Analysis of Naming Rosen over Neuheisel
UCLA coach Jim Mora named true freshman Josh Rosen the starting quarterback for the Virginia game September 5th.
Rosen was the pick over redshirt junior Jerry Neuheisel.
It wasn’t a surprising choice, but perhaps slightly controversial.
Rosen was the #1 quarterback prospect in the nation for 2015. He was the headliner of UCLA’s 2015 recruiting class. He came into UCLA early to participate in spring practice.
Neuheisel is, of course, the son of former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, and the long-time back-up, who has sat behind Brett Hundley for three years.
It wasn’t surprising, since we had anticipated it, given what we’ve seen on the practice field and what we had heard from sources in and around the program.
And there wouldn’t have been any controversy at all if fall camp had gone pretty much like spring practice had – but it didn’t.
In spring Rosen stepped into his first college practices and looked, well, very good. He not only showed the arm strength to make throws all over the field, he displayed an uncanny feel and knack for the position. He did things instinctively that are very difficult to teach, having a good feel for the pocket, recognizing where to throw balls that would be more easily caught by receivers, understanding when to put touch on the ball, etc. It was really an eye-opening performance, given he was still supposed to be in high school and going to his senior prom.
Neuheisel, on the other hand, didn’t have a great spring. His strength is his experience and savviness in understanding the position, but he struggled at times with it, and there will always be limitations with Neuheisel’s arm.
So, coming off those practices, it wasn’t much of a stretch to anticipate that Rosen would more than likely win the starting job this fall. He looked exceptionally good in spring, and better than Neuheisel, and now he’d have four more months under his belt to learn the offense and get acclimated. He’d have four months to work on his body and get stronger. Neuheisel’s ceiling, on the other hand, was just about reached.
But it didn’t go that way in San Bernardino. Rosen struggled. He didn’t show the decision-making he did in spring. He threw late and behind receivers; he threw into considerable coverage, and he just flatly missed wide-open receivers at times. To our eyes, he looked a little rattled for those two weeks in San Bernardino. Tom Bradley’s defense was throwing a great deal of pressure at the freshman, and that had to contribute. It also looked like he and quarterbacks coach Taylor Mazzone were having differences of opinion at times. Rosen’s body language wasn’t great. And then there was the much-publicized incident of Mora laying into Rosen at practice.
On the other hand, Neuheisel had perhaps his best couple of weeks of practice in his career. While his arm strength was the same, he was sharp in getting the ball to the place it needed to be on time. He executed the offense well, being far more efficient in moving the chains and getting the offense down the field. Rosen showed flashes of making some big-time throws that Neuheisel generally couldn’t, but some of the best throws in San Bernardino were made by Neuheisel, very accurately laying a ball into the hands of a streaking receiver a number of times.
Going into San Bernardino we thought naming Rosen was a foregone conclusion. Coming out of it we were a little uncertain. Rosen struggling and Neuheisel doing well definitely made the competition, well, a competition.
It wasn’t as if, though, Neuheisel was Superman and Rosen had Krytonite in his pocket. Even with Rosen not doing really well and Neuheisel doing better, it was still close. Neuheisel probably had a little edge in San Bernardino.
There were other factors, too. Sources in and around the program tell us that Neuheisel is well-respected by teammates and coaches. He’s the natural leader you want at quarterback. Rosen, on the other hand, was a bit of a cocky newcomer. His personality isn’t one that will win over teammates necessarily, and certainly not like Neuheisel.
Before the announcement by Mora, one player told us that they were rooting for Neuheisel to get the job, because he was friends with Neuheisel and really liked him, but he understood if Rosen was made the starter. He cited Rosen’s talent and upside.
We can’t tell you details of how the quarterbacks have looked since returning to Westwood. We’ll only say that Rosen has looked good, and Neuheisel just okay.
That probably didn’t have much to do with the decision, however, and we think the mindset of the player was pretty much the mindset of Mora, Noel Mazzone and Taylor Mazzone, too. They recognize Neuheisel’s natural leadership qualities and that he had the edge in San Bernardino. Heck, Mora looked like he was about to tear up when talking about Neuheisel Wednesday after practice. But ultimately they had to go with the guy with the greater potential in Rosen. The theory is that, yes, he might have some rough moments early on during the season, but he’ll learn and get better, and by the end of the season, because of his superior talent, potentially offer the offense more than Neuheisel could.
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