UCLA offensive coordinator not ready to select starting quarterback

UCLA offensive coordinator not ready to select starting quarterback
UCLA quarterbacks Josh Rosen (3) and Jerry Neuheisel (11) are trying to make an impression during spring practice. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Noel Mazzone, UCLA's offensive coordinator, was peppered Wednesday with some questions about the Bruins' quarterback competition. Such as:

When does he want to have a starting quarterback in place?


"By Virginia [in the opener]," he said.

Who has looked good?

"They are all doing a good job competing," Mazzone said. "Coach-speak, right?"

But dig a little deeper than the obvious questions and it is clear that freshman Josh Rosen has made a strong impression.

Rosen was considered one of the top quarterbacks in the nation at Bellflower St. John Bosco High last fall. He enrolled at UCLA early to participate in spring practice.

Jerry Neuheisel handled the first-team offense and Asiantii Woulard the second team Wednesday, and both turned in solid performances. Neuheisel completed 19 of 23 passes and Woulard nine of 14. Both had a pass intercepted, on balls that were tipped.

Neither looked as sharp as Rosen did a day earlier, when he completed 15 of 20 passes while running the first team.

"The guy really gets it," Mazzone said of Rosen. "He really knows where all his guys are, and for a guy jumping into the offense that's impressive. He was obviously very well coached in high school. They ran a lot of similar stuff. That's helped him, as did coming here early for spring helped him."

Rosen "makes quick decisions, but he never seems to be in a hurry," Mazzone added.

As good as Rosen looked, Mazzone was not ready for a coronation.

"It's been practice," Mazzone said. "It was one day where he had a lot reps. We haven't seen him in situations like 'We got to have it on third down to win the football game.' All those pressure moments are what the great quarterbacks excel at.

"We never mistake potential for performance. It always comes down to how you move the football team, how you handle the situations."

Neuheisel, now in his third spring, and Woulard, in his second, have the advantage of more experience with the offense. Neuheisel appears to be the main competition for Rosen, but Woulard, Mazzone said, "is starting to be noticeable now. He flashes. He's starting to make throws, which is his strong suit. For him, he needs a lot of reps."

Starting fresh


The transition from offensive line to defensive line has been easy for Najee Toran.

"I have always been aggressive my whole career," Toran said. "Everything has been natural."

Toran came to UCLA as an offensive lineman last season. He appeared against Virginia in the opener. During the off-season, he received a call from Coach Jim Mora, who floated the idea of switching sides.

The move has been good so far. Toran has not played on defense since his freshman year at Houston North Shore High, but his lack of experience might be an advantage.

"It's kind of nice to coach a guy who hasn't played the defensive line before because he doesn't have any bad habits," defensive line coach Angus McClure said. "He has probably had the most improvement we've had in the four days so far."

Quick hits

Aaron Sharp was officially made a wide receiver Wednesday, ditching the yellow jersey worn by quarterbacks for a blue one. … Defensive end Takkarist McKinley (swollen eye) returned to practice. … Receivers Eldridge Massington (hamstring) and Darren Andrews (ankle) were limited to individual work.