Spring Preview: Quarterbacks

Mar. 16 -- We kick off our previews of spring practice with a look at the new era at quarterback for UCLA...

For the first time in three years, UCLA will be breaking in a new starting quarterback during spring practice. With Brett Hundley leaving for the NFL, UCLA loses a three-year starter who was instrumental in helping to turn around the program's fortunes. In a specific sense, UCLA will be losing a true dual-threat quarterback who was often able to terrorize Pac-12 opponents with his legs as well as his arm. From a pure skill-set standpoint, Hundley doesn't have an obvious replacement on the roster.

It's a unique situation heading into spring, both due to the vacuum left by Hundley's departure and the lack of an obvious experienced player to replace him. UCLA, as we talked about several times over the last two years, was incredibly thin behind Hundley. Luckily for UCLA, Hundley was arguably the most durable quarterback UCLA has ever had, starting all 40 games during his three years in Westwood. If he hadn't been so durable, and had actually missed a few games here and there, the end result likely wouldn't have been pretty. Heading into spring, UCLA will evaluate all of its options, but from what we've seen, hope for 2015 rests squarely on the shoulders of freshman quarterback Josh Rosen.

A Look at Spring

Thanks in part to some good fortune (Stanford deciding not to offer) and in part to the excellent recruiting job of Jim Mora and Taylor Mazzone, UCLA signed Rosen, the No. 1 quarterback in the 2014 class. Rosen enrolled in January, and has been going through typical offseason workouts in an effort to get ready for spring. We've talked about Rosen dozens of times in stories and on the message board, but he really is the total package at quarterback. He has a good frame, a strong, accurate arm, and the ability to make plays with his legs on occasion when the pocket breaks down. What stands out most about him, though, is his advanced football intelligence. Reading coverages was one of his strengths in high school, and while there may be growing pains in college, that should quickly become one of his strengths at this level as well.

Jerry Neuheisel.
We'll be clear: heading into spring, we fully expect Rosen to be the starting quarterback in 2015 (barring some wild situation where the Bruins manage to get some elite transfer like Braxton Miller). That's in large part due to Rosen's talent level and ability, but it's also due to the relative quality of the other candidates. As we said above, it's not a really strong group.

Jerry Neuheisel won the backup job behind Hundley each of the last two years, and he played exceptionally well against Texas when Hundley went down with an elbow injury. Mentally, he has an advanced understanding of the position. He's a bit limited physically, though, without the arm strength necessary to complete all of the throws at this level. He's about a perfect fit as a backup quarterback, with the ability to play in the case of catastrophe and not muck things up. We have to imagine he'll be Rosen's primary competition for the starting job, and the difference in physical ability will probably decide the issue.

The real wildcard is Asiantii Woulard. If you remember, prior to the start of the 2013 season, we were very impressed with Woulard's arm strength, accuracy, and throwing motion. He has a good frame, and is a good athlete. As we've gotten a longer look at him through the last two years, though, it's become obvious that he has some real struggles reading coverages, deciding when and where to throw the ball, and feeling pressure. His motion has also changed a bit, looking shorter and less consistent. The end result is that it's hard to know what to expect from him going forward. If he somehow has improved tremendously in the last three months, he could compete with Neuheisel and Rosen, but that's impossible to project at this point.

Aaron Sharp will start out at quarterback in spring practice, but we fully expect him to switch to wide receiver, either by sometime in spring or by fall camp. It's a tremendous longshot that he shows enough at quarterback during spring to remain there, especially when he looked very good playing receiver on the scout team last season. It's a decision that will almost certainly be left up to him, so there's no predicting when it's going to happen. It could be that seeing Rosen in spring precipitates a move. Mike Fafaul has been a solid backup, much like Neuheisel, for each of the last three years, and we'd have to imagine he'll be more than able to continue that role going forward. He was a key player on the Scout team last year, taking over for Sharp as main scout quarterback when Sharp started to struggle a bit about halfway through the year.

Projected Depth Chart Post-Spring

FR Josh Rosen
RS JR Jerry Neuheisel
RS SO Asiantii Woulard
RS JR Mike Fafaul

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