Will a UCLA quarterback blossom in the spring?

The Bruins haven't had a healthy, solid QB situation in years, and now Kevin Prince is recovering from knee surgery, Richard Brehaut is playing baseball and freshman Brett Hundley doesn't want to be called a savior.

March 29, 2011|By Chris Foster
  • Richard Brehaut, left, and Kevin Prince enter the spring as the leading candidates for the Bruins' starting quarterback job.
Richard Brehaut, left, and Kevin Prince enter the spring as the leading… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Kevin Prince, who has been UCLA's starting quarterback the past two seasons when healthy, has been spending six hours a day on the couch, his surgically repaired knee being exercised by a machine.

Freshman Brett Hundley has been getting accustomed to the Westwood campus — and the grand expectations for him expressed by some UCLA fans.

Richard Brehaut has been training for football but also playing for the Bruins' baseball team. Nick Crissman has been rehabilitating from shoulder surgery No. 3, having gone under the knife as many times as he has thrown game passes in three years at UCLA. Darius Bell, too, is recovering from shoulder surgery.

The title for UCLA's 2011 quarterback competition might as well be "The Hurt Locker."

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Only Hundley and Brehaut are 100% fit for spring practice, which began Tuesday. That means the decision on a starter won't be hashed out until August, mere weeks before the Sept. 3 opener at Houston.

"I am dying to have somebody rise to the occasion, stay healthy, and give us what most teams seem to enjoy," Coach Rick Neuheisel said. "I'm dying for that to happen."

The autopsy on recent seasons suggests Neuheisel shouldn't hold his breath. If UCLA didn't already have a medical center, it would need to build one just to treat its quarterbacks.

Drew Olson passed for 54 touchdowns in his last two years at UCLA, 34 during a 10-2 2005 season. The 11 quarterbacks who have played for the Bruins since have combined for 45 touchdown passes.

Only once in the last five seasons has UCLA had the same quarterback start every game. Kevin Craft started all 12 in 2008, after he was third-string in the spring before injuries to Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan.

UCLA's record since Drew Olson's senior season is 28-35, and 15-22 since Neuheisel arrived three years ago.

"Trying to play football without experience and continuity at quarterback is like trying to play basketball without a point guard," former UCLA coach Terry Donahue said. "There's no one to move the ball."

The uncertainty at quarterback comes during a time of upheaval on the coaching staff. Norm Chow was fired as offensive coordinator, replaced by Mike Johnson. Neuheisel, red-faced and volatile in dealing with quarterbacks at times during games, will now coach the position.

Prince must wait until summer to try to retain his job. He has endured several injuries — two to his knee that required surgery, a separated shoulder, strained back muscles and a concussion — that have interrupted his development.

"It has become comedic," Prince said. "It seems like I'm always nursing something."

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Healthy for a stretch in 2009, he led the Bruins to three consecutive victories that qualified them for a bowl game.

Now a junior, he hears the clock ticking.

"You look at guys who had success on the college level who are going into the pros, they generally have one or two years of good, solid play in college," Prince said. "It's getting to that point where it's time to get to work."

His main competition could be Hundley, who has already grown wary of fans who expect him to be a savior.

"I still have to prove myself," he said. "I get called the 'savior' before I do anything?"

There is reason for caution. A true freshman has never led a football team to a Pacific 10 Conference title.

UCLA's Cade McNown was rushed in as a freshman in 1995 and didn't win a conference title until 1997. USC, with NFL-like talent everywhere else, managed only a fifth-place finish with freshman Matt Barkley as quarterback in 2009.

"I can't emphasize how much experience at that position matters," Donahue said. "We had guys who were really fine players, and won championships. They didn't do it as freshmen."

Brehaut, who has yet to get an at-bat with the baseball team, has experience, having started seven games last season.

Of course, the Bruins lost six of those games and Neuheisel criticized Brehaut at times for his decision making.

"We want him take the next step in quarterback evolution, to turn a class he's been trying to pass into a class he can teach," Neuheisel said of Brehaut. "He can show us he's the guy."

Someone needs to.

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