Perhaps they're not vitally pressing issues for spring, because the first priority is just having enough bodies on the field, really. And maybe they're not that important even for this fall. But the key to success under Jim Mora will be maintaining a talent level so there is continuity of a sustained quality of play. That, of course, starts with recruiting, but management and evaluation of the existing players in the program is probably just as key.
We've seen in the past, both in UCLA football and basketball, how poor evaluations of a program's own players can dramatically contribute to that program's demise.
UCLA's personnel is in a critical transition period – between when it is still dealing with the aftermath of the tail end of a departed coach, which typically leaves at least some cupboards of a program bare, and a new coaching staff bringing in their own talent. Personnel decisions during this time can either be huge boosts in that transition, or mistakes that can ultimately be costly. The thing is, personnel decisions made now can not only affect the 2013 season but the 2014 season, so the UCLA coaches have to be good evaluators, have a good sense of their overall talent and personnel, and have some vision on where all the puzzle pieces fit.
Some moves can end up being like Anthony Barr being moved to linebacker last season, or former quarterback Osaar Rashaan being moved to wide receiver as a senior.
It's an interesting time for the quarterback position at UCLA. In one breath, you could say that UCLA has its best quarterback in at least the last 15 years as well as the worst quarterback depth it's had in quite some time. Brett Hundley (2013 RS SO) has more natural ability than any quarterback UCLA has had since Cade McNown. Behind him, though, there are three quarterbacks who each have significant question marks—so significant that it's tough to project any of the three as potential Pac-12 starters at any point down the road.
That presents an issue, obviously. Hundley will head into this season as the starter, and barring significant injury, should have a very good season. If his season this year is even a marginal improvement over this past year, he might very well have reason to enter the NFL Draft after the year. It's an unlikely proposition, since it's a rare quarterback that will leave school with two years of eligibility remaining, but it's important to consider when analyzing the depth. Even if he doesn't leave school after this season, which is probably what will happen, he will almost assuredly have the opportunity after the 2014 season, and that's likely when we'd project him leaving.
Right now, UCLA has Jerry Neuheisel (2013 RS FR), T.J. Millweard (2013 RS FR), and Mike Fafaul (2013 RS FR) as the main backups to Hundley. None has really blown away the competition this spring, and there's a clear difference between the quality of play when Hundley's taking reps during team drills versus the quality of play when any of the others are taking reps. We know that the coaching staff likes Neuheisel's understanding of the game, but he has a below average arm and really struggles to hit passes to the sidelines or over 15 yards with any velocity. Millweard, who's progressed over the last year, still has a long ways to go, and over the past two practices has reverted a bit to the mechanics he showed last season, which results in a lot of ducks. Fafaul, as we've often said, might have the best mechanics on the team, but his body is questionable, with a very thin build that doesn't have much upside.
The point is that none of these three, right now, project to be starter level players at the Pac-12 level, and, in the most realistic scenario, UCLA is two years away from needing a new starting quarterback, plus some credible depth in case of injury. UCLA does have another quarterback coming in this fall in Asiantii Woulard (2013 FR) who might alleviate some of the depth concerns, but Woulard, while talented, is a little raw at this stage of his development from all reports. Even if you could project him as the primary backup to Hundley in two years (which is a big leap considering that neither we nor the coaches have seen him in a live practice, let alone a game), that still leave a fundamental depth issue, especially if Hundley does blow up this year and decide to go to the NFL.
Some might say that Devin Fuller (2013 SO) should be moved back to quarterback to help with the depth, but really, he's not a great option, and in this offensive system especially, is probably not a starter-level player. He doesn't have a great arm, and from what we saw in fall, was very inaccurate. He could always progress, but there's much more value in him being the starting slot receiver than in him sitting on the bench behind Hundley or Woulard (and potentially Neuheisel). If Hundley did leave this year, and somehow UCLA whiffed on a high level 2014 quarterback, then we could see a scenario where the team gives Fuller another look, but that's not likely.
While it was assuredly a desperate situation in January to get a decent quarterback in the 2013 recruiting class, it's going to be no less desperate a situation in the 2014 class, and, to be honest, UCLA should aim for a higher level quarterback than it even got in Woulard, because the team really cannot afford a failure out of whoever ends up being the 2014 quarterback recruit. It really should be an easy sell, too. If a high level 2014 quarterback came to a practice and saw the quarterbacks throwing, he'd probably walk away thinking that he might be able to start in 2015 as a redshirt freshman or sophomore.
With quarterback recruiting, UCLA needs to get in the habit of recruiting one every year—not zero, not two, but one. UCLA is in the situation it is now because Rick Neuheisel did a poor job of balancing his classes, especially not redshirting Richard Brehaut his freshman season, when he threw the ball just 17 times, and not signing a quarterback in 2010. If Brehaut were on the team this year, you could safely redshirt Woulard and give the rest of the crew another year to develop.
This year, UCLA is going all out for Scottsdale (Ariz.) Desert Mountain quarterback Kyle Allen, who would be the exact type of player UCLA needs. It would be a good fit for Allen too, with ample playing time after his first year, with the opportunity to potentially start his second year in the program. If UCLA doesn't get Allen, there are a few other options, including Norman (Okla.) North's David Cornwell and Novato (Calif.) San Marin quarterback Manny Wilkins, but you really wouldn't want UCLA to drop too much below that level, since it's going to be important for the new recruit to be able to start as a second year player.
Projected 2014 Quarterback Depth Chart
Brett Hundley (RS JR)
Asiantii Woulard (RS FR)
T.J. Millweard (RS SO)
Jerry Neuheisel (RS SO)
Mike Fafaul (RS SO)