Fall Camp Preview: Quarterbacks

Brett Hundley

UCLA's starting quarterback position is the most settled on the team, with a three-year starter in Brett Hundley, but the coaches will still have to pick a backup...

As we’ve said a few times over the last year or so, the quarterback position at UCLA has rarely been this settled. Brett Hundley enters fall camp as the two-year incumbent starter, and he’ll be gunning for dozens of accolades: the Heisman trophy, the Maxwell award, the unofficial title as best UCLA quarterback of all time, etc. After two good years to start off his career, he is poised to cap off his UCLA career with one to remember.

At times last year, though, Hundley did falter to an extent, in particular after the Utah game and through the next four contests. Most of his struggles centered around making ineffective pre- and post-snap reads. Improving in that aspect of the game will be critical if UCLA’s offense is to avoid the stagnation it suffered at times last year.

Behind Hundley, there is better depth than a year ago, with an improved Jerry Neuheisel and a non-redshirting Asiantii Woulard. Still, the hopes of the offense rest almost entirely on the shoulders of Hundley, and as he goes, so do the Bruins’ chances at a storybook season.

Injury/Personnel Updates

***None to report

Incoming Freshmen

Aaron Sharp

Sharp was a late pickup for UCLA this spring after he decommitted from Kansas State. We’ll admit that we don’t have a great feel for him yet, having not seen him live, but from what we’ve heard, he’s been impressive from a mental standpoint from the minute he stepped on campus in June. He’s known as a very good athlete, but his commitment to learning the offense and picking up the nuances this early has been eye-opening, according to some sources. It’ll be very interesting to see whether he has the necessary physical tools to excel in this offense going forward, but it doesn’t appear that it’s a foregone conclusion that he will switch positions.

Brett Hundley.
Projected Starter

We’re going to go out on a limb here and say that Hundley kid has a chance to win the job this fall. From the perspective of the previous ten years of quarterback struggles at UCLA, Hundley has been exceptional through two years simply in terms of completing the great majority of his throws on time. He’s also shown very good leadership and poise, particularly in the game-winning drive at Arizona State in 2012 and the blitzkrieg comeback against Nebraska in 2013. He also has shown his uncanny agility by scrambling for key first downs in too many games to count.

Even marginal improvement, or no improvement at all, will put him somewhere in the top three or four quarterbacks of all time at UCLA. To get to where UCLA wants to be, though, which is in the national championship conversation, Hundley is going to have to show real improvement in a couple of key areas.

First, his pre-snap reads last year, particularly when the offense got more complex with deeper drops, were an issue, and when he missed them, it left him guessing, which more often than not ended with either a sack or Hundley running for a first down. In this area, we saw some progress from Hundley this spring, and we’d imagine he’s made more in the time between spring and August.

Second, his post-snap reads, particularly on the zone read, were also a struggle at times. By the midway point of the year, actually, it looked like UCLA had scrapped the “read” part of the zone running, but left the delayed handoff, which served no one. If UCLA is going to continue to use the zone read as a significant part of its running attack (which we’d imagine is likely) Hundley will need to get better at, first, identifying the player he’s keying off of pre-snap and then, second, making the correct decision based off what that player does.

Most other areas aren’t particularly significant for what UCLA likes to do as an offense. Hundley’s deep ball was a little erratic last year, but that was likely due to the offensive line issues forcing him to rush throws. If he can improves his ability to read defenses both pre- and post-snap, we’d imagine that most other areas of his game will improve drastically as well.

Asiantii Woulard.
Also, it would be unfair to Hundley not to mention that UCLA had a huge amount of injuries on the offensive line and at running back that put the weight of the offense on his shoulders and added a decent amount of conservatism to the offensive playcalling. Assuming UCLA doesn’t suffer a similar amount of injuries at key spots this year, we’d have to imagine Hundley will look better simply from that standpoint.

Depth

The competition for the spot behind Hundley isn’t quite settled yet, but Neuheisel looked like he had the inside track this spring. He improved his arm strength a bit in the offseason, and made fewer errors than he has in the past, and, just based off seeing him last year in a few spots and then again this spring, we’d have no problem having him come in for a series at any point this year.

Asiantii Woulard, the redshirt freshman, had an up-and-down spring. He has all the physical tools to be a Pac-12 starting quarterback, but this spring he struggled to make good decisions with the ball, and was really erratic at times. It even looked like he was experimenting with an adjustment to his throwing motion at times, but it would happen so sporadically that we weren’t sure if it was an adjustment he was trying to make or if it was just some inconsistency in his motion. If he has been able to work through some of those issues this offseason, he’ll jump right back into the thick of it with Neuheisel.

Mike Fafaul, the redshirt sophomore walkon, will likely continue to hold the title of “best throwing motion on the team” this fall. He’s the three-year champ, after all. If the backup job fell to him at some point, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.


FALL PRACTICE UNIT PREVIEWS

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