At this time last season, we had a pretty good idea that Josh Rosen was going to be impressive enough in his first spring practice that his performance would just about sew up the starting job by the end of April. That's actually understating the reality a bit, because he was far and away the best quarterback during spring practice, significantly outperforming Asiantii Woulard, Jerry Neuheisel, and Mike Fafaul, and he made it all but a foregone conclusion that he'd start in 2015.
Rosen, of course, had one of the best true freshman seasons ever after being named the starter, and his first game as a starter, against Virginia, was just about as close to perfect as you can get as a quarterback: 28 of 35 for 351 yards and three touchdowns, with nary a bad throw in the bunch. He had a couple of hiccups during the year, most notably a poor game against USC in the regular season finale and an out-and-out bad game against BYU in his third game as a starter, but for the most part, he was very good, and was a huge part of keeping last year from being a truly disappointing season.
The future is certainly bright for the phenom, with two years (at least) of starting ahead of him, and we'll get our first look at what improvements he's already made this offseason when UCLA starts spring ball on March 29th.
A Look At Spring
So, UCLA has this Rosen guy coming back, and he's pretty good, we think. In all seriousness, the starting job is once again completely secured, as it was for Jim Mora's second and third springs, and as with those springs, the more interesting thing will be to see who emerges as the backup.
To add a little flavor to this spring, though, UCLA will also be breaking in a new offensive scheme, and while we would imagine that it will mix and match some elements of what UCLA did under Noel Mazzone, the emphasis all offseason has been on moving toward more of a pro-style scheme, and so we'd have to imagine the new offense will feature a lot of tight ends and a lot more of the quarterback playing under-center than before.
Even though Rosen is a known quantity, it's going to be fun to see how he adjusts to a new offense and somewhat new things like going under center. He's done it before sparingly, but if being under center is a significant part of the offense, it will take some getting used to. Rosen is a phenom, of course, and we imagine he'll take to it as naturally as he's taken to pretty much everything having to do with the quarterback position.
It'll also be interesting to see where Rosen has improved. One of his areas for improvement was simply to get a little bigger and stronger, and that should be easy enough to judge on the first couple of days of spring ball. Adding ten or so pounds to his frame would probably serve him well, and we'll see if he's there yet. The second big area is the continued improvement of his decision making. Last year, there were times when he tried to make throws that he was able to make at the high school level that don't necessarily translate to the college level (like throwing across his body while rolling right without his feet set, for example). It can be tough to judge decision making in practice, but we're guessing that Rosen, with his acumen for the game, has made some considerable improvements after digesting the film of last season.
The backup competition will also be interesting. Devon Modster won't be in school until the summer, but fellow freshman Matt Lynch is scheduled to enroll in March for the start of spring practice. Lynch is intriguing to us -- we've seen a ton of Modster on the 7-on-7 circuit over the last few years, but we haven't seen much of Lynch, with our only significant opportunity to see him being the Oregon Opening Regional last year. We heard good reviews from that event, but this will be a great opportunity to see how far along he is and whether he can be expected to compete for the backup job this year. Lynch told us when he committed last year that he expected to redshirt, and the general scouting report on him is that he is talented but needs to get bigger and stronger. Given that, just sight unseen, we'd guess that Modster is the more likely of the two freshmen to compete for the backup job. There's also a chance that Dymond Lee surprises and looks good enough to compete for the backup job this fall as well.
With Jerry Neuheisel electing to move on, Mike Fafaul will fill the role as the experienced upperclassman. We've always liked Fafaul as a somewhat similar player to Neuheisel, in that both are steady, avoid crippling mistakes, and know (or, I guess, knew) the offense well. Fafaul, of course, will be learning the new offense the same as the freshmen, but we'd imagine his experience in college and learning a college playbook will give him a leg up from that standpoint. Fafaul, for his part, probably has a stronger arm than Neuheisel as well, so there's that.
It should be a fun spring, though perhaps without the fireworks of last spring, when everyone got their first long look at Rosen on a college team. But a seasoned Rosen and the beginnings of a backup quarterback competition should provide plenty of interest for the entirety of April.
Projected Post-Spring Depth Chart
SO Josh Rosen
RS SR Mike Fafaul
FR Matt Lynch
(incoming) FR Devon Modster
(incoming) FR Dymond Lee