While the overall offensive change was probably the most disastrous thing to happen to UCLA in 2016, in terms of a single event, there was nothing more devastating than the injury to Josh Rosen that sidelined him for the entirety of the back half of the season. Rosen played in just six games, hurting his arm during the ASU game and sitting out the remainder of the season.
While UCLA was not having a great season to that point, Rosen's injury effectively ended it, as the Bruins went 1-5 down the stretch to finish 4-8. In Rosen's stead, redshirt senior Mike Fafaul had some bright moments, but for the most part he struggled to move the offense the way it needed to move.
It was an interesting turn of events, and one that UCLA hadn't experienced previously in the Mora era, despite playing with fire basically every year, in terms of not having a credible, Pac-12 level backup quarterback. Brett Hundley was basically indestructible in his three years as the starter, never missing a start, and Rosen got through his freshman season without much issue.
Now, the hope is that Rosen will make it through this entire season unscathed, as Fafaul is now gone, and the only other players in the depth chart are unproven freshmen.
A Look at Spring
From Tracy's conversation with Jim Mora, Rosen is expected to be ready to go for spring ball, and it'll be interesting to see how rusty he is after the long layoff. Rosen wasn't exactly scuffling prior to the injury last season, but he also wasn't setting the world afire the way he did during his freshman season. Much of that was likely due to the offensive change, which certainly didn't have a good effect on any aspect of the offense.
Of course, this spring, Rosen will be breaking in with his third offensive coordinator in three years, and that'll likely come with some form of growing pains as well. Everything we've heard about Jedd Fisch from Mora and others has been positive, so we're eager to see what his offense looks like on the field this spring, and how Rosen looks running it. Fisch is also the quarterbacks coach, and that'll also be Rosen's third in three years at UCLA.
As long as Rosen is healthy, though, we're relatively confident he'll pick up whatever he has to learn and shake off whatever rust has accumulated before too much time passes. The big key will be keeping him healthy, both in spring and in fall, and that's up to chance in spring and the offensive line in fall.
Everything we've heard about Rosen in the off-season beyond his shoulder has been positive -- that he's matured and is more committed to the job of quarterback. He's been dedicated in the weight room, looking like he's added strength in his upper body (which is significant that he was able to do this in an off-season while recovering from a severe shoulder injury). We've also heard that he and Fisch have been getting along well and that Rosen truly respects Fisch, which is a good sign because Rosen didn't always work seamlessly with the Mazzones or Marques Tuiasosopo.
Beyond Rosen, there's little proven in the depth chart. Getting another long look at Devon Modster and Matt Lynch will be useful, as the last time we saw them taking competitive reps was in August before practices closed. We've heard some positive things about both players this offseason, but nothing beats seeing them in person. Last fall, our impression was that Modster had better physical tools but was a little further behind mentally. Lynch, for his part, was up and down, showing some decent physical tools and good comprehension of the offense, but some inconsistency. His release and throwing motion were also a little wonky, preventing him from getting as much power on his throws as you'd like. Hopefully, the past year will have corrected some of that.
We'll also get to see more of Dymond Lee. To be honest, we were expecting him to have made the switch to receiver by now, but it sounds like he's still competing at quarterback. With UCLA sticking with more of a pro-style scheme (or, in UCLA's apparent parlance, a "Sunday offense"), we would be surprised if he sticks at quarterback long term, but stranger things have happened.
This spring will also mark our first live look at Austin Burton, the freshman quarterback arriving early. Greg Biggins saw him a few years ago at a camp in California and liked him, and we heard positive things from Brian Dohn, but it'll be interesting to see how he stacks up on a field with numerous high-level athletes. Given his stature as a recruit, if he even looks remotely like he can play at this level, that'll be a positive that we weren't necessarily expecting.
The big key for UCLA is Rosen and his health, obviously, but the next most important thing is the development of Modster and Lynch. UCLA has been without credible backup quarterbacks for too long, and that issue helped to derail the 2016 season after Rosen's injury. Modster, a former four-star, and Lynch, a former well-regarded three-star, need to pan out, in some form or facet, and one of those two will have to earn the backup job this season. This spring begins that competition.
Projected Post-Spring Depth Chart
JR Josh Rosen
RS FR Devon Modster
RS FR Matt Lynch
RS FR Dymond Lee
FR Austin Burton