With training camp in the books and the season opener versus San Diego St. within view, it's time to reevaluate where Rick Neuheisel's Bruins stand entering his second year at the helm of the program. Now I, being nowhere near a football expert and having attended only slightly more than half of the training camp practices, am the prime candidate to make such evaluations. Am I not correct? Well, unqualified, incompetent or delusional I may be (and possibly all three), I will handle the task with all of my usual grace and skill, which is none. I will grade out each position on the Bruins roster with each part being posted all week long, until the final part on Sunday night. This is for the big boys (and girls) too. There is no grade inflation here. A grade of C will actually stand for average and while I'm well aware of where this program is coming from, no unit gets a higher grade for "improvement." Just because a unit is loads better than they once were doesn't mean they get a high grade. After all, going from a F to a C is still a massive improvement. All grades are independent from where this program was a year ago or five years ago. The marks are based on how the unit grades out against fellow Pac-10 competition so with that said, let's dive in with the quarterbacks.
How important is quarterback play? I think just about any UCLA fan will agree with me that it is the most important position in sport after suffering through a miserable year with Kevin Craft under center last year. Now, that's not to say that Craft was given a fair shake. The kid was fresh out of JC, expected to be the third string and was routinely battered. In fact, I guarantee you that there are worse third string quarterbacks out there than Craft and 99% of quarterbacks in the country can't touch the toughness and courage he exhibited last year. That said, Bruin fans will breathe a sigh of relief knowing that barring injury, Craft will not see the field in 2009. It's a fresh start for the Bruins at the quarterback position and while it brings excitement, potential and wild dreams of a gun slinging, riverboat gambler who gives UCLA a chance to score six on any play, it also brings the possibility of 2008 pat deaux. That is to say interceptions, throw aways and missed targets.
The man charged with playing the part of Hollywood leading man as opposed to local Kalamazoo theatre ensemble member of Annie 2 is redshirt freshman Kevin Prince, a local guy from Crespi High School. The unfortunate part of throwing Prince into the fire is that he'll have taken a grand total of ZERO competitive snaps in the last two years when he takes to the field against San Diego St. The positive to having Prince lead the Bruins is that I've begun to develop an affection for Prince bordering on man crush. Now you may ask what Prince has done to deserve such plaudits and it is a legitimate question. He hasn't done much. I mean, what can a guy who hasn't played in a game for so long have really done? What Prince has done though is show attributes that can lead the Bruins back atop the Pac-10 before he leaves Westwood and secure a place in our hearts similar to the way JF, AA, LMR and JS did as the original Ben Ball Warriors who led Bruins back to national scope of college basketball.
I've almost certainly placed unreasonable and possibly unattainable expectations upon Prince. I have no problem admitting as much, but it's hard not to think of Prince leading the Bruins such heights when you look at his tools. Does he have the size you want in a quarterback? Well, he is a solid 6'2'' and has a release point that doesn't put his passes in jeopardy of being knocked down at the line. Does Prince have the arm strength? Time after time in camp Prince made passes to the far sideline with ease and this was with ball hawking corners like Alterraun Verner and Aaron Hester lurking. He was even able to roll left, turn, square his shoulders and throw a ball back to the middle of the field, but 45 yards down field. Does he have the accuracy? He has a quick release and short motion that allows him to repeat his mechanics easily, cutting back on the break downs and making it possible for him to slot the ball into tight spaces. Does he have the feet? He's no Vince Young or even Cade McNown, but he has no problems whatsoever on the bootlegs and was able to pick up first downs with his legs on a regular basis when the opportunity presented itself in camp. How about the head? He makes mistakes, as all freshmen do, but he doesn't make many mistakes twice and he's an eager learning, seeking out coaches even when he does well. Can Prince lead though? Even with Norm Chow standing right behind the huddle, players ask Prince questions when they're unclear about what to do. The players know who leads the offense. In short, Prince has everything you'd want in a quarterback...except for one thing.
We're going to come back to this one all year long. Prince has not played in a game since the first half of his first game of his senior year of high school. That type of inexperience is bound to result in decisions and plays by the freshman that can only be described as dumbfounding. Experience can't be taught and all we can hope is that Prince isn't put in too many situations early on where he needs to play two years over his head. We can also hope that he's healthy enough to play and gain that experience because behind him is only more inexperience.
Craft will likely be the Bruins' back up in 2009 unless Prince suffers an early injury that keeps him out a prolonged period of time. When you consider the UCLA quarterbacks, remember that Craft is the Bruins' most experienced quarterback on the roster having played a year at San Diego St., a year of JC ball and a year at UCLA. After Craft there is a true freshman and a redshirt freshman who wasn't healthy enough to even practice last year. That means that not only is the UCLA QB depth chart littered with game inexperience, but these guys haven't even take road trips to get accustomed to the routine and see atmospheres. They haven't dressed for games and been a part of UCLA's game planning. At best, they were learning other teams' playbooks on the scout team. Craft provides the Bruins with their only modicum of experience and a breakdown of his play isn't necessary for UCLA fans who watched him last year.
Should Prince suffer an early season injury that keeps him out for a while, Richard Brehaut will likely get the nod. In a perfect world, a true freshman like Brehaut would redshirt, but we don't live in a perfect world and that is doubled when you're part of the UCLA football program just heading into year two of a rebuilding project. Brehaut has a big arm and was picked out by Norm Chow specifically so you know he has the smarts. He even is comfortable in blue and gold after wearing it during high school. Brehaut offers a lot of promise, but if the uncertainty surrounding Prince scares you, don't bother thinking of life with Brehaut under center in 2009. We like all of our readers at BN and would prefer that you avoid a heart attack.
Nick Crissman offers UCLA another choice at quarterback, but is he has to see the field in 2009 then Bruin fans will be longing for the "excellence" of 2008. Crissman was highly touted entering UCLA, but suffered a shoulder injury last year and despite claims to the contrary, isn't yet the player he was before the injury. His mechanics are still in flux and with all the rehab he had, it didn't leave much time for film and playbook study last year. I was a big Crissman fan in high school and he lit it up at the Under Armour All-American Game, but he's not yet and may never be that player. Expectations for Crissman in 2009 should go no further than health and good practice reps.
Grade: C+ This grade should be lower, but I'm on the Kevin Prince bandwagon and will continue to think too highly of someone who has proven zilch at the college level. The inexperience up and down the depth chart is a major worry though. If grading talent alone, this grade would be higher, but the inexperience lowers it some. I'll always take talent over experience though.