SAN BERNARDINO -- Now that UCLA has a starting quarterback, the offense can start to build some chemistry, continuity and consistency.
That's the idea, anyway, but Brett Hundley didn't exactly get off to a flying start.
Hundley was named the starter on Friday, then on Saturday had one of his worst practices since last year. He settled a bit on Sunday but still wasn't throwing the ball at his best. Coach Jim Mora said it was just the product of needing time for the shock to wear off after winning a long competition for the job.
"It never fails that when you name a guy the starter after a hard battle, they come out that first practice and they say, ‘I’m the starter. I have to make every throw. I’ve got to jam everything in there,'" Mora said. "And looking at the film, it looked like Brett forced it a little bit last night. And today, I didn’t look at it that closely, but I think he settled down a little bit."
This is the earliest UCLA has had a starting quarterback named in several years. Kevin Prince battled through three competitions before winning the job in the final week before the season each time. Getting a guy in place with three weeks to go will eventually help the offense run better.
"I think having a starter named at this point, everybody knows who is going to line up under center when we kick it off versus Rice," Mora said. "I think the receivers now can start to get in more of a rhythm with a guy. The offensive line can get a feel for how he sets up in the pocket. Everyone gets a feel for his rhythm of cadence, how he operates and how he runs the team. It just settles us a little bit."
Running back Johnathan Franklin said any of the quarterbacks would have done a fine job, but he is happy that he won't have to wait the next few weeks before finding out who will hand him the ball in games.
"I would say it’s good for us to have a little foundation now," Franklin said. "In the past, we didn’t know who the guy was. I think it’s good to know who the guy is snap to snap for me to build a relationship and for the O-line to build a relationship and the receivers, as well."
Some other notes from Sunday:
With his quarterback all set, Mora said the priorities are finding a right tackle and settling the competitions for starting spots at defensive end and safety.
There is no favorite for right tackle now, as Brett Downey, Torian White and Ben Wysocki have all been getting reps there and Simon Goines is expected to join that fray when he returns from heat-related illness.
Tevin McDonald, Dalton Hilliard and Andrew Abbott are battling for the two safety spots, though they will all get plenty of playing time, especially in the nickel package. At defensive end, Cassius Marsh, Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Datone Jones are fighting it out for the two starting spots, though starting doesn't mean all that much for defensive linemen because that unit will rotate frequently.
"You’ll name a starter, but, in reality, when you look at who got the snaps at the end of the game, it should be pretty equal," Mora said. "Regardless of who starts, I think you’ll see six, seven, eight guys each game."
High praise for Marsh
Mora went out of his way to praise Marsh, the junior defensive end who has had a bit of a rocky first two seasons but entered spring football with a much more mature attitude and has carried it over into training camp.
"Cassius Marsh is an outstanding football player," Mora said. "I know his history here is up and down, but that guy is a really, really good defensive end, a big-time defensive end. One of the better ones that I’ve been around. That’s a heavy statement, isn't it?"
Yes, it is, considering Mora once coached Chris Doleman, who was recently inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.
"Maybe that's putting a little too much on Cassius," Mora said. "But he is a very, very good football player. He really is ... and I think he can develop into something special. That's probably a better way to put it."