Arizona enters 2016 with revamped defense, competition at QB

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez knows the talent in the Pac-12 is improving. He also knows his team is going to have to step things up in 2016 if they want to be competitive.

"It’s more talented than probably any time in the Pac-12’s history," Rodriguez told reporters at Pac-12 Media Day in Los Angeles. "I don’t think there’s anybody, any coach, I may be the first coach speaking that won’t tell you that the Pac-12 is more talented now than it’s ever been in its history, and that’s what makes it more difficult to defend."

The Wildcats, 7-6 a year ago, enter the 2016 predicted to finish fourth in the South standings in a vote of 33 media members who cover Pac-12 football. Stanford was chosen the favorite to win the 2016 Pac-12 Conference football title.

The biggest question mark for Arizona is its defense. Rodriguez revamped his defensive coaching staff during the off-season after his squad allowed at least 30 points in nine of the final 10 games in 2015. Rodriguez brought in Marcel Yates from Boise State to lead the charge in the defensive overhaul.

"I hired Marcel Yates who scheme-wise was really good, but more than anything I liked his personality, I liked the personality of the defense, and I know what we’re going to do," Rodriguez said.

While the defense is still trying to figure things out, Rodriguez said he has seen "renewed enthusiasm" as a result of the change.

"As the head coach, I’m responsible for all phases of the team, and so I looked at myself and say, ‘geez, I’ve got to do a better job of making sure we’re getting better defensively,’ " Rodriguez said. "There’s going to be some growing pains, but the future of our defense is going to be really good."

Offensively, things are more stable but not without questions. Quarterback Anu Solomon had an up-and-down sophomore season in 2015 after battling some injuries. The coaching staff will take a serious look at sophomore Brandon Dawkins, who had a solid performance last season against Arizona State, completing 16 of 30 attempts for 301 yards and two touchdowns.

"I think we’re in a good situation where we have two guys competing for the starting job," Rodriguez said. "We treat the quarterback position pretty much like the rest of them. Just compete and play the best guy at the time."

Solomon threw for 20 touchdowns and five interceptions last season and ran the ball into the endzone three times. A nagging hamstring injury plagued his season, but with Solomon in control, Arizona finished third in the Pac-12 in yards per game last season.

"The next step for Anu is simply to be more consistent," Rodriguez said. "Certainly health is an issue with that, but there are so many more things that we can do in our offense if the quarterback can handle it mentally, and he can handle a lot mentally, and we’re going to put more on him."

"Athletically, they’re both pretty similar. They’re pretty close. I hope both of them prove that we can win with them and we’ll play both of them throughout the year."