UCLA and Josh Rosen are embracing big changes for 2016
One of the first thing you notice that’s changed about UCLA football is that Josh Rosen, the Bruins extremely talented young QB, looks much bigger.
"I was at 205 (pounds) last year, and I’m at 220 now,” Rosen told me Saturday after the Bruins spring showcase. "I would love to go to (fall) camp at around 230.”
Rosen, the Pac-12’s Offensive Freshman of the Year in 2015, set a UCLA record for most consecutive passing attempts without an interception (245). He also completed 60 percent of his passes and had a 23-11 TD-INT ratio. He said he hopes the added weight helps him when he starts getting hit in the fall.
Rosen, like the rest of his teammates, is adapting to a new offensive system, in the wake of the departure of Noel Mazzone who took his spread scheme to Texas A&M. Mazzone was replaced by Kennedy Polamalu. That change means, among other things, incorporating more fullbacks and tight ends into the Bruins attack. In addition, former Washington star quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo arrives as the Bruins new QB coach.
"It’s awesome," Rosen said when asked about how it’s been to work with Tuiasosopo, a former eight-year NFL veteran. "We have really good chemistry. We both have strong personalities. We work really well together. The way I learn is I question the hell out of things until it makes sense to me, and I’ve learned more this spring than I have in a while."
Said head coach Jim Mora: "He’s embracing the changes that we’re making and understanding they were for his benefit. From day one, he’s really excited about the fact we’re doing what we’re doing. I feel like he’s calm and he grasps and likes the concepts. I think a lot of it is just getting a feel for the receivers he’s throwing to. A lot of these guys, he hasn’t really thrown a lot of passes to. They’re going to need to work hard in the spring and summer on their own to continue to develop that cohesiveness."
The way I learn is I question the hell out of things until it makes sense to me, and I’ve learned more this spring than I have in a while.
* The elevation of Polamalu, a former standout fullback at USC from UCLA running backs coach to OC, has brought a more physical vibe to the Bruins, according to many around the program.
Rosen, like several other Bruins, pointed to the 9-on-7 (inside-run) drills that have become a staple at practice and "helped everyone." It’s something many college programs do a lot of in practice, but it wasn’t something that UCLA was doing last year.
* Remember the name Takk McKinley. The Bruins have had some very productive edge-rushers in recent years and the former JC transfer, who had 7.5 TFLs and 4.5 sacks in 2015, is ready to blossom. Mora said he doesn’t name an MVP of spring ball, but that if he did, McKinley might’ve been that guy this year.
"He’s about 265 now (up from 250 last season)," Mora said. "He was a 10.6 100-meter guy in high school and still has that speed. He can be very dangerous and I’m excited to watch him in the fall."
Others who Mora said really stepped up this spring: Tight end Austin Roberts, WRs Darren Andrews and Alex Van Dyke; sophomore RB Bolu Olorunfunmi, D-linemen Matt Dickerson and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner. The coach also praised veterans Jayon Brown, a linebacker who he said became much more consistent, and defensive back Randall Goforth.
* The Bruins have one of the more intriguing spring position switches in converted CB Ishmael Adams now playing wideout. The 5-8, 180-pound senior who has started 34 games at CB and returned three INTs the past two seasons for touchdowns, looks like he should give UCLA a much-needed boost as a slot receiver.
"We’ve been looking for somebody who could catch the ball in the slot, and make a play on his own, make them miss then go the distance," Mora said. "Ish has that ability. We always saw that as a returner and we see it on offense. When he’s playing offense, you can dictate when he gets the ball. He still has a lot of the nuances of playing the position that he’s got to master, and you’ll see him freelance a bit. But I think he’s gonna be a great weapon for us."
Beyond just Adams’ quickness, Rosen also said he’s been impressed by the former DB’s "strong hands" and how he attacks the ball.
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) April 23, 2016
* Another UCLA WR who made a strong impression during the Bruins spring showcase was Kenny Walker, a guy who has been been plagued by drops. On Saturday, Walker hauled in a gorgeous over-the-shoulder catch along the right sideline on a deep ball from Rosen.
With the Bruins needing to replace Jordan Payton, Thomas Duarte and Devin Fuller, they really need some wideouts to emerge and they’re hopeful the 5-10, 180-pound former star hurdler (9 catches for 231 yards in 2015) is finally ready to do so. "To me, he could be one of the surprises in the country this year," Mora said. "I know that’s probably a big, big statement to make, but I have a gut feeling about the kid."