We'll continue our unit previews today with the quarterbacks...
QB Matt Lynch
Lynch was here in the spring, but keeping with what we've already done with the other previews, we'll list him here. Physically, he looked much more developed than we thought he would, based on what we'd seen out of him and heard about him in high school. We were expecting a bit of a bean-pole, and he actually didn't look all that skinny, though he still has some filling out to do. He struggled for the first couple of weeks, as you might expect, but then got better over the last two weeks, and even had a couple of days where he looked like he could compete for the backup job. He has a short-ish throwing motion, but it looked like Marques Tuiasosopo was working with him on it in spring. It will be interesting to see if he's made any changes to it in fall camp.
We saw a lot of Modster in high school, and we always liked him physically and athletically. There's a lot to like about him from a tools perspective -- he has a strong arm, good mobility, and is thick enough to take hits and bounce right back up. The issue for him in high school was more the mental side of the game, and developing that advanced understanding of plays and progressions that sets guys like Josh Rosen apart. If that part of the game can click for him in fall camp, he could make a strong run at the backup job behind Rosen, since he probably has better tools than Lynch. But given the way the offense is trending, toward a scheme geared toward Rosen's football acumen, Modster will have to show a lot of improvement mentally to be his understudy.
QB Dymond Lee
OK, we think Lee is going to be a receiver before too much time passes, but for now we're going to list him with the quarterbacks, since that's where the roster lists him. He's a very good athlete and actually has OK arm strength from what we remember of him in high school, but his accuracy isn't what it could be, and his motion can be inconsistent. If UCLA were still running a spread, we'd lend a little more credence to the idea that he could play quarterback, but in this pro-style system which we think will be geared toward much more of a pocket-type quarterback, we can't see Lee staying at that position for long.
We just wrote about Rosen on Monday in our final installment of the 30 most important Bruins feature. If we didn't say it then, we'll say it now: Rosen remains the best quarterback prospect we've personally seen over the last 15 years or more. Last year, when he put together one of the best freshman seasons for a quarterback ever, only served to reinforce that. His first game against Virginia was sublime, and if he didn't reach quite that height again, he was still better than good most of the year.
And yet...there's still room for him to improve. He threw a handful of interceptions last year where you'd point to the decision as a freshman mistake -- either throwing across his body into coverage, or throwing a jump ball downfield when a check down was available -- and you can reasonably expect those kinds of mistakes to reduce in his second year. He also seemed to fall into a comfort zone of only throwing to Jordan Payton and Thomas Duarte for a portion of the season, and, while he won't have that luxury this year, we also think that's something he probably would have grown out of.
Of course, he also has to learn a new offense and get comfortable in it, and it won't be certain how that goes until he's actually playing in games. He looked like he got progressively more comfortable as the spring went on, so we're hopeful that he'll have a handle on it heading into fall camp. He'll also have to play behind what should be a good starting offensive line, but a very thin one that could turn Rosen's season into a very tough one if a few injuries strike.
But take heart in the fact that UCLA has arguably the most talented quarterback in college football, and if everything clicks for him and the offensive line stays healthy (we'll get to that in a couple of days), he could put together a special season indeed.
So, there's Rosen, and then...? As has been the case basically since 2012, UCLA is going into another football season without an ideal backup quarterback. This year, Mike Fafaul, rather than Jerry Neuheisel, will very likely be the second-string quarterback heading into the season, and, as with Neuheisel, in an ideal world, Fafaul is probably more like a third- or fourth-string quarterback. Instead, we'd bet on him being the second-string quarterback when the Bruins head to College Station in September, and that's a result of bad management of the quarterback depth chart over the last four years (which we've gone over to death).
Fafaul, for his part, is sort of like a poor man's Neuheisel. He has a little bit stronger arm than Neuheisel, but he doesn't quite have Jerry's head for the game. As a player to come in for a series or two while Rosen gets some tape wrapped on an ankle, say, he's completely fine, but he's probably not someone you'd want to have starting any game, besides maybe the UNLV and Oregon State games.
The other two real options have their own issues. First and foremost, they -- Modster and Lynch -- are both freshmen. Yes, Rosen was a freshman, but Rosen is a once-in-a-generation type quarterback. Modster and Lynch, for all their positive qualities, are not.
From a mental standpoint, you'd have to say that Lynch might have the best chance of challenging Fafaul for the second-string job. He was here for the entirety of spring, and seemed to be finding his rhythm toward the end of spring ball. But then, from a physical standpoint, Modster has better tools than Lynch, and is a better athlete, which could offset some issues with knowing the offense.
Neither is a perfect option, but, then again, neither is Fafaul. As we talked about in the BROCast this past week, we could see a scenario where Fafaul shows enough in fall camp to earn the second-string job for any situation where Rosen is out for less than half of a game, but that UCLA would opt for one of the freshmen if Rosen was out for considerably longer than that. Modster and Lynch both have more physical ability than Fafaul, even if they are further away from their ceilings, and we could see UCLA wanting to try one of them out if Rosen ends up missing a few games -- particularly if Fafaul doesn't look up to the job.
Like we said, we'd probably bet on Lee moving to receiver. He's a very talented receiver, one of our favorites in the West in his class, and could provide UCLA some much needed talent as a bigger target. If he sticks at quarterback, he could also factor into the backup competition, but we just don't see him making many inroads there.
What to Watch in Fall Camp
-- Will Rosen show mastery of the new offense? He was better at the end of the spring, but he wasn't quite at the level of mastery yet.
-- Will the freshmen push Fafaul for the backup job? It's a lot to ask of freshmen quarterbacks, especially coming into a pro-style offense that they probably haven't played much (virtually all high schools run some version of a spread now).