1. What can we expect out of Josh Rosen this season?
Someone asked this question on the board, and it's an interesting one. Rosen is a true freshman who'll (likely) start at quarterback for a team that has proven depth at virtually every level of the team besides quarterback. The situation is not similar to the one that Brett Hundley walked into in 2012, where the offensive line was porous and the offense was an even more stripped-down version of itself than the 2013 and 2014 versions. Rosen, instead, has what should be a good offensive line, good running backs, and good receivers, as well as the keys to an offense that has been humming along fairly well for three years now.
The difficulty in answering that question comes from projecting practice performance to games. We'll just say this: Rosen has been much more impressive this spring than Hundley was in the spring of his redshirt freshman year. But Hundley was always a significantly better performer in games than in practice. And Rosen, while he has good mobility and the ability to buy time to throw, is not going to be the runner that Hundley was.
That said, if Rosen can translate his practice performances -- where he has shown more mental acuity for the position than any quarterback we've seen in some time, excellent feet, excellent feel, an ability and affinity for throwing on the run, and a very strong arm -- to games, UCLA could be in for a very fun season.
2. Starting wide receivers could get pushed.
Aside from Devin Lucien bidding adieu, UCLA returns every receiver from a year ago, including everyone who was starting by the end of the year, along with all of the younger guys who didn't play much last year. If you've been reading our impressions of the receivers for the last two years, you'd probably agree with this assessment: it's a deep group, but not overburdened with top-end talent. The starters are starters because they are slightly better than the guys behind them, not because they are otherworldly stars. Let's take that as a given.
Now, here's the thing. Everyone progresses at different rates, and with younger guys, you can see much greater incremental growth in their ability since they're newer to college coaching and their bodies are still filling out and getting stronger. This spring, we've seen a few guys emerge from that younger group that should at least be in the conversation to start this year.
On the outside, Alex Van Dyke, who really had just one rough day catching the ball, has been excellent over the last four practices, and has really improved physically from a year ago. With Eldridge Massington out for the last few days with a hamstring issue, Van Dyke has really shined, looking like the big, long target UCLA has prioritized in wide receiver recruiting over the last three cycles. He's shown great body control for a guy that tall, and has begun to make not just the easy catches, but some particularly tough ones as well, including back shoulder throws that are way off line, throws that force him to dive out of bounds, and the typical back of the end zone fades. Massington is a better blocker, and has good ability in his own right, but there could be a little bit of a competition here as well.
3. We really want to find Nate Iese a home.
Look, we realize we're beginning to sound like Nate Iese's agents, but it's really just a matter of us wanting UCLA to use him to the best of his ability. And, just looking at the way this offense is going to go by the time fall comes around, we see him ending up with an even more marginal role than he already has.
First, last year, Iese looked like he'd be a pretty significant part of the offensive attack through spring and fall camp, and it didn't happen. There were probably a variety of reasons, but it just didn't happen, and it was strange, because he looked like he could be a force catching the ball out of the backfield through spring and fall.
Second, this year, UCLA is working on building a true tight end package for incoming freshman Chris Clark. Currently, Colby Cyburt (only dudes with double C names need apply, apparently) is manning the spot, but Clark is expected to move in there this fall. We completely believe that UCLA will use the tight end position significantly more than it has in the past, but we also think that a true tight end could limit Iese's role even more (unless we think UCLA is going to go completely pro-style, with a running back, fullback, and tight end on a significant amount of snaps).
So what does that mean for Iese? As we've been advocating since the end of last season, we'd love to see him get snaps on both sides of the ball. If Jack can start at linebacker and start at running back in the same season, we can't see too much reason why Iese can't play fullback or tight end for 20 snaps a game and linebacker for another 20 every game. He's been in both offensive and defensive meetings during his time at UCLA, and is familiar with what UCLA likes to do on both sides of the ball. He's, again, one of the best jumbo athletes on the team, so it'd be great to see him have a big year.
*Randall Goforth is in a red jersey, but has only been a little limited in drills, running with the first string most of the time. He's mostly avoiding contact, though.
*Darren Andrews is doing individual drills but has been limited during team and contact drills.
*Simon Goines looks like he's back to full health, but has sat out portions of a couple of practices just for precautionary reasons.
*Caleb Benenoch is still out, but he's been suited up for practice most days, so it'll be interesting to see if he can practice this spring.
*Austin Roberts, recovering from ACL surgery, has been limited to individual drills.
*Steven Manfro, also recovering from ACL surgery, has also been limited to individual drills.
*Kenny Orjioke and Scott Quessenberry are both out for spring, but Orjioke has been running on the sideline and actually looks like he's progressing well in his recovery.
*Massington, as we noted, has been out with a hamstring issue for a few days.
*Priest Willis has also been out with an undisclosed injury for a few days.
Practice Schedule This Week
Mon. 4/13: 4:30 P.M.
Wed. 4/15: 7:00 A.M.
Thu. 4/16: 7:00 A.M.
Sat. 4/18: 9:30 A.M.