UCLA quarterbacks ace test, but it’s only a midterm
Brett Hundley is rarely so easily shocked.
But point out that all 32 NFL teams have passed on UCLA quarterbacks in the draft since Cade McNown was taken in 1999 and Hundley — a bright student with aspirations of being a doctor — gets that bug-eyed look and is unable to form sentences.
“Really? Wow. Seriously? Crazy.” Hundley stammered. “I was 6 years old.”
Hundley, who turns 20 in June, could be the quarterback to end that spiral. So could Kevin Prince, who has spent nearly as much time in the training room as the film room. Or Richard Brehaut, who has been a runner-up to Prince in the race for the starting job the last two seasons.
The three gave their final spring auditions during UCLA’s scrimmage Saturday at the Rose Bowl, though those were grain-of-salt performances against a defense depleted by injuries.
One of the three needs to not only win the job, but excel in it if the Bruins are to shake their middle-of-the-pack status in the Pac-12 Conference. There is no higher priority on first-year Coach Jim Mora’s lengthy fix-it list.
The decision is so vital he has put it off to Aug. 16.
“I want to keep a competitive environment and, quite frankly, I didn’t think any of them really grabbed the job” in the spring, Mora said.
It’s been that way in Westwood for more than a decade.
McNown was the 12th overall pick by the Chicago Bears in the 1999 draft. Twenty-five Pac-12 quarterbacks have been drafted since, none from UCLA. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and UC Davis have even had quarterbacks drafted in that time.
The arrested development at quarterback has been partly due to injuries. Prince is Exhibit A. He has strung together two impressive stretches when physically sound — winning three consecutive games in 2009 and three of four last year — to get UCLA to bowl games.
But just as culpable has been shoddy play. The Bruins have an 81-82 record since McNown took them to the 1999 Rose Bowl, their last appearance in that game.
“You have to develop those guys,” first-year offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. “It’s not very often one shows up on your doorstep ready-made.”
Hundley, Brehaut and Prince are not ready-to-wear types. But all three put up decent numbers Saturday, against a defense that was down to three scholarship cornerbacks and missing its top four inside linebackers.
Brehaut completed 12 of 16 passes for 249 yard and four touchdowns. Hundley was 12 for 20 for 185 yards and one touchdown and scrambled 18 yards for a score. Prince was eight for 11 for 101 yards and two touchdowns.
“The coaches told us before we went out that this was not going to make or break things for anyone,” Brehaut said. “They want to see consistency for a long period.”
Spring practice was like pulling all-nighter for a philosophy final for the three.
“Any time you get a new offense, it takes time,” said Prince, who is on his third offensive coordinator at UCLA. “You have to get a grasp of the whole offense, all the protections, all the routes, getting people in the right places.”
Mazzone, Arizona State’s offensive coordinator the last two seasons, has a good track record. He took Brock Osweiler and grew him into a 6-foot-8 pain to opposing defensive coordinators. Osweiler was the Denver Broncos’ third-round pick last week.
The need for rapid development is paramount, Mazzone said.
“We ask the quarterback to make a lot of decisions right before the snap, at the snap and right after the snap,” he said. “On top of that, we go at a pretty fast pace anyway. There is no huddle for him to catch his breath, look guys in the eyes, get the play, and tell everyone what to do.”
All of which is crammed into a few seconds at the line of scrimmage.
“You have to know everything that is going to happen on the field so when the play comes, you already have a picture of it,” Hundley said. “You can get confused if you don’t know something right away.”
Hundley has appeared to separate himself from the others the last two weeks, and has four years of eligibility remaining. Brehaut and Prince will be seniors.
As of now, they are all even.
“Now is the time where the work gets harder,” Mazzone said. “We’ll see where they are on Aug. 1.”
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