LOS ANGELES — It’s no secret that UCLA is making a push to get quarterback Brett Hundley at the front of the line in the Heisman Trophy race. The marketing department launched the campaign in January when he announced his decision to return for the 2014 season.
But as spring practice opened this week, the one thing everyone wanted to know was, how much had Hundley improved in the offseason?
The record-breaking quarterback is a just as much of a physical specimen as he has been in his previous two seasons as the Bruins’ starter. He’s still just as swift on foot and his arm is ready to launch end-zone bombs, but it’s the intangibles that have finally gone from developing to developed.
"He’s done a great job this spring, his fourth spring as the quarterback, of getting around guys that help him become a better quarterback, understanding the game, watching a lot of film," said offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. "I really see that different look in his eyes. He’s a lot more confident in what he’s doing."
Jim Mora already raving about how Brett Hundley has improved
Hundley, now going into his redshirt junior season, spent nearly every day with both Noel and quarterback coach Taylor Mazzone during the offseason. When he wasn’t in one of their offices, he was with current and former NFL quarterbacks such as Philip Rivers and Jeff Garcia. He studied more than film with them — he studied the way each one studied, how they broke down film, how they prepared for games and studied the individuality of what each quarterback conveys in their play.
"Each guy came in and gave him a different message," Taylor said. "I believe that hit him in the head like, ‘Wow, you’ve got to be the elite of the elite to make it to the next level.’ It woke him up like, ‘I’m not there yet.’ "
Last season, the biggest criticism of Hundley was his decision-making. He was a talented dual-threat, yes, but at times there was a reliance on his legs to get him out of trouble and a reluctance to give up the football. Some critics questioned whether or not he could accurately read a defense or if he was just simply athletic enough to not have to.
Noel said the question has been answered and Hundley can, in fact, read a defense and much better than before.
"When he looks over and knows about two, or one hand signal into the play, he already knows what it is and stops looking at me," Noel said. "I already know he catching on. He knows this offense, he understands what we’re trying to do and I think he’s had a great offseason."
As far as Hundley’s backup, that is yet to be determined. Jerry Neuheisel has not looked bad in two spring practices and has the experience while redshirt freshman Asiantii Woulard, a four-star recruit coming out of high school in Winter Park, Fla., wants his shot after a year on the scout team.
"I think that’s our No. 1 deal right now," Noel said. "Jerry has had some good moments out there, Asiante is going through that learning curve that all young kids go through."
Don’t expect it to be decided soon. It’s a position battle expected to wage on into the fall.
"Woulard is not a redshirt anymore and he’s ready to rock and roll. Jerry is very smart, intelligent and has great timing," Taylor said. "But I always thought as a quarterback, you don’t want to be named a backup. Who wants to be named a backup? You want to be named a starter. So we’re going to leave that open and let those guys compete."