Brandon Dawkins did a lot of good things in his first season as the Arizona Wildcats’ most-of-the-time starting quarterback. He has plenty of room for improvement. That’s the challenge the redshirt junior faces and embraces as he begins the next year of his football life.
It’s a multistep process, and it began on a rainy, blustery afternoon on the UA campus. The Wildcats began spring practice Saturday, and Dawkins, as expected, took the first quarterback reps. But he isn’t taking anything for granted.
Despite Dawkins starting nine games and accounting for 18 touchdowns last season, UA coach Rich Rodriguez said the job is up for grabs between Dawkins and sophomore Khalil Tate.
“It’s never a for-sure thing,” Dawkins said. “I’ve got to build and keep getting better to make sure, to leave no doubt in his mind.”
The first spring practice is a long way from the first regular-season game. Dawkins has a lot of work to do between now and then. But he’s been busy since last season ended on Nov. 25.
Dawkins has reviewed film with quarterbacks coach Rod Smith, who wants Dawkins to be more patient in the pocket. Far too often last season — even when he had time — Dawkins took off running instead of going through his progressions.
“Brandon knows what we’re doing now,” Smith said. “He knows where (the) No. 2 and 3 (receivers) are. There’s gotta be a trust factor between him and the offensive line with protection to be able to sit back there and go through his reads.
“He’s got to understand, I can’t take off just because I feel pressure; I’ve got to learn to work and move in the pocket and make throws at times as well. When you’re a young quarterback, you tend to go with your first, natural instinct. That’s to take off because he’s so good at that.”
Dawkins rushed for a team-best 944 yards and 10 touchdowns in 10 games, averaging 7.2 yards per carry. No one doubts that he and Tate (237 yards, 4.8 YPC) can run effectively in Rodriguez’s system.
“But we’ve got to get better in the passing game,” Rodriguez said. “That’s clear. Today was a pretty good start.”
Dawkins also has been working on quickening his release with Smith and renowned QB coach Steve Clarkson.
Finally, Dawkins has put on about 12 pounds of muscle. Dawkins, who’s listed at 6-3, 210, said he dropped about 10 pounds over the course of last season, when he missed time because of a rib injury and a concussion. He’d like to get up to 220 pounds by the start of next season.
Rodriguez probably won’t name a starting quarterback until the Sept. 2 opener against Northern Arizona. Dawkins is approaching the competition — and his day-to-day duties — like the veteran he now is.
“Being the guy this year, it’s … added responsibility on my shoulders,” Dawkins said. “I’ve got to take the guys and lead them, make sure we have a better season than last season. It starts now.”
Holt done with football
Defensive tackle Justin Holt has medically retired from football and is no longer on the UA roster, Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said Holt, who redshirted as a freshman last season after a standout career at Salpointe Catholic High School, has been “dealing with concussions.” Arizona plans to honor the former three-star recruit’s scholarship.
“It’s a shame,” Rodriguez said. “He’s a great young man. Hopefully he’ll finish his academic career here and move on.”
- Redshirt freshman Gavin Robertson, who came to Arizona as a safety, has moved to “will” linebacker and worked with the first team at that spot.
- All four scholarship running backs practiced. Nick Wilson had a brace on his right knee and J.J. Taylor wore a sleeve on his left leg, but neither seemed impaired in any way.
- Redshirt freshman Kahi Neves played at the “stud” position with the second defensive unit.
- Florida graduate transfer Cameron Dillard visited campus and attended practice. Dillard is a center who would be eligible for Rodriguez right away.
- Arizona also hosted K’Hari Lane, a 2017 quarterback from Montezuma, Georgia. He has offers from several FCS schools.
- The following players worked on the side Saturday: TE Brion Anduze, DL Jalen Cochran, LB Jacob Colacion, OL Gerhard de Beer, OL Michael Eletise, WR Cedric Peterson and DL Parker Zellers.
- About 50 ex-players watched Saturday’s practice as part of alumni weekend, including current New York Giants cornerback Trevin Wade.
- Former Arizona tight end and wide receiver Terrence Miller shadowed Rodriguez (who worked with the wide receivers) and is hoping to join the staff as a graduate assistant.