There is a job to be earned as the UCLA football team heads into its third week of spring practice: understudy to quarterback Brett Hundley.
It’s not a role a young quarterback dreams about.
“We’re always competing for a starting job,” said Jerry Neuheisel, who will be a sophomore in the fall. “Every year, you start as a clean slate.”
Well, not every year.
Hundley has thrown for 6,811 yards and rushed for 1,103 the last two seasons. He has been responsible for 53 touchdowns passing, 20 rushing and even one receiving.
“Yeah, someone had a little bit of an advantage this spring,” Neuheisel joked.
But that someone will be gone next spring, which makes what is happening this spring important.
Hundley has made it clear that he expects to play for UCLA only one more season. The Bruins began sorting out life-after-Hundley at practice Monday night.
“In spring ball, I like to give quarterbacks a chance to get comfortable with what we’re doing, learn all the stuff,” said offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. “Now, they need to start competing.”
The short-term reward will be a place one notch below Hundley on the depth chart. And that will give someone a leg up on the top spot the following season.
“Every rep those guys get is invaluable for us in the future,” Mazzone said.
Those reps increased Monday for Neuheisel and fellow backup Asiantii Woulard as Hundley’s role was slightly reduced to give the younger passers some spotlight space.
“You see where mistakes are made and where you can improve,” Neuheisel said. “You also see cool little things the other quarterbacks do that you can put in your own game. There is this shimmy shoulder fake that Brett does that I can put in my game.”
Neither Neuheisel nor Woulard are thinking too much about the 2015 season, though.
“Next year will take care of next year,” said Neuheisel. “We’re just trying to get our offense as efficient as possible when the first game comes around.”
Woulard echoed that.
“It’s more a day-by-day thing,” said Woulard, who redshirted as a freshman last fall. “This is about making adjustments and learning the new stuff.”
The 2015 quarterback derby, he said, was “not something to think about. Whatever happens, happens.”
The wild cards in the mix are walk-on Mike Fafaul, who has impressed Mazzone, and Bellflower St. John Bosco quarterback Josh Rosen, who recently committed to UCLA.
Rosen said he would enroll early in order to participate in spring practice next year.
“I’ll be able to pick up the offense and put myself in a positive direction early,” he said. “We pretty much run the same offense in high school. It just has a little different terminology.”
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Rosen guided St. John Bosco to an undefeated state championship season as a junior and he has a clear goal. “I’m going to try to take the spot after Hundley leaves,” he said. “That’s the plan.”
He will find that other accomplished quarterbacks have a similar plan.
Woulard, 6-3, 208, has mobility that matches Hundley, and possibly a stronger arm.
Neuheisel, 6-1, 195, has shown the type of savvy Mazzone likes. “I am really happy with the way Jerry has been managing the offense,” the coach said. “I see the lights coming on.”
Neuheisel also has game experience. He completed both his passes for 28 yards against Nevada and was nine for 11 for 96 yards against New Mexico State.
“The goal is to have the offense moving as efficiently as possible,” Neuheisel. “It doesn’t matter who throws it the furthest.”
However, in Woulard’s favor there is this: the image of how Hundley performed as an untested redshirt freshman during the spring of 2012. Flashes of brilliance followed by boneheaded mistakes followed by more brilliance and more mistakes.
“I look at Asiantii and think about what Brett looked like two years ago,” Mazzone said. " … There is a learning curve there.”