reading a defense and picking them apart.
How his game translates to the Pac-12 is something everyone is wondering. Whether he'll ever see the field at Arizona is unknown, but having his brain in the quarterback room is extremely valuable.
It's going to be interesting to see who actually is third on the depth chart. Does the staff go with Zach Werlinger or do they burn the redshirt on Rodriguez, Lane or Tate?