Q: Does UCLA “look” the part of a top-10, top-15 preseason team even with a new QB? Outside of the two-deep on the defensive line and QB, this appears to be the deepest and most experienced Bruin team in recent memory and certainly under Jim Mora’s regime.
A: I’d put them in the preseason top 15 without much hesitation. There just aren’t a lot of other good teams in the country that lost as little as UCLA did through the offseason, and the quarterback situation looked promising enough through spring.
Q: If the competition between Josh Rosen and Asiantii Woulard is close, do you think that they’d give the nod to Woulard with the intention of redshirting Rosen and giving him another year to develop? Considering that we could burn his redshirt at anytime and we have yet to see Woulard in actual game action, I think this is the best course of action. Your thoughts?
A: If it’s close, at least trying Woulard out in the first game could be a good option for the reasons that you mentioned. But until Woulard came on through the second half of spring, the competition didn’t look that close.
Q: Considering all the talent UCLA has returning on offense, it would seem like a good idea to go with the game manager/safe bet at which would be Jerry Neuheisel? Redshirt Rosen? Would Asiantii Woulard transfer if he doesn’t win the starting job?
A: I don’t think starting Jerry Neuheisel full-time is a good option, even with all the experience UCLA has on offense. While he’s very comfortable with the offensive scheme, his lack of arm strength would severely limit the team if opponents can scout that look through the course of the season. Woulard could very well transfer if he loses out on the job, but it’d be best for the Bruins to convince him to stay to ensure depth even if Rosen wins.
Q: How would you assess Rosen’s skill vs. Brett Hundley’s during his redshirt year?
A: I didn’t get to see Hundley’s first spring, so I can’t make an apples-to-apples comparison. Assuming Rosen does in games what he’s doing now, his natural feel for the pocket has looked better. He’s also working behind a much better offensive line, though. Rosen isn’t the same threat to run that Hundley was.
Q: Was the lack of getting Neuheisel and Woulard more playing time late in blowout wins an attempt to let Hundley pad his stats in an effort to help him win the Heisman and bring more national attention and more high profile recruits to UCLA? If not, what was the thinking behind leaving your star QB, coming off of an injury, out there to possibly be injured again?
A: UCLA didn’t have a lot of blowout wins last season, so that limited those opportunities a bit. The game that made the most sense was the 62-27 win over Arizona State, but that was one with some extenuating circumstances: Hundley was coming off an injury that he wanted to prove wasn’t hindering him, and he was extra amped to do it in front of his hometown crowd. (There’s a reason ‘UCLA’ got etched into ASU’s midfield pitchfork before the game.)
In the 38-20 win over USC, Hundley could have sat earlier. But it was a rivalry game, so I get the argument for keeping him in too. The last meaningful drive he led came with the Bruins up 38-14, but also started with 12:39 left in the fourth. It ended on a fumble, but at least forced the Trojans to start on their own 9-yard line.
The game situation against UW was sort of similar. With 13:57 left, Hundley led a field-goal drive that bumped UCLA’s lead from 14 points to 17. The final drives against USC and Washington both consisted entirely of Paul Perkins running the ball; could have had Woulard throw a few passes there, or at least step on the field for the handoff.
Q: Based upon your observations in practice, who has been the best QB and by how wide of a margin?
A: Rosen was ahead pretty comfortably. I’d put Woulard as a clear No. 2 right now after what he showed through the second half of spring camp. Neuheisel and Mike Fafaul are both better as stopgap options; the former has more experience, but the latter might have a better arm.
Q: I’m intrigued with the running back position right now. It seems like Paul Perkins is our man no doubt but Nate Starks and Craig Lee look great too. I was wondering about Roosevelt Davis? Will we ever utilize him with all the excellent back we have? Not to mention a recovering Steve Manfro.
A: I’m totally sold on Nate Starks as a solid No. 2, although I’d wait to see some games before buying stock on Craig Lee. Roosevelt Davis and Steve Manfro might be the type of players that tend to shine in spring more so than during the season, but the former did have himself a nice camp. I could see Davis making more noise as a returner.
Q: Nate Iese looks really athletic and I’ve been reading from many beat writers that he has looked really physically imposing. Is there a chance that the coaches move him to the defensive side of the ball similar to Anthony Barr to get him on the field more?
A: I really, really like Nate Iese. Even if he never breaks out at UCLA, I could see him getting an NFL camp invite and finding his way on a roster at some point. The thing with him is that he doesn’t fit cleanly into any of positions in the Bruins’ playbook. I like his offensive upside, but trying to use him both ways isn’t farfetched at all. He said this spring that he’s open to the possibility of being a part-time edge rusher — basically whatever gets him on the field.
Q: Ellis McCarthy is gone. We need two interior D-linemen to rotate with Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes or we’re sunk. How good will Ainuu Taua and Eli Ankou be? Any chance of signing another real stud interior DL other than Boss Tagaloa?
A: Ainuu Taua didn’t have a great camp. Eli Ankou was limited by a wrist injury and wore a soft cast the whole spring. Keep an eye on whether or not NaJee Toran can successfully make the switch from offensive guard to defensive tackle; he looked out of place there initially this month, but seemed to grasp the position better as the weeks went on. There’s also a chance that Jacob Tuioti-Mariner could put on more weight and transition inside.
Aside from Tagaloa, there aren’t a whole lot of top defensive tackles available in 2016. Rivals.com currently has him as the 14th-best tackle in the country; no one else in California cracks the top 50.
Q: Besides QB, which position group is UCLA’s greatest weakness? Greatest strength?
A: There aren’t a ton of glaring weaknesses on this team. Building defensive line depth is crucial, but that’s more a long-term concern for surviving without Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes. The secondary has a ton of depth, but it could use someone to really step up as a shutdown corner. For greatest strength, I might go with the running backs. There’s a top-end talent in Paul Perkins, a strong No. 2 in Nate Starks, and a few other guys that could contribute.
Q: What is your take on defensive coordinator Tom Bradley? Is he a big get, a medium get, a wash (compared to Jeff Ulbrich) in your opinion, based on what you have seen and heard so far.
A: I think he’s about as good a coach as UCLA could have hoped for. Whereas Jeff Ulbrich was a young up-and-comer with NFL roots, Bradley is almost the polar opposite: a veteran who has spent his entire career becoming a well-respected college assistant. If you trust that UCLA (and his last few employers) properly vetted him regarding the Sandusky scandal at Penn State, there really aren’t any downsides to this hire. He’s looked more than capable this spring.
Q: Any word on offensive line coach Adrian Klemm and running back Soso Jamabo?
A: Investigation into Klemm is still ongoing. I think the best case scenario for UCLA is probably getting him back by the start of the season, with some limitations on his recruiting. Soso Jamabo’s situation depends on what the Kaufman County district attorney decides to do. If he can plead down to a misdemeanor and not serve jail time, I think he’ll make his way to Westwood.
Q: How well do all the beat writers get along? Woods, Lewis, Foster, Kartje, you etc… Do you guys often hang out when on the road and in Westwood?
A: We’re all at least friendly in a professional capacity. On the road, we’ll usually go out together for food/drinks at some point. Less so at home, though once in a while we’ll get lunch after practice in Westwood. Note: Ryan Kartje is no longer on the beat for the OC Reg, although he made two cameos this spring. I remain undecided about his replacement, Joey Kaufman; not once did he think to bring bagels and/or coffee for the group during a morning practice. Thoughtless.