With UCLA preparing to open fall camp on August 8, we will break down the depth charts at each position in order to look at how the Bruins stack up heading into this season. We begin with the quarterback, which figures to be the most closely watched position battle during camp.
Current depth chart:
1. Kevin Prince (6-2, 223, Jr.) OR
2. Richard Brehaut (6-2, 226, Jr.)
3. Brett Hundley (6-3, 210, Fr.)
4. Nick Crissman (6-3, 221, Jr.)
5. Darius Bell (5-11, 226, Jr.)
It's no secret that lackluster quarterback play has plagued the Rick Neuheisel coaching era at UCLA. Since Neuheisel took over in 2008, Bruins quarterbacks have thrown 28 touchdowns and 47 interceptions. Receiver Dominique Johnson, who completed a touchdown pass in his only attempt, is the only UCLA player under Neuheisel with more touchdowns than interceptions.
"The position has to get better," said Neuheisel, who is taking over as quarterbacks coach. "It’s been woeful."
It starts with Prince, the oft-injured returning starter from last year who is the unquestioned leader of the team. He's produced some of the biggest victories in the Neuheisel era, winning at Tennessee and in the Eagle Bank Bowl in 2009 and at Texas last year, but has battled a broken jaw, a strained oblique and a microfracture procedure on his right knee, among other nagging injuries.
He's back to 100 percent health after October knee surgery sidelined him for six months, Neuheisel said, so he enters camp as the favorite to win the job so long as he remains uninjured.
"No question there is a burden that he carries now as can he stay healthy," Neuheisel said. "It's one thing to be it, can he stay it?"
He's a capable field general who had three 300-yard passing games as a freshman in 2009 and showed good command of the offense last year before knee surgery knocked him out. He's not the flashy, big-armed quarterback, but what he lacks in athleticism, he more than makes up for in field smarts. Look for a breakout season from him if he can remain healthy.
Waiting in the wings in case the injury bug bites Prince again will be Brehaut, who got ample experience last season with seven starts. He showed flashes of his big-play ability with a pair of long touchdowns against Arizona and a 321-yard, three touchdown game against Arizona State, but also had a knack for throwing ill-timed, momentum-shifting interceptions.
Neuheisel has questioned Brehaut's commitment to becoming a top-flight quarterback and Brehaut didn't do much to dispel that notion when he walked on to the UCLA baseball team last spring and then played in a college baseball league over the summer. Brehaut participated in spring football and worked out with running backs and receivers over the summer, but a failure to commit full time to football is holding Brehaut back.
"I told Richard...the thing that’s keeping you from being a great player is understanding what goes on on the defensive side of the football and how you have to respond to that as a quarterback," Neuheisel said. "And if you don’t spend the requisite time doing that, it’s going to be harder to do. He has to know that the quarterback at UCLA has to know everything. It can’t be a guy who knows 80% of it."
Neuheisel later added "I just think there is more in the tank and it’s my job as QB coach to extract that."
Hundley, the freshman who enrolled at UCLA early so he could participate in spring camp, hurt his chances of winning the starting job when he tore the meniscus in his right knee playing basketball in June.
The athletic, dual-threat quarterback who is billed as the quarterback of the future, will miss most of fall camp, thereby taking him out of the running for the starting job.
That's not to say he won't get on the field this season. He should be fully recovered by the end of camp and Neuheisel said the injury is by no means an automatic redshirt for Hundley.
"I’m not overly concerned about the redshirt year as I am concerned about us being the best football team we can be," Neuheisel said. "If I think Brett Hundley can help us be a winning football team, then Brett Hundley needs to play."
Hundley showed his talent in the spring, but certainly appeared overwhelmed at times by the complexities of college defenses--especially in the passing game. He's a terrific runner, however, so it's easy to image a scenario where Neuheisel works Hundley in slowly, playing to his strengths by bringing him in on third-and-short type situations.
If Neuheisel decides to redshirt Hundley, Crissman and Bell will enter the picture. Crissman is an intriguing figure in this mix. He was a highly touted recruit, but missed most of the 2008 and 2010 seasons because of shoulder injuries. He had a solid spring camp and if he's healthy and continues that progress, he could make a push in fall camp.
Bell, a junior college transfer who came to UCLA last season, is another run-first quarterback. He missed spring camp after off-season shoulder surgery and will have to prove himself this fall. Last year, he replaced an injured Brehaut at Washington, but appeared overwhelmed. He went 0-3 with an interception in that game before getting replaced by walk-on Clayton Tunney.