Cards’ Rosen growing on and off field
Josh Rosen has questions. A lot of them. That no longer surprises his teammates or coaches, who at this point are used to the rookie quarterback’s inquisitive nature.
But on a Wednesday, back in September, Rosen caught veteran safety Antoine Bethea off guard.
“I was actually walking through those double doors right there – I was walking in, and he was walking out, and he stopped me,” Bethea said, gesturing toward the door that leads into the locker room at the Cardinals training facility.
“He approaches me, and says ‘Hey! Y’all met with the governor?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, we were talking about some criminal justice reform.’ He was like, ‘Man, the next time – I’m interested. I’m trying to do some stuff with that as well.’ ”
It was three days after the Cardinals’ season opener. Rosen, the 10th overall pick in the NFL draft out of UCLA, was still watching games from the bench, backing up Sam Bradford. He was soaking in everything he could football-wise as he waited his turn. So
he jumped in somewhere else.
Josh Rosen is now halfway through his rookie season. His team is 2-6, 2-3 since he began starting.
He’s completed 55.6 percent of passes for 1,072 yards. He’s sitting at five touchdowns, six interceptions and one late-game comeback.
Eight games in, Rosen is still adapting and learning. He’s growing off the field, too.
On a Tuesday in mid-October, Rosen takes his off-day to stop by South Mountain High School in Phoenix. He’s thereto introduce the Connect 2 STEM program, a partnership between the Cardinals and Cox Communications.
The interactive computer program helps students find careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields that align with their interests. Rosen, who loved math growing up, tells students how analytical thinking helps him now.
“Even in my position, as a quarterback for the Cardinals, every day, I have to have skills that taught me how to learn algebra to help me learn how to read a defense,” Rosen says. “So a lot of school isn’t about what you learn, it’s about learning how to learn.”
Wearing a Cardinals jersey and flipflops, he mills around the library where students are getting their first look at the program. He watches as they design Nike shoes.
The students filing into the auditorium are all freshmen, and at 6-4, Rosen towers over most of them. One whips out his phone to Snapchat the moment he shakes Rosen’s hands. His eyes stay focused on the phone, meeting Rosen’s face only when he follows his phone up.
Rosen engages naturally with the kids. One is also named Josh and adjusting to a new high school. One calls him “Sir.” Rosen doesn’t correct him or seem perturbed, but it’s certainly more formal than he’s used to.
“For the kids to have the opportunity to hear someone like Josh who they are familiar with as being a ‘superstar’ basically, really talk on level with them about education and the importance of it, and his love for math and all of that, I think hearing that from someone like him speaks volumes to them,” said Angelee Bilbao, a freshman teacher who helped bring the program to South Mountain.
The day is something the students will always remember. Plus, any time they open the program, they’ll see Rosen in an intro video on the computer screen.
Less than 24 hours later, Rosen is back to football.
The next day, he takes the podium for his normal Wednesday media availability on a day that’s anything but normal.
Byron Leftwich is five days into his new role as offensive coordinator. Mike McCoy is out. Patrick Peterson is addressing trade demands. Rosen is unfazed.
He breezily talks about everything from an injured toe to his five offensive coordinator in four years.
A day later, in Leftwich’s first press conference as offensive coordinator, he refers to Rosen as “the kid” or “this kid” no less than 25 times. Don’t take that to mean Rosen shows his age – Leftwich also says, “This kid is really like 21 going on 36.”
Rosen is the youngest player in the Cardinals’ locker room, but others agree that it doesn’t feel that way. Even before he was commanding the huddle, he was establishing himself.
He has forged strong relationships with other rookies. Out of everyone in the locker room, Rosen thinks practicesquad quarterback Charles Kanoff knows him best.
The friendship came naturally. They’re both rookies, both quarterbacks, both from Los Angeles. Kanoff used to carpool to school with one of Rosen’s best friends. The two never played each other in high school, but when Kanoff went off to college at Princeton, where Rosen’s mom played lacrosse and field hockey in the 1980s, the pool of mutual friends grew deeper. They finally met in California ahead of joining the team and have had plenty of time to get to know each other since.
“At the end of the week, if I’ve spent like 60 percent of my time with anybody, it’s with him,” Kanoff said.
The two talk about everything. They talk about podcasts; Kanoff is listening to “Freakanomics.” They talk about the universe; Rosen is a big fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson. Sometimes, Leftwich has no idea what they’re talking about.
“You’d be amazed at some of the conversations that we have,” Leftwich said about the quarterback room. “I’m telling you man, I’ve got some smart kids in my room, and these kids are informed. … The fact that I’m 38, and he’s 21, a lot of (conversations) are weird, when they get outside of football. But just to me, cause I’m older.
“But to hear these guys’ perspective on stuff – and they’re dead on, with a lot of this stuff, I’m being honest with you, they’re dead on, and it keeps me young.”
Rosen’s interests outside of football were first scrutinized and then criticized during the draft process. He was outspoken about paying college athletes. He didn’t shy away from voicing political opinions. Some thought this would distract him at the next level.
Nearly seven months later, they haven’t posed any problems in the locker room. Instead, the teammates who spend every day with him love that.
“That’s what I love about him the most. He loves ball, he’s completely engaged and into it, but he’s got greater aspirations than just being a great quarterback,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said.
“He’s extremely well-rounded and thoughtful. He can talk about anything, from religion to politics to finance, whatever – he’s well-versed.”
Fitzgerald says Rosen does a lot of reading, and he’ll want to make sure he’s brushing up on finance.
When Rosen took to social media to announce he would be entering the NFL draft after his junior season, he wrote about how much he had cherished his three years at UCLA. It came with an important postscript: “P.S. Mom – I promise I will come back and finish my degree.”
Mom will get her wish. Rosen will start working toward that this offseason. Once again, he took to Instagram to make it officially official, adding “UCLA ‘19” to his bio.
In reality, it will take a little bit longer than that – Rosen anticipates another two years to finish up his undergraduate degree in economics. UCLA is on a quarter system, which makes the offseason start date a little more flexible. He’s not racing to finish the degree just to check that box, though.
“It’s not as important to me to finish as it is to get back and start learning again,” he said. “Without football in the way, I can really dive in – go early, stay a little late, and actually really study the material, and not just learn and pass tests and stay eligible.”
He has other plans for the offseason, too. Rosen, who celebrates with a move called the “Hebrew Hammer,” wants to travel to Israel this summer. He’s never been.
He’s one of a few prominent Jewish athletes in the country. He was struck by the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue and what it meant in the grand scheme for the country. He didn’t publicly post about it, saying he’s trying to walk the fine line of weighing in on a tragedy without feeling like he made it about himself.
Rosen still thinks the chance to be a role model in the Jewish community is important.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s nice to be one for any community. I mean it’s up to other people how they want to identify with me, so I’m going to try to be the best role model I can, so anyone who wants to sort of follow can.”
There are plenty of ways people can identify with Rosen. It’s not that Rosen has lost interests.
“I’ve sort of minimized the off-field aspects of my life to sort of focus on football and make sure everything’s sort of in order,” he told The Republic last month.
That echoed what he said in September, when asked directly if he planned on being more outspoken once he was named the Cardinals’ starting quarterback.
“I’m just busy, back to the whole preparation thing,” Rosen said.
Coach Steve Wilks has said they’re letting “Josh be Josh.” Rosen has a new chance to define himself at the NFL level.
He’s deliberate in his word choices. And at 2-6, the Cardinals are subject to far less national attention.
A lot of the work has happened behind the scenes. There are parallels between the way he approaches game film and social issues. He wants to learn and ask questions before he puts a plan into action.
That all stood out to Bethea, when Rosen voiced that he wanted to get involved in criminal justice reform. Bethea is a 13-year NFL veteran who studied criminal justice at Howard. Rosen brings a different perspective.
“For him to be the youngest person in the locker room, and then for him to be a Caucasian male, to work on that, it speaks volumes on the type of person that he is,” Bethea said. “And I think it would help the cause if we had more Caucasian males to speak up about it and to talk about it.”
Bethea admits he was caught off guard by Rosen wanting to get involved, but looking back, it wasn’t uncharacteristic.
And it will continue. Rosen wants to keep getting involved in the community, saying a lot of that will revolve around criminal justice and education.
He cares about the environment, too. He’s sported blue and white cleats in awareness of protecting the ocean, though he always changes to Rainbow flip-flops as soon as he can.
Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen lines up vs. the 49ers on Oct. 28 at State Farm Stadium.