Spring Football begins a week from tomorrow!
We'll get ready for spring football by looking at the different position groups and assess the players and depth chart. First, check out the excellent fanpost by wavingbruin that looks at the top 10 questions for Bruins Football going into the spring season. Keep those questions (and any others) in your mind as we go through these previews and we'll see what the Bruins have and what the Bruins are lacking as they get ready for the 2016 season.
We'll start our previews today with a look in the offensive backfield at the quarterbacks and the running backs.
Josh Rosen will be the starting quarterback for U.C.L.A. going into spring camp.
Bold prediction, yes! But that's just the kind of awesome analysis you all have come to expect from Bruins Nation and why we get paid the big bucks for doing this.
Josh Rosen was the Chosen One even before he committed to U.C.L.A. and his freshman season did not disappoint. Though there were the occasional freshmen moments, his overall performance and poise through the season exceeded most everyone's expectations. He started every game, set a host of school records, and was The Sporting News Freshman of the Year.
In short, I feel good about our starting quarterback position.
So the real question is who will be number 2?
Last season's backup, Jerry Neuheisel, will not be back in a playing capacity. There was a thought he could return as a graduate assistant this fall and Jim Mora talked up Little's Neu's future as a coach, but Jerry still has a year of eligibility and may transfer to another school and look for playing time this fall.
Mike Fafaul has the inside track on the backup spot as the most experienced scholarship QB on the roster. Trivia time: What current Bruin quarterback has the highest lifetime completion percentage? It's Fafaul who is 6 for 6 for 63 yds in his U.C.L.A. career. His QB rating in 2015 was 188.3. You can only hope to contain him, right? Despite the limited snaps in his Bruin career, it does suggest that Fafaul has been well prepared in his reserve backup role and should be ready to step up another level this season.
Soph Jeremiah Martin, Soph Nick Nazemi, and Redshirt Soph Craig Myers are listed on the Bruins roster. Incoming freshmen QBs Matt Lynch, Dymond Lee and Devon Modster will add depth in the fall when they get to campus, though Lynch may enroll in spring quarter and could be on the field for the Bruins next week. Modster's talent and upside may move him quickly up the depth chart and could be in contention for the Backup role by the time the season begins.
Two are two key factors for this position. One is that the Bruins will be learning and operating an entirely new offense following the promotion of running backs coach Kennedy Palomalu to Offensive Coordinator, replacing the predictable and maddeningly inconsistent N-Zone offense and its architect Noel Mazzone. We expect the Bruins to shift to a more pro-style offense, a style seems an even better fit for Rosen who is certainly a capable runner but who was never a significant threat out of the backfield. New quarterback coach Marques Tuiasosopo will be a significant upgrade over Tyler Mazzone so I look for Rosen's play this season to be even more cerebral and efficient.
Spring depth chart - Quarterback
1. Josh Rosen - Sophomore
2. Mike Fafaul - RS Junior
3. Matt Lynch - Freshman
Unlike the quarterback spot, the running back position is a bit more interesting as the Bruins go into spring camp without a totally clear cut number one following the early departure of Paul Perkins to the NFL. Fortunately, the Bruins have three very good backs in Soso Jamabo, Nate Starks, and Bolu Olorunfunmi. All three saw playing time last season and showed great amounts of potential, highlighting the value of Polamalu as the running backs coach last season.
The true freshman Jamabo was the second leading rusher on the Bruins last year with 404 yds and a freakish average of 6.1 yds/rush, and had 4 TD's on the season. He has such a smooth beautiful running stride and runs tall like a sprinter, so it's easy to underestimate just how fast he is. He still needs to work on getting his pads down so he doesn't absorb so much punishment. Of the Bruins top 3 returning back, Jamabo looks to have the highest upside.
But if you think it's clearly Jamabo's job, you can look at sophomore Nate Starks' even better yds/rush average of 6.4 and 5 TD and then watch his game film from last season and realize that he looks just as good in that starting role. An extra year in Mora's program may be an advantage for Starks, as well. Look for Jamabo and Starks to get pretty equal touches until one of them clearly distances himself from the group.
Soph Olorunfunmi didn't get the carries that Jamabo and Starks got but racked up a solid 200 yds with a 5.9 yds/rush avg in 2015. His size and body type make him look like a good short yardage runner, but he has more than sufficient speed and moves that he doesn't need to be pigeonholed into a short yardage running back role.
Steven Manfro may also be in the mix for the Bruins. He suffered a season ending injury in early 2014 and hasn't been back on the field for the Bruins since. Persistent injuries in fall camp in 2015 caused him to miss the entire season then, too. Manfro was granted a medical redshirt and has the option to play this season. He has proven to be a shifty runner in the past and makes a good option for passes out of the backfield into open space where he can use those running skills to get away.
Nate Iese is still looking for someone to find a use for him, and Polamalu will likely use him at fullback and tight end. As a fullback, Iese may find the ball in his hands but I would not expect him to be a significant threat as a ball carrier in 2016.
Spring depth chart - Running backs
1. Soso Jamabo - Sophomore
1A. Nate Starks - Junior
3. Bolu Olorunfunmi - Sophomore
4. Steven Manfro - RS Senior
Stay tuned to Bruins Nation for additional position previews as we get ready to kick off Spring Practice next Tuesday.