Mora in­sists he won’t name start­ing QB un­til fall, but signs, and fans, are point­ing to UCLA’s gifted fresh­man

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Chris Foster

UCLA fans are ready to be wel­comed to the Rosen Bowl. The Bru­ins will go through their fi­nal spring work­out Satur­day morn­ing at the Rose Bowl. The of­fi­cial line is they end spring as they started it, with a quar­ter­back com­pe­ti­tion.

Coach Jim Mora said he will not re­veal who will start at the po­si­tion un­til the first se­ries of the sea­son opener against Vir­ginia on Sept. 5. But af­ter four weeks of spring prac­tice, fresh­man Josh Rosen has the UCLA hud­dled masses ready to re­name the sta­dium.

UCLA is not ex­pected to have an ac­tual “spring game.” The Bru­ins prob­a­bly will do a ba­sic prac­tice, last­ing around 90 min­utes. It’s the same type of work­out fans could have seen for free the pre­vi­ous four weeks. But to many, an­other glimpse at Rosen is worth the $5 price of ad­mis­sion.

The mo­men­tum to be­come the starter seems to be with the fresh­man, who was widely con­sid­ered per­haps the top high school quar­ter­back in the na­tion last fall. Asiantii Woulard has had his best spring and

seems to be Rosen’s main chal­lenger. Jerry Neuheisel has the savvy to re­main in the race. Rosen, though, clearly looks like the fu­ture, even if he wants noth­ing to do with a coro­na­tion.

“Hon­estly, who­ever starts, we’re all go­ing to be supremely con­fi­dent in them be­cause if they win the job, they won it for a rea­son,” he said Thurs­day. “They are go­ing be the best man to lead this team.”

UCLA is com­ing off three sea­sons in which who played quar­ter­back was not a hot­but­ton is­sue. Brett Hund­ley went 29-11 as a starter, lead­ing the Bru­ins to a Pac-12 South Di­vi­sion ti­tle and two bowl vic­to­ries. He threw for 9,966 yards and set school records for touch­down passes (75), com­ple­tions (837) and to­tal of­fense (11,713 yards) dur­ing his three-year ca­reer.

What Hund­ley was un­able to at­tain was a Pac-12 cham­pi­onship, some­thing the Bru­ins have not won since the 1998 sea­son. That chase falls to the next quar­ter­back.

Rosen seems to have the skills and ma­tu­rity to take on that chal­lenge. A view from four dif­fer­ent spots on the field makes that clear, start­ing with the guy who calls the plays.

“We all know he can throw,” of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Noel Maz­zone said. “We all know he has the tan­gi­ble things, the phys­i­cal things. But for a young guy, he has such great com­po­sure of what’s go­ing on around him and great un­der­stand­ing about all the mov­ing parts and how they work.”

That has grown dur­ing spring prac­tice.

“In be­tween se­ries, he comes up and is ask­ing the right ques­tions, ‘What about this? Can I do this?’ ” Maz­zone said. “You know he’s see­ing stuff.”

Cen­ter Jake Bren­del, who has spent the spring snap­ping the ball to Rosen, said, “His com­mu­ni­ca­tion has got­ten bet­ter.”

“The first week, he was still kind of learn­ing the of­fense, and get­ting into the swing of things,” Bren­del said. “Now, he has re­ally got­ten down the play call­ing and the ca­dences.”

As for lead­ing the team as a fresh­man, Bren­del said, “He re­ally doesn’t have an is­sue with that. Ev­ery­one gives re­spect to ev­ery­one on that. If you’re on the green, you’re out there for a rea­son. There is a level of re­spect we give him and there is a level of re­spect he gives back to us.”

Bren­del also noted Rosen’s arm strength, some­thing that is clear to a guy catch­ing those passes. Re­ceiver Jor­dan Pay­ton said Rosen “walks around with con­fi­dence and ma­tu­rity.”

Pay­ton said, “He told me the other day, ‘I un­der­stand the of­fense more, so you can ask me ques­tions now.’ You don’t see that a lot from a fresh­man. It’ll be amaz­ing to come back and watch all the things he is go­ing to do. Whether he wins the job now or later, he’s go­ing be a phe­nom­e­nal player.”

That is clear even on the other side of the ball. De­fen­sive back Ish­mael Adams tosses around com­pli­ments about of­fen­sive play­ers like man­hole cov­ers — they take a lot of ef­fort and land with a thud-like im­pact.

But of Rosen, Adams said, “I like the way [he] chal­lenges de­fen­sive backs. We’ll have the cov­er­age right, but ev­ery pass is thrown right to the spot. That chal­lenges re­ceivers too. They have to be there.”

Rosen used that abil­ity to throw for 8,473 yards and 90 touch­downs at Bellflower St. John Bosco High. He also dis­played the swag­ger nec­es­sary to take that suc­cess to the col­lege level.

A year ago Rosen said, “I’m go­ing to try to take the spot af­ter Hund­ley leaves. That’s the plan.”

Rosen tamped that down when he en­rolled early at UCLA, step­ping onto the West­wood cam­pus in Jan­uary with a con­fi­dent per­son­al­ity but in­tent on be­ing a team guy. Al­lowed to talk pub­licly for the first time Thurs­day, he re­peat­edly in­sisted that he is just a face in the quar­ter­back crowd.

Ev­ery­one “in the quar­ter­back room has been phe­nom­e­nally help­ful,” Rosen said. As to his devel­op­ment, he spoke of Hund­ley.

“I feel a lit­tle more com­fort­able each and ev­ery day,” Rosen said. “Brett was the starter for three years and I bet, each and ev­ery day, he felt more com­fort­able.”

Be­ing an­other Hund­ley would make UCLA fans feel com­fort­able.

Be­ing an­other Hund­ley with a Pac-12 ti­tle could make them re­name a sta­dium.

‘If you’re on the green, you’re out there for a rea­son. There is a level of re­spect we give him and there is a level of re­spect he gives back to us.’

— Jake Bren­del,

UCLA cen­ter, on fresh­man quar­ter­back Josh Rosen’s lead­er­ship qual­i­ties

Lawrence K. Ho Los An­ge­les Times

EN­ROLLING EARLY gave touted fresh­man Josh Rosen a chance to com­pete with vet­er­ans Jerry Neuheisel and Asiantii Woulard to start for Bru­ins at quar­ter­back.

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