1. The starting quarterback in 2015 will be Josh Rosen.
Apologies to Yogi Roth, Matt Leinart, and virtually every other talking head on the Pac-12 Network, but Rosen has been, by far, the best and most consistent quarterback throughout the entirety of spring practice. Fans got a glimpse of his ability on Saturday at the Rose Bowl, but the only way to contextualize that for you is to say that Rosen has looked at least as good as that basically every day of practice. Asiantii Woulard, to our eye, is the No. 2, as he's made good progress this spring. The question, obviously, is whether or not he'll transfer if he perceives that Rosen will win the job prior to August. Jerry Neuheisel, as we've said before, is a fine emergency, 3rd-string quarterback, but anyone who's saying he should win the job at this point either a) didn't watch the team in practice or b) didn't understand what they were watching. He was either the third or fourth best quarterback this spring (probably third, since Mike Fafaul faded considerably over the last two weeks).
2. Conor McDermott will be an All Pac-12 performer.
McDermott was the best offensive lineman on the team this spring, so any worries that his performance through the second half of the 2014 season was a fluke can be assuaged. He looks better, if anything, and more confident in his ability. He's added even more weight, but he still moves his feet exceptionally well and has great lateral agility. What's been most impressive has been his continued development in understanding the game. He showed great field awareness, with the ability to disengage from blocks to pick up delayed blitzers on the outside. We have to imagine that he's going to get noticed in a big way by opposing coaches as they scheme to generate a pass rush.
3. Marcus Rios will start at cornerback.
As we mentioned quite a few times, Rios was probably the best cornerback this spring, and over the last two weeks, he started to be rewarded more and more with first-string playing time. By the final week or so, he was with the first string more often than not at outside corner, taking the spot of Ishmael Adams, who spent more time as a nickel or even some time at safety. Given his obvious work ethic (dude, have you seen that guy's arms?), and the missing year in his development, we could see him make even greater strides by fall camp.
Perkins added good weight in the offseason and looks like he's going to be able to withstand the rigors of the position even better this season than last (if you remember, there were points toward the end of last season where Perkins looked simply beat up and exhausted). He looks a little quicker, a little more explosive, a little more balanced, a little more agile -- basically every one of his multi-faceted traits got a little bit better this offseason, and he was already a very good Pac-12 running back. Given that UCLA is likely going to want to take some pressure off Rosen to start the year, we could see this offense being carried in large part by the running game, and Perkins.
5. If UCLA's win total for the season is set anywhere below 9 by Vegas, we're betting the over.
Presented without comment.
Unresolved Issues heading into summer
1. The offensive line is a little unsettled still.
Aside from the obvious (Adrian Klemm's status), there are a few issues of depth with the offensive line. Caleb Benenoch is going to return to full health at some point in the next month or so, and that's going to tip over some dominoes. Judging by his mobility in the drills he was able to perform, he's moving better than Simon Goines, so our guess would be that Benenoch wins the right tackle job. If he does, we could see UCLA going with the lineup it used most of the spring -- McDermott, Kenny Lacy, Jake Brendel, Alex Redmond -- and just plug in Benenoch for Goines on the right side. If, however, Goines or even Kolton Miller wins the right tackle job, then it becomes a question of whether Benenoch is good enough to beat either Redmond or Lacy at guard. Redmond didn't have a very good spring, but Lacy also had some issues at times, so Benenoch could be very capable of beating either. Obviously, finding a spot for a talented lineman to come in and play isn't a bad problem to have, but it's one that still needs to be resolved.
2. We still have some concerns about the pass rush.
Takkarist McKinley and Deon Hollins both have a lot of ability as edge rushers, and McKinley, now that he's bulked up a bit, can even be slid inside and used in that small three-tech role that Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Keenan Graham slid into at times during the last couple of years. But McKinley would have to make a pretty exceptional leap from his sophomore year to his junior year to really provide what UCLA needs in terms of an individual pass rusher. What we're really waiting to see is if Kenneth Clark, Eddie Vanderdoes, or Matt Dickerson can really start to provide an interior pass rush to offset the edge rush. Clark, obviously, is never going to be a double-digit sack guy as a nose tackle, but we'd like to see more from Vanderdoes and Dickerson coming from the three-technique position. Tom Bradley will probably pressure more than Jeff Ulbrich did through the first six games last year, but I don't think his preference is to blitz every down like Buzzcut over in Tempe so UCLA still has to unearth some better individual rushing ability.
3. Where will the reps for a true tight end come, and at what expense?
OK, so this one might sound like a job interview where you tell the interviewer that your biggest weakness is you work too hard, but this actually is an issue, as ridiculous as it might sound: UCLA has a lot of talented players on the offensive side of the ball. Think of the players we'd like to see get the ball more: Mossi Johnson, Nate Iese, Craig Lee, Alex Van Dyke, the unseen Chris Clark, the unseen Sotonye Jamabo, and so on. All of these guys have obvious talent, and all of them are unique. If you put in a package for Iese at fullback, does that take away from a package at tight end for Clark? If you throw Jamabo into a Damien Thigpen-like role, where he's running wheel routes all day long, does that take Johnson off the field? If you put in Lee, is that taking carries away from two simply better running backs in Nate Starks and Perkins? Tight end is where it crystalizes for us. If UCLA, as evidenced by this spring, is actually trying to build a tight end into the offense (which we think is a solid move) it takes either a receiver or a running back off the field. Clark may provide enough of an asset as a tight end to offset whatever comes off the field, but weighing and balancing the different offensive options this season could be a very tricky process.
We'll have full reviews of every unit on the team coming over the next several days...