It's almost fall football camp, right? To kick off our camp previews, we took a look at the status of UCLA's offensive line heading into August and the unsettled running back position after the loss of Johnathan Franklin. For our next preview, we'll analyze the quarterback position, and whether it's possible that Hundley could leave after this year.
The biggest development with the quarterback position in 2013 is, oddly enough, the failure, thus far, to secure a commitment from a quality 2014 quarterback.
UCLA struck out on Kyle Allen last month, losing the early UCLA lean to Texas A&M. In the midst of the pursuit of Allen, the Bruins also lost out on California quarterbacks Brad Kaaya and Manny Wilkins, both very good prospects. Now, if the Bruins get a 2014 quarterback, he will most likely be either a project or a backup level talent.
The thinking heading into recruiting this year was that getting a high level quarterback was necessary, given that Brett Hundley could leave after this season, Asiantii Woulard is a bit of an unknown, and the remaining quarterbacks in the UCLA program don't project as starters at this point. Now, missing out, thus far, on a 2014 quarterback, the Bruins are in a position where it's absolutely imperative that one of Woulard, T.J. Millweard, and Jerry Neuheisel emerges as the kind of talent who can start in the 2014 season.
Obviously, the best bet to emerge is likely Woulard, given everything we've heard about him, and everything we've seen from Millweard and Neuheisel. But UCLA's recruitment of 2014 has left the Bruins without a safety net, making this fall's quarterback race even more important.
Will He Stay or Will He Go?
One of the most interesting things about this past season is that Brett Hundley had possibly one of the five best ever seasons for a UCLA quarterback, and, watching him, you still got the feeling that there were some major things he needed to improve on. His decision making was slow at times, his feel for the rush was up and down, and he couldn't hit a slant pass on the money.
That said, even if you credit a certain amount of his success to a system designed to allow quarterbacks to make easy decisions and short passes, you have to concede that Hundley had a very productive season. His tools, as well, are considerable, with a strong arm, good athleticism, and a general toughness that allows him to play through nagging injuries and take hits.
If last season was a glimpse of his vast potential, this season could be the one that thrusts Hundley onto a national stage. He showed some improvement in his decision making and pocket presence this past spring, but we expect him to make still greater leaps this August working behind a better offensive line and working with healthier offensive options.
If Hundley does make a leap, it could propel him into the Heisman conversation this season. It's been a long time since UCLA has had a talent at quarterback at the level of Hundley. If his decision making can come to match his physical tools, then it will be a question of "when", not "if", he leaves school early.
For our part, we would bet that Hundley, even if he does have a very good season that improves drastically on last year, would stay at least through 2014. Historically, quarterbacks don't leave school with two years of eligibility remaining. You can point to two recent examples in Andrew Luck and Sam Bradford, both of whom left after their redshirt junior seasons despite likely being first round picks the previous year. Bradford, if you'll remember, won the Heisman his redshirt sophomore year and still stayed.
Obviously, every case is different, so we'll have to wait and see exactly how this year goes. This August will be the first chance to see Hundley as he'll look this season, and should give us a pretty good idea of what he'll be capable of this season.
When we spoke to Asiantii Woulard a few weeks ago, he balked at the notion that he's competing for the backup job behind Hundley, seeming annoyed that the question was even phrased that way. As a UCLA fan, you have to like the confidence (even if he is, in reality, just competing for the backup quarterback spot).
August will mark our first real look at Woulard, and he has to be one of the most intriguing players to watch in all of camp. You could make an argument that, among the freshmen, it's more important that he looks good than anyone. Seeing him on campus the past few weeks, he certainly looks the part, with a very good body and good size. We've also heard that his football IQ is pretty advanced, and he does a good job of digesting the playbook.
Whether that translates to the field is the question, though. Woulard is a true unknown in that sense, which will make his progress very interesting to watch in August. If you're inclined to, you can take comfort from the idea that Kyle Allen was apparently concerned that he'd never be able to start over Woulard—it's something, at least.
Competing with Woulard for the backup job will be Millweard and Neuheisel. Heading into spring this year, we thought neither had much of a chance of being anything more than a backup at any point during their UCLA careers, and with Neuheisel, we still feel that's the case. If anything, Neuheisel seemed to regress this spring with his decision making, which had previously been his No. 1 strength. Combined with his below-average arm strength and slim build, he may have already hit his ceiling.
Millweard, on the other hand, showed a bit of promise this spring, more because of the progress he's made from day one than anything. When Millweard arrived in spring of 2012, he had a nearly broken throwing motion and a pretty weak arm. By the start of fall camp, he looked like he was working on a new throwing motion that was a bit more compact, although he still threw mostly wobbling passes. Throughout the year, he showed some incremental improvements, and by the end of the year, it looked like he was getting more comfortable with the new throwing motion.
This spring, that progress continued. Through the first week or two of practice, you could have counted the ducks Millweard threw on one hand. As practice wore on, he reverted a bit to old habits, which seems to happen when he gets tired, but the overall progress was good to see. His arm strength with the new throwing motion is much improved. He has also done significant work on his body, looking trimmer.
With his steady rate of progress over the last year, there's a chance that Millweard could continue to develop and eventually compete to start by his third or fourth year in the program. We suspect that he'll overtake Neuheisel this August, if that didn't already take place this spring, and potentially win the backup job if Woulard shows that he isn't ready.
Regardless, UCLA, going forward, is in a position where it has to rely on an unknown true freshman and two backup level players to fill out the depth chart for, likely, the next two years. If Hundley does make the decision to leave after this year, the Bruins might very well be in dire straits.
What It All Means
No matter who wins the backup job behind Hundley this August, this season UCLA figures to get better play out of the quarterback position than it's had since Drew Olson in 2005. Hundley will almost certainly be improved over his impressive 2012 campaign, which should be evident in camp. Combined with an improved offensive line and better pocket presence, his sack totals should also be significantly reduced. With more time to throw this year, barring injury, we expect Hundley to have a very big year.
The ideal scenario for UCLA this August is that Woulard emerges as a legitimate backup option to Hundley, and even pushes him to some greater heights. Just assessing body types, Woulard has the most athletic potential of any of the backup options, and judging by his film, he has a better arm than either Neuheisel or Millward. UCLA would love it if Woulard set himself up to start, if necessary, by his second year in the program. That wouldn't necessarily solve every issue, since depth would still be a problem in the case of injury, but at least the Bruins would have a legitimate starting option going forward.
Quarterback Depth Chart Going Into Fall Camp
Brett Hundley, RS SO
T.J. Millweard RS FR OR
Asiantii Woulard FR OR
Jerry Neuheisel RS FR
Mike Fafaul RS FR
Fall Camp Preview: Quarterbacks
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