Football Guide '17: Dawkins looks to take command of Arizona offense
Arizona quarterback Brandon Dawkins (13) runs the ball during Arizona's 45-24 loss to UCLA at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, Calif. on Oct. 1, 2016. The Wildcats will play UCLA on Saturday, Oct. 14 during family weekend.
Brandon Dawkins said he has been itching to get back onto the gridiron ever since the 2016 Territorial Cup Game — a game where he accounted for 260 total yards of offense and three touchdowns.
The redshirt junior will enter the upcoming football season with a surrounding expectation that he will be named Arizona’s starting quarterback when the team kicks off its season opener Sept. 2 against NAU, but Dawkins knows that if he is given the starting job, he must earn it the whole season.
“I’m always competing. I’m always trying to win the job, even if I have the job,” Dawkins said during Arizona’s media day Aug. 19. “If the job is mine, then their job is to find someone to replace me. So I’ve got to always make sure I’m on point with everything that I do”.
Throughout the offseason, Arizona has had an ongoing quarterback battle between Dawkins, sophomore Khalil Tate and 26-year-old freshman Donavan Tate. And in typical head coach Rich Rodriguez fashion, the team’s starting quarterback has yet to be officially announced.
Dawkins was in a somewhat similar competition a year ago, one in which the incumbent QB Anu Solomon beat out the challenging Dawkins. But a knee injury to Solomon in the season opener paved the way for Dawkins to take command of the position.
The 2016 campaign saw flashes of brilliance from the dual-threat quarterback, but they were marred by injuries and his inability to accurately throw down-field consistently. For reference, Dawkins finished the season ranking No. 5 among all Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks with 94.4 rushing yards per game. However, his completion percentage ranked last among qualified Pac-12 quarterbacks and he battled a rib injury for multiple games that even forced him to sit out against USC.
This offseason though, Dawkins spent time trying to course correct in order to make sure those issues don’t plague Arizona again this year. One of the training exercises Dawkins did during the summer was bulk up physically to withstand the amount of hits he takes as a mobile quarterback.
“Last season, I was playing at around 205 [pounds], and now I’m up to around 215,” Dawkins said. “This is definitely where I want to try to maintain … I feel very comfortable at 215.”
The Oxnard, California native also spent more time in the classroom — the football classroom that is — learning the playbook and working to create chemistry with the offense. Dawkins said he is trying to be “more comfortable in this offense … and understand where everyone is going to be at so [he] can anticipate.”
“Anticipation” is a word Dawkins has repeated quite a bit during fall camp. He said that it’s one of the toughest parts of the game to master as quarterbacks progress from high school and is something he has focused on specifically in training camp with the offense.
“We’ve just worked on a lot of trust things with the O-line and with the receivers,” Dawkins said. “Anticipation has been a huge thing for me. To be able to put the ball where it needs to be before it’s there instead of waiting for it to happen,” he reiterated.
But perhaps the area where Dawkins has shown the most growth is with his leadership skills.
“Finally having some clout behind my name with having a few starts under my belt, the guys have really taken the stuff I say a lot more serious,” said Dawkins. “They take that with a little more presence behind it.”
Teammates were also quick to point out his positive influences on the team.
“He’s gotten better as a leader throughout the years, and he’s been more of a team-guy every year,” offensive lineman Layth Friekh said. Wide receiver Shun Brown also referred to Dawkins as a leader and someone that the team follows.
If Arizona hopes to contend in the Pac-12 South this year, Dawkins will have to put all of the pieces he talked about together and display them for a full season.
His right arm could be the difference-maker for Arizona this season. His dynamic running will almost certainly be a part of the Wildcats’ offense this year, and if Dawkins can become a true dual-threat quarterback while staying healthy, Arizona should end the season with a better record than a year ago.
But if he is unable to make the leap that the coaching staff is expecting, Khalil or Donavan Tate may just be under center by the end of the season.
“No matter what happens, I’m always going to be competing,” Dawkins said.
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