The most important position battle during IU football spring practice took a turn late Tuesday evening.
Brandon Dawkins’ announcement that he would come to IU as a graduate transfer from Arizona added a seventh quarterback to the IU roster.
“A lot of guys in the graduate transfer world have not played much at all and definitely haven’t started,” IU Coach Tom Allen said during Wednesday’s Big Ten spring football teleconference. “So he’s a guy that’s been a starter, a guy that’s had success and, obviously, a man that brings some leadership maturity to our quarterback room.”
Dawkins joins sophomore Peyton Ramsey and junior Mike Fiacable as the only IU players with game experience.
Freshman Michael Penix Jr., a three-star prospect according to 247Sports who committed to IU on National Signing Day in December, enrolled early and has participated in spring practice.
A trio of redshirt freshmen, Johnny Pabst, Jack Kellams and Nick Tronti, round out the stable of Hoosier quarterbacks.
However, Dawkins and Ramsey are the only players with previous starting experience. Both also have similar playing styles, being right-handed, mobile quarterbacks who provide IU with a dual-threat option under center.
Penix also presents IU with a versatile option at quarterback. A left-handed passer, he averaged more than nine yards per rushing attempt during his two-year high school career. As a spring semester enrollee, Penix has had the added benefit of being around the IU offense and learning offensive coordinator Mike DeBord’s system.
“He’s had a very strong spring and (we're) very excited about him,” Allen said of Penix. “To be able to bring in an individual that’s been a starter, that has (Dawkins’) maturity and his experience was very, very important to us. We sat the other guys down and talked them through it before we even brought him on a visit. They understood.”
While at Arizona, Dawkins started 14 combined games in the 2016 and 2017 seasons, and he played in 21 total games dating back to his redshirt freshman season in 2015. He averaged around seven yards per carry in both of those seasons, but also struggled some in the passing game.
His 53.8-percent completion percentage over 182 passing attempts in 2016 was below Richard Lagow’s 2016 numbers, and Dawkins has 15 career passing touchdowns and 12 career interceptions.
If Dawkins, Penix or Ramsey do become IU’s starter, fans can expect IU’s offense to once again operate primarily out of the shotgun, as has been the case in recent years.
Allen said that as a defensive-minded coach, he knows it’s difficult to defend against a quarterback with the ability to effectively run and throw the ball.
“We have a chance to now create the competition in that room to allow us to be able to have all guys that have similar skills sets,” Allen said. “The ability to extend plays, the ability to create things with your legs, to create something from nothing are things that we’re trying to get to. I believe a big part of that is the escapability, the athleticism of that quarterback.”
Dawkins’ arrival comes too late for him to take part in this weekend’s spring game, so Saturday will offer a chance for Penix, Ramsey or another quarterback to impress Allen and company before IU’s graduate transfer gets to work.
“Even though Peyton did a great job last year, he’s still young and has had a really good spring,” Allen said. “He’s gonna be competing just like they all are to be the guy.”
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