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 most 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,” Rosen 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 hot-button 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 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 said 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 referenced 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.