While discussing his new quarterback additions last week, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez asserted that freshmen Donavan Tate and Rhett Rodriguez had brought a new sense of “maturity” to the room.

It made sense. Tate is a 26-year-old, married father of three who spent most of the past eight years playing minor-league baseball. Rodriguez, the coach’s son, approaches the game like a coach.

Rich Rodriguez didn’t say the returning quarterbacks lacked maturity.

But Brandon Dawkins and Khalil Tate would be the first to tell you how much they have grown as players and people during their time in Tucson.

Dawkins is entering his fourth season at Arizona as a returning starter who isn’t taking his “frontrunner” status – Rodriguez’s term – for granted.

“It’s always been the same mindset for me,” Dawkins said this week. “I don’t care if you have me down as the three, the four, the 12, however many quarterbacks we bring in, I’m going to be battling like I’m trying to win the job.

“My job is never safe. The recruiting coaches, their job is to find somebody better than me. I’ve gotta make sure I’m giving them no doubt that I’m the best guy here.”

Dawkins’ competitive nature hasn’t changed, but plenty else has. His knowledge of the playbook has expanded to the point that he’s able to serve as a coach on the field during training camp practices – giving the less experienced quarterbacks pointers and answering their questions. That includes the ever-curious Donavan Tate, whom Dawkins playfully refers to as “Grandpop” and a “father figure.”

“Having the young guys around and being able to try to teach them what I’ve learned is helping me out,” Dawkins said.

“It reminded me of some of the little things I may overlook. They say you learn something the best when you’re able to teach it. … Everybody’s giving each other something.”

Rodriguez added Tate in the hope he would provide immediate competition at quarterback. Although Dawkins rushed for a team-high 944 yards last season, he struggled as a passer, completing only 53.8 percent of his throws. Upgrading the passing game is among Rodriguez’s top priorities for 2017.

But if Tate is a threat to Dawkins’ position, he sure doesn’t talk about the newcomer’s arrival that way. If anything, Dawkins’ tone veers more toward reverence.

“He’s a bookworm,” Dawkins said. “He’s just being a sponge. That’s all you can ask him to do. Absorb everything he can.

“Going from a professional athlete in one sport and trying to flip it on over to another sport, that’s a feat in itself.

“The fact he’s taking it on full speed, I can only commend him for it. I’m here to help him out as much as I can.”

As far as his own game, Dawkins is aware enough to acknowledge his shortcomings. His primary focus during the offseason was on becoming a better passer.

“That’s kind of the big thing on me right now,” he said. “Can the Dawkins kid throw the ball? I’ll try to show them a little something by the time Sept. 2 comes around.”

After a promising start to his first season at Arizona, Khalil Tate hit the freshman wall hard. In his first two appearances, off the bench, Tate completed 10 of 17 passes (58.8 percent) for 177 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

In his final four games, including one start, Tate went 8 of 28 (28.6 percent) for 66 yards with no touchdowns and two picks.

Tate began last season as a 17-year-old, and the plan was for him to redshirt. But injuries to Dawkins and Anu Solomon forced Tate into action.

He wasn’t fully prepared mentally or physically. He said this week that he wasn’t in good enough shape, and he made that a priority during the offseason.

“I’ve taken it a lot more seriously, and it’s helped me a lot,” Tate said. “When you’re not tired … things come more natural. When you’re tired, you just do whatever you can to get by.”

Tate looked like a vastly improved player in the Wildcats’ final spring scrimmage, unofficially completing 16 of 19 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown. He said he knows at least 95 percent of the playbook. Although he’s still only 18 years old – eight years younger than Donavan Tate – Khalil Tate now considers himself a “veteran.”

Rodriguez liked what he saw from all the quarterbacks after the first camp practice Monday evening, praising their mental sharpness.

“I think the guys that are returning have gotten better,” Rodriguez said, “and the new guys we got will push them.”

Extra points

* After the defense got the better of the offense the first day, the offense won Practice No. 2 on Tuesday night.

* Rodriguez said the enthusiasm level was down at the start – typical for a second practice – but improved after the first few periods.

* Arizona’s defense needs to improve in several areas, but the one that’s most critical is getting more quick stops, Rodriguez said.

* Rodriguez said he and the coaching staff will force themselves to use more players this year, on both sides of the ball, to build the depth needed to survive a season.

* Rodriguez said redshirt freshman Jacob Colacion is “going to be playing a lot of football for us.” Colacion is a candidate to start at “Mike” linebacker.

* Freshman tailback Gary Brightwell has made a positive impression thus far and asked the coaches to give him reps in the slot.

* Arizona will practice in shells the next two days before going to full pads Friday.

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