Monday, May 25

Spring Showcase presents tough starting QB decision for UCLA football

Freshman quarterback Josh Rosen took his first snaps in the Rose Bowl Saturday during UCLA's Spring Showcase. The highly-touted recruit finished the day 13 for 17 during 11-on-11 scrimmage play. (Max Himmelrich/Daily Bruin)

A trio of teammates delayed freshman quarterback Josh Rosen’s first opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl.

The first two were fellow quarterbacks who were given the chance to lead off UCLA football’s Spring Showcase.

The third teammate was an over-anxious lineman who, as soon as Rosen got on the field and was ready to snap the ball for his first crack of the day, was called for an offsides penalty.

The Bruins concluded spring practice Saturday with a final workout at the team’s home stadium before 8,738 fans. The showcase provided coaches one last look at the quarterback competition that has dominated headlines all spring until the team resumes practice this summer.

Despite the late start to the day, Rosen continued the type of performance that has kept his name in contention for the top spot on the quarterback depth chart, completing seven of eight passes in his first series, his lone incompletion coming on a 30-yard streak that was dropped.

“Josh is very intelligent. He’s one of those kids that the game comes to more easily than some,” said coach Jim Mora. “Certain performers go out on the field and things kind of slow down for them, and they see things better or more quickly than others, and I think he’s one of those guys.”

Rosen’s second series got off to an inauspicious start as he lofted an interception to redshirt sophomore cornerback John Johnson. Rosen spared no time for a rebuttal, marching the ball down the field, and finishing the day strong, going 13 for 17 with two touchdowns and the one interception.

“I thought (Rosen) made a lot of progress this spring. It’ll be really fun to see what he looks like when he comes back in fall,” Mora said, “Because now he’s got the next phase here, the end of spring and summer, to continue to improve.”

Redshirt junior Jerry Neuheisel, one of the two quarterbacks who preceded Rosen on the day, was not as solid as he has been throughout the spring.

Aside from a 20-yard touchdown to redshirt senior receiver Tyler Scott, which came after 2.9 seconds of minimal pressure in the pocket, Neuheisel relied on short check-down throws, finishing eight for 12 with the lone score.

The other signal caller viewed as a contender for the top spot, redshirt sophomore Asiantii Woulard, was sporadic in the backfield all day. He flashed the type of athleticism that separates him for the other quarterbacks, and he revealed two of the better deep balls of the day – one which was dropped and the other which was reeled in with one hand by redshirt freshman wideout Jordan Lasley. But Woulard’s arm was inconsistent overall, as he finished five for 12 with an interception on the day.

Senior receiver Jordan Payton admitted he is not envious of the task of choosing a starting quarterback – a decision he said would be hard – but Payton is not concerned about the inevitable change that will come at that position this year.

“They each do something different and its going to be exciting this season to see what quarterback emerges and who I mold to,” Payton said. “It’s really just me adjusting to them.”

Even though offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has been pleased with the quarterback position throughout spring, he said he understands the erratic performance comes with inexperience.

“As you go in, it’s just the best coach in the world is ‘experience,'” Mazzone said. “You’re going to go through some growing pains. I know that, and we’ve got that part of it figured out.”

While the Bruins said they have an idea of what kind of problems lay ahead, the coaches admit they are still not ready to name a starter, and don’t intend on doing so for a while.

“Whenever kickoff is versus Virginia, that’s when we’ll announce the starter,” Mora said. “When he runs out on the field.”

For Rosen and the rest of the quarterbacks, that opening whistle is Sept. 5. Until then, it’s a waiting game.

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