Spring Football: The Big Unknown - Looking at UCLA's Quarterback Situation

Our spring football preview started with previews of units with established depth charts, by looking at the defensive line, followed by breakdowns of the linebackers, the defensive secondary, the special teams, the offensive line, the receiving corps, the running game, and now we come to the unit that is completely up in the air: quarterback.

Anyone who has paid any attention to UCLA football the last calendar year knows that UCLA's continuing struggles under center have been a major source of consternation for not only Rick Neuheisel, but for members of Bruins Nation everywhere.  Unfortunately, while the future looks bright with the additional of five-star recruit Brett Hundley, UCLA once again enters spring practice with a quarterback corps that has no real clear-cut leader or starter.

With Prince returning from injury, Brehaut having started half the past season, and super-freshman Brett Hundley enrolling early, the battle to be the starting quarterback is a legitimate three-man race.

QB
 (1) Richard Brehaut (6-2, 225, JR)
 (2) Kevin Prince (6-2, 230, RS JR) OR
Brett Hundley (6-4, 225, FR)
 (3) Darius Bell (5-11, 230, JR)
 (4) Nick Crissman (6-3, 226, RS JR)

First, we'll start with the bad news: Kevin Prince, who won the starting job last year over Brehaut, is still out injured due to the knee injury he suffered last season.  So, once again, Prince will be a spectator while other quarterbacks get the reps in practice:

Prince is not going to be able to do much. Isolated throwing. I had hoped he could do 7-on-7 but I've been told he won't be able to do much of that either.

However, Prince won't be the only signal-caller watching practice from the bench: Darius Bell is also out for spring practice, still recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, while oft-injured reserve quarterback Nick Crissman is also recovering from a shoulder injury that will limit his participation (Neuheisel called it a "pitch count" of sorts) in spring practice.

All-in-all, that leaves us with just two scholarship quarterbacks for spring practice: Brehaut, who is splitting time with a program that actually has its s**t together (men's baseball), and the highly-touted freshman Hundley.  Let's start with Brehaut.  According to Neuheisel, once spring practice gets rolling, the sophomore signal-caller will be 100% dialed in to the gridiron:

He's full football. He won't miss anything. That was our deal when he wanted to pursue baseball. He wont miss anything with regards to spring football. He'll end up missing some baseball.

Given the log-jam under center and the arrival of the kid that the interwebs is calling the "make-or-break" player for Neuheisel's tenure in Westwood, it'd be hard for Brehaut not to think his time as a starter is limited. But, as ESPN's Peter Yoon pointed out, Brehaut did put up admirable numbers at the end of the season, despite having to learn on the job after Prince went down for the season:

Inconsistency at quarterback was the Bruins primary nemesis last season with starter Kevin Prince (6-2, 230) unable to fully practice in fall camp and then going out for the season just as it seemed he'd gotten the offense in gear. Richard Brehaut (6-2, 225) stepped in and was forced to learn on the job, but seemed to turn a corner and passed for 321 and 230 yards in the last two games.

Moreover, with only Hundley to compete for snaps, Brehaut should be able to get in a lot of time with the first-team offense this spring.  Rick knows he needs to win this year, and an injured and inconsistent Prince does not bode well for his future in Westwood.  Moreover, Prince was always the favored option for former offensive coordinator Norm Chow.  This year, Chow's gone and Rick's guy, Mike Johnson, is in charge. The reasonable move is to assume Prince will be rusty and fragile until proven otherwise.  For those reasons, I have Brehaut as the favorite to emerge as the Bruins' starter, although given our history of QB injuries and issues, everything is up in the air:

Who will be the starting quarterback?
There is no more fascinating or important question for UCLA heading into the 2011 season than this. The Bruins must improve quarterback play if they are going to contend in the South Division, let alone the Pac-12 Conference. Competition is wide open heading into spring, with Brehaut and star-recruit Hundley set to receive nearly every rep — Prince (knee) will be limited to non-contact participation.

That being said, Brett Hundley isn't going to make it easy for Brehaut to hold on to the starting job.  The five-star recruit, rated the #3 QB by Scout and the #1 dual-threat QB by Rivals, decided to graduate high school early to enroll at UCLA in time for spring practice, so he's certainly shown the intent to put himself in the mix to be a significant player this season, if not the out-right starter by fall.  And the young man has made it clear he's focusing on getting on to the field this season:

I always knew I wanted to come to school early as a quarterback because if you don’t come early, you only have a month until the first game. It’s pretty quick so you’re going to have to study your ass off.

So I always knew I wanted to come to college early to get that jump start, and now I can go through spring ball so I’ll get it down before stuff actually begins.

It’s hard to compete for a position when you’ve only got one month until the first game, so I knew I wanted to come early, and I’m glad I did.

Well, it looks like Brett is going to get exactly what he was hoping for.  With Prince, Bell, and Crissman all out for spring practice, Hundley will only be splitting reps with Brehaut:

I'm excited for Brett. As is always the case, when somebody's down, it creates opportunities for someone else. With Prince not able to go with spring practice, it creates more reps. Darius Bell not able to go for spring pracitice, it creates more reps. Brett Hundley is going to be the benefactor of that. He's going to get lots of chances. How fast he grows and matures in the offense and shows he can understand all he needs to handle to be effective, that will just enhance his ability to play and play at an early time in his career.

Moreover, it certainly seems that Neuheisel and Johnson are working in formations that will compliment Hundley's mobility and talents, utilizing multiple sets, including the pistol, as well as the traditional shotgun formation (used by other mobile QB systems, such as Oregon and Auburn):

On the quarterback being in shotgun or behind center:
"That will come as we go. I don't know that we have to be up under center. Certainly there are some things that can be done better under center than from the gun. But we'll watch as that goes. We'll be in the gun a majority of the snaps right now."

All-in-all, I'd expect Brehaut to be the starter come this fall, with Prince dropping behind him due to rust and his own fragility.  As a freshman trying to grasp a college offense, Hundley will likely settle in at third string, but I wouldn't be surprised if he is making a serious push to take the reins of the offense by mid-season.  The kid has elite talent and if properly utilized, he has the potential to be a special UCLA quarterback.

That said, the competition is wide-open and while Brehaut and Hundley have the inside edge due to their participation in spring practice, this fall it will be a tight three-horse race to see who opens under center for the Bruins on September 3 against the Houston Cougars.

Fire away with your quarterback competition thoughts.

GO BRUINS

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