Spring Preview: Quarterbacks

Brett Hundley had a fantastic freshman season at quarterback, and given his rate of progression, could be in line for an even better spring...

Last Season

UCLA finally found its long awaited answer at quarterback last season: Brett Hundley. After years of quarterback battles, controversy, and relative mediocrity, Hundley vastly elevated the quality of play at quarterback, working in a more effective offensive system than has been seen at UCLA since Cade McNown. From the opening game, he displayed an uncommon level of maturity for a freshman and displayed so many of the attributes that have been lacking in UCLA quarterbacks over the year: a strong, accurate arm; good decision making on throws; tremendous agility in the pocket. If UCLA had gotten just marginal play out of the quarterback position, the team easily could have had another 6-6 trudge through the regular season.

There were some issues, as there always are. Hundley's pocket awareness needs a lot of work. While he generally makes good decisions on not throwing the ball into coverage, he struggled with knowing when to throw the ball away, and frequently took unnecessary sacks. He also had his ups and downs on knowing when to tuck and run. Luckily, those are all things that improve with experience, of which Hundley received a great deal this season.

In terms of his throwing, Hundley hit most throws fairly well last year, but he struggled with slant passes. He threw almost every slant last year behind the receiver, typically on the back shoulder. In general, any kind of pass pattern that involves crossing over the middle he was inconsistent on leading the throws.

Other than that, though, Hundley showed exactly why so many had him rated highly in high school. With at least another year remaining at UCLA, Hundley has a chance to set himself high in UCLA lore with another good season or two.

Last year was the final season for Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, who provided a security blanket for Hundley if he were to get hurt. Behind them, Jerry Neuheisel emerged as a solid potential backup, and led the scout team well.

A Look at Spring

Last year, Hundley made tremendous strides from the end of the season to the start of spring, and then again from spring to fall. With his rate of progression, and a full season under his belt, it's going to be extremely interesting to see where his development is now. Given how well he's progressed so far, it'll be interesting to see how he's improved in his pocket awareness and ability to hit slant passes.

Perhaps more interesting than Hundley's development, though, will be the race for the backup quarterback position. Neuheisel has to be considered the favorite, given that the coaches are very high on him and he showed the most ability of the young backups last season. He doesn't have a great deal of upside physically, so it'll be interesting to see if he's improved his arm strength in the offseason. Technique-wise, he's already very sound.

T.J. Millweard came in last spring looking very raw, with a hitchy motion and an inability to spin the ball. By the end of the season, you'd probably just describe him as "raw", subtracting the "very". He made some progress, and by the end of the season his throwing motion was noticeably shorter. We doubt he'll be able to make enough progress to overtake Neuheisel in the competition, but he might be able to further shorten his motion and work on throwing a better ball.

Waiting in the wings is Mike Fafaul, who is intriguing just because he might have the best throwing mechanics on the team. His decision making wasn't great during scout work last year, so that'll be something for him to work on. His body doesn't have much upside, with a very thin frame.

What to Watch For

*Can UCLA simulate enough of a rush to give Hundley effective practice? Obviously, UCLA probably won't be going live on quarterbacks this spring, and it's always difficult to simulate a pass rush when the quarterbacks can't be touched. However, given that Hundley's pocket awareness is probably the number one thing that needs to be improved in his game, we have to guess there'll be an emphasis on putting him in uncomfortable situations in the backfield. Hundley's also a known film junkie, so he could very well come in with a better understanding of pocket decisions simply from watching himself play last season.

*Will Hundley make a leap? Although Hundley has been in the program for two full years, it's hard not to discount the first year under Rick Neuheisel, which didn't seem to help Hundley's development at all. Now, with a successful year under his belt, and an offseason to review his own film and watch his mistakes, Hundley could be in position to have a really fantastic spring. We know he's done a great deal of work in the gym in the offseason, so it'll be interesting to see how far he's come from the Holiday Bowl.

*Will the backup be announced in spring? UCLA does have a quarterback coming in this summer in Asiantii Woulard. From all reports, he's a little raw on the position himself, so it'll be interesting to see if Coach Mora goes ahead and names Jerry Neuheisel the primary backup coming out of spring.

*What kind of package will Devin Fuller get? Coach Mora made mention of a specific quarterback package designed for Fuller last week in the press conference, which will be interesting to see. He mentioned the possibility of having a Wildcat type package, with both Fuller and Hundley in the formation, and Hundley split wide. Given what we saw of Fuller throwing last fall, we'd be inclined to stick him exclusively at receiver, but the prospect of a trick play or two involving Fuller could be enticing.

Projected Spring Depth Chart

Quarterback
Brett Hundley (6'3, 227)
Jerry Neuheisel (6'1, 191)
T.J. Millweard (6'3, 218)
Mike Fafaul (6'1, 199)
Jake Hall (6'5, 200)

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