Let’s shift our attention from the least glamorous position in the offense to the most glamorous one – the quarterback.
And you know where the story begins in this position. Anyone who considers himself or herself a UCLA football fan should know the story of Ben Olson. If you need to refresh your memory on the story of Ben Olson, the center piece in previous regime’s efforts to reestablish the UCLA football program, then simply read up the posts in this section. It hasn’t been a fun story for neither Olson nor UCLA football program to date. However, there still might be a glimmer of hope for Olson to leave Westwood with a positive and satisfying note. That hope depends on not only how Olson recovers from his unfortunate physical injuries, but how he prepares himself mentally heading into his last season in Westwood.
Going back to the post on our offensive line, I mentioned Palcic’s last season at UCLA during which he helped mold an offensive line anchored by Ogden and Parker that carried us to the Rose Bowl. I think it is also worth recalling that OL helped protect Wayne Cook, who was another quarterback who was coming off a devastating injury from the previous season. Now Cook wasn’t as heralded as Olson or other QBs I will note down below. Yet he was able to emerge as a signal caller who was able to take advantage of the protection afforded to him by that OL as an efficient game manager. Right now it’s a huge question mark in terms of the kind of protection Olson will get from the patchwork OL. But if the OL does come around and is enable to provide protection, it would be imperative for Olson to emerge as an efficient game manager taking advantage of the coaching and tutelage of Norm Chow (and Rick Neuheisel). As referenced before, Chow already went on the record following spring ball that he expected all of his QBs (including Olson) to spend lot of time in the film room. Our hope is that Olson has done exactly that this off season in addition to working hard to rehab from his injuries.
As noted multiple times before it took Carson Palmer almost a season and half to finally grasp Chow’s system (as simple as it may be). So it is probably unrealistic to expect Olson to develop into an All Pac-10 QB in just one season. However, I think coaches should expect from Olson that he will emerge as a veteran QB with experience who will make a concerted effort to minimize his mistakes, take advantage of some of the talent at our skill positions (as we will go over in upcoming posts), and take in Chow’s teachings to emerge as an efficient QB.
As far as returning QBs with experience Chow/Neuheisel do not have a lot to work with. Here a look at the numbers from 2007:
Stats via ESPN.com
We all feel awful for Patrick Cowan. He has been nothing short of a warrior during his time at UCLA and the Bruin Nation will be eternally grateful in his role for preserving our record 8 win streak. There is a chance he will get a medical redshirt and come back for his sixth season. However, there is chance that option not worked out (for i.e. what happened with Pitre). Also there is the question whether Cowan will want to come back for his sixth season given the options who might emerge for UCLA in the forms of QBs discussed below and the arrival of blue chip QB Richard Brehaut. In any event, I imagine coaches will encourage him to stay close to the program as he could play a nice role in mentoring the young QBs in the coming years.
MBT is gone. As for OR at this point he is still insisting that he wants to stick with his current position. I imagine he has gotten tired of the switching back and forth between WR and QB during the previous regime. He did get his chances due to the injuries to BO and PC last year. But as the stats bear out he wasn’t all that effective. To his credit he tried to make the best out of a horrific situation in which he showed flashes of his athletic talent, but it was no where close to being enough to show his potential effectiveness as potential game manager in Chow’s scheme. OR is being persistent though. He did what he could to make a case for him. However, he didn’t crack the top of the depth chart as he was listed number 4 in the depth chart behind Olson, Craft and Forcier. He took some snaps during the recent spring scrimmage during which he completed 4 of his 7 passes for 60 yards and 1 TD. However, to date neither Chow nor Neuheisel have mentioned him as the future at our QB, even though they have not shown any indication that they would force him to play at WR.
So let’s move to the guy listed number 2: Kevin Craft. Neuheisel and Chow didn’t waste any time to bring him into the program following their arrival at UCLA. He does have a solid resume to back him up:
Those are pretty impressive numbers. However, as expected Craft was getting used to playing directly under the center after primarily playing in shot gun formation in his previous years. Here is a shot from the spring scrimmage ....
He completed 313 of 511 passes (61.3%) for 4,231 yards, 44 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a redshirt sophomore at Mt. San Antonio College (Mt. SAC) in Walnut, CA ... Led team to a record of 10-3 and Southern California Junior College championship ... Named first-team All-American by J.C. GridWire
Photo Credit: Jack Rosenfeld
... during which Craft completed 11 of 24 passes for 95 yards, throwing 1 TD and 1 pick. He had a slow start during the scrimmage but as Chow had mentioned "he came around at the end," and that he needs to spend more time getting "used to the rhythm" of Chow’s offense and get a better understanding by … again spending time in the film room. Craft also recently indicated that he is getting more comfortable with his surroundings at UCLA:
Craft, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound transfer from Mt. San Antonio College, chose UCLA over Hawaii and SMU, and with two years of eligibility remaining and two experienced seniors ahead of him, most figured he'd redshirt.
That impression didn't change much when he was mostly inconsistent and overwhelmed during spring practices.
The overwhelmed part may change when preseason practices begin. Craft said he's found a comfort level with both Norm Chow's offense and his teammates.
"The first day I got to school here was one of our first spring practices -- I didn't know anyone on the team and I had no idea what was going on with the offense," he said. "So I'm just a little bit more comfortable with the offense and terminology, but more importantly I'm a lot more comfortable with all the guys on the team."
Craft should pick things up quicker than most. For one, he's seen action at the Division I-A level, having started his career at San Diego State, where he was forced onto the field because of injuries as a redshirt freshman in 2006.
So right now there are some reasons to be hopeful about Craft (BTW he is listed as a solid 6’5/210 in the official site) but it remains to be seen how he looks in the Fall camp after his off season homework assigned by Chow.
Behind Craft right now we have Chris Forcier. Forcier is intriguing because he is probably the best "dual threat QB" among the current options available to Chow and Neuheisel. Per his official bio Chris threw for over 5,000 yards and 60 touchdowns, while rushing for over 1,000 yards and 18 touchdowns in his high school career. He showed off his mobility during the spring scrimmage:
Photo Credit: Jack Rosenfeld
He completed 4 of 6 passes and at least according to one observer had "looked sharp" during the scrimmage.
Forcier’s task this off season in addition to spending time in the game room is working to gain more strength filling out his 6-3/185 frame and also improve his arm strength. It will be interesting to see the reports coming out from this Fall camp. Because for Forcier to emerge as a viable option this year he needs to show the coaches he is physically ready to handle D-1 defenses going up against Walker’s unit on a day to day basis.
Besides Craft and Forcier the Bruin coaches will have two true freshmen in this year’s fall camp: Nick Crissman and Kevin Prince. Kevin Prince as has been already discussed on BN is an interesting story and could perhaps make a play to break into the depth chart (recall how he was a "huge hit" at Steve Clarkson’s camp this summer). Chow and Neuehisel didn’t waste any time to jump on this kid and make a scholarship available for him in 2009 season. So they must have seen something in the film that’s intriguing to him. However, this kid is also coming off an injury so he remains a question mark/curiosity heading into this Fall camp. As far Crissman is concerned, I think we can probably expect him to redshirt this coming season and get ready to make his bid for a spot in the rotation starting next spring.
Before we finish here, I think it is worth it to go back to OR. Again it is more than understandable how frustrated this kid must be given how his playing career has worked out in Westwood and how he was yanked around in different positions in the previous years. However, as we have mentioned before, I think it would be very interesting if the coaches consider use him as a "slash" WR/QB option out of the backfield. We brought it up last year and the year before. After all the guy who epitomizes that position – Kordell Stewart – burst into the national scene under the tutelage of a certain QB coach we all know too well. Just something to think about.
So those are my notes on our signal callers. As you can see right now we have lot of questions, which we don’t have any answers. The situation might get cleared up a little during Fall camp, but IMHO we are really not going to know until we have a few games under the new coaching staff. As we get ready for a year during which we are going to got through a lot of growing pains, I hope the coaching staff is not afraid to take chances and perhaps go with new options at this position, looking ahead to our future. Either way it will be very interesting how it all plays out. I am rooting for a happy ending for Ben Olson, while at the same time excited about what the future holds with other options available at Chow/Neuheisel’s disposal.