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Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer 62d

Can Josh Rosen's play catch up to his voice?

College Football, UCLA Bruins

UCLA's Josh Rosen is the most polarizing player in college football. He's a whiny, entitled kid who should shut up and focus on playing quarterback. He's a brilliant football mind with a shrewd B.S. detector, especially when it comes to big-money NCAA athletics. At one time he appeared on social media in a hot tub inside his dorm, and at another he played golf while wearing a "F--- Trump" hat. He's a teammate who, according to his coaches, speaks out because he wants changes not for himself but for his less fortunate Bruins teammates. He also thinks he's the smartest guy in the room, and has proved it by burning through two offensive coordinators in his first two seasons in Westwood.

Oh, and he's a potential first-round NFL draft pick. Don't forget that, especially amid the reaction to his comments last week in an interview with Bleacher Report about the incompatibility of being a college student and an athlete at a major college football program.

Rosen elicits a wide range of opinions, but it is those of NFL decision-makers that his coaches want him to be more mindful of. His third and likely final season at UCLA amounts to a season-long NFL job interview. What he says and how he acts will be scrutinized as much as his play on the field. UCLA coach Jim Mora and new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, who both spent most of their careers in the NFL, often remind Rosen of that.

"A couple general managers, I've asked them specifically things about Josh that I would like to talk to him about," Mora told ESPN in an interview in late July. "[I say], 'Can I use you as an example?' They'd say, 'Sure. Tell him to tone it down a little bit. It's affecting people's opinions.' He understands that."

Todd McShay has Rosen rated as the No. 3 quarterback in the 2018 NFL draft class, behind USC's Sam Darnold and Wyoming's Josh Allen. The view of his game, unlike his candor, is more incomplete than it is polarizing after he's played a total of 19 games. The numbers jump out, especially during his freshman season, but, as one NFL scout noted, he had several costly throws in UCLA's loss to Texas A&M to open last season and has struggled with his accuracy in other games.

This season, his play will affect his immediate future more than any headline-making interview. First, he must show that he has fully recovered from shoulder surgery that cut his 2016 season short.

"Everyone faces adversity their own way, and Josh, he had never really faced any," Bruins center Scott Quessenberry said. "But he faced the adversity and handled it extremely well, like he's been there before. He kind of showed everyone on the team, 'I'm here for you guys. I'm here to win. And I'm doing everything I can to get back on the field.'"

NFL scouts also will be watching how Rosen handles another offensive system and how he works with Fisch, who has spent most of a hopscotching career in the pro game. Fair or not, many draw a link between Rosen and UCLA cycling through coordinators (Noel Mazzone, Kennedy Polamalu) and quarterbacks coaches (Taylor Mazzone, Marques Tuiasosopo) the past two years. 

"He embraces the learning," Fisch said. "That doesn't mean he lacks his own opinions. There's a difference between asking why in an inquisitive way and asking why in a smartass way. He asks why to be more informed on the field."

It could pay off for an offense that was a mess in 2016. UCLA struggled running the ball, averaging 2.93 yards per carry, worst in the Power 5. The Bruins eclipsed 24 points in only four games. The first question in Rosen's 2017 job interview is how to get a unit that is still flawed back on track.

"If you go back to his freshman tape, even his sophomore tape, he's almost like Peyton Manning's prodigy," UCLA linebacker Kenny Young said. "Very smart. I've never seen a freshman quarterback see something in a big-time game -- we're playing Stanford or whoever that is -- and make a check out of that and get us to a successful play."

Fisch uses his NFL experience as a resource for Rosen. He conducts mock draft exercises and explains what it's like to be in a pro team's war room on draft night. But most of his conversations with Rosen have been scheme-related, as they try to "fast-forward the relationship" so they click when the games begin.

"We watch a lot of NFL tape and pick apart offenses that maybe we don't even run, but maybe [Fisch] likes the technique of a certain guy," Rosen said. "We watch a lot of [Atlanta Falcons QB] Matt Ryan and [New England Patriots QB] Tom Brady and see what they do in different facets of the game."

Rosen will have a captive audience whenever he speaks, but it's possible he will keep a lower profile this season. Despite his comments last week, he doesn't give many interviews. Speaking in July, before the Bleacher Report interview was published, Mora said there's another factor taking the spotlight off of Rosen.  

"I think he's taken the pressure off of himself, he's taken the focus off of himself, and I think Sam Darnold's taken the focus off of him in L.A., with the great success that he has last year," Mora said. "For now, Josh is operating in a really good space. He does not want to be the story."

Rosen became the story last week, but soon enough the spotlight will return to Darnold and USC, if it hasn't already, and the Rosen discussion will pivot from his thoughts to his play. He's just too talented, and the decision NFL teams must make about him is too important.

Will he be less apt to speak his mind in the future? "We'll see in the future," Rosen said.

He will continue to elicit strong opinions, and perhaps give them himself, but only one matters for his most interested observers: Is he a franchise quarterback?

His job interview begins Sept. 3 at the Rose Bowl against Texas A&M.

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