JOSH ROSEN — UCLA
Josh Rosen’s a pretty fair athlete.
At 6’4” 215 lbs. he’s actually one of a bazillion.
Not in, of.
One of many.
But when UCLA’s junior quarterback, who started as a freshman for the Bruins and was at that time (2015) mentioned in the same breath as Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston as the next great freshman quarterback in major college football, “Chosen Rosen” did not seem an inapt moniker.
He became the first true freshman to start a season opener at UCLA, completing 28 of 35 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns in a 34–16 victory over Virginia.
To some he has no business being any good.
To those in the know, he’s ‘pretty, pretty pretty good,’ as L.A. fixture, fellow tribesman and resident bad boy Larry David has been known to smugly say.
And it all may have started at the Manhattan Country Club — 15 miles south of the sprawling Westwood campus — where Rosen arrived for tennis lessons as a five-year-old.
He took two one-hour lessons a week from the time he was 5 until he was 12, helping him to develop into one of the top-ranked junior tennis players in Southern California.
Tennis gave Rosen some snappy footwork and the ability to react quickly, two attributes a pocket quarterback is happy to have so as to — God-willing — stave off death.
In his debut season when he threw for 3,350 yards, completed 60 percent of his passes and posted a 20 to 9 touchdown-to-interception ratio, opponents sacked Rosen just 14 times, the fewest in the conference and the fewest for a Bruins quarterback since 1998 when then-senior Cade McNown was brought down behind the line on 13 occasions.
And accounting for dropbacks, opposing defenses had far more opportunity to sack Rosen (461) than McNown (370).
Observed head coach Jim Mora, “He has a great feel for where there’s going to be a spot in the pocket, where he can set up and shuffle into and find time to get the ball down the field. He’s as good as I’ve ever seen in doing that. He just has this innate feel for where the rush is and being able to slide up to buy time.”
At the campaign’s close he was named the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year and then threw for 319 yards and 2 TDs with a two-point conversion toss in a losing effort against Nebraska (37–29) whom the Bruins faced in Santa Clara’s 2015 Foster Farms Bowl.
He also was named a Freshman All-American by USA Today, Sporting News and Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).
Josh Rosen will be UCLA’s most talented passer since Troy Aikman.
He will be the best quarterback since 1966 Heisman winner Gary Beban.
And there have been many other notables under center including “Whiskey Red” Billy Kilmer (1958-’60); Bob Waterfield (1942-’45); Tom Ramsey (1979-’82); Steve Bono (1980-’84); Wayne Cook (1991-’94); McNown (1995-’98); Drew Olson (2002-’05); and John Sciarra (1973-’75).
Forgive, lest we forget Tommy Maddox, Rick Neuheisel or David Norrie.
He will eclipse all of them.
Barring injury or other unforeseen circumstance, Josh Rosen will be “The Chosen One.”
His offensive linemen have compared him to the Colts’ Andrew Luck in terms of the escapability quotient but a closer NFL quarterback comparison might be to the Saints’ Drew Brees who interestingly was a top-ranked tennis player in Texas as a 12-year-old.
(Brees defeated Andy Roddick three times).
Both Rosen and Brees have quick feet which uncannily sense the oncoming rush of barreling defensive linemen with bad intentions.
First steps — quick first steps — and anticipation are critical in tennis, just as they are in the pocket.
Moving the feet and making the shot on the tennis court; moving the feet to buy time and making the pass from the pocket.
You must be brimming with confidence in each scenario.
The difference is that on the tennis court you don’t have five or six guys running at you, trying to separate your head from your body.
Luck, Brees and Rosen share the strong arm, quick feet, keen anticipation and a healthy measure of fearlessness — a willingness to stay in the pocket — scanning possibilities downfield until the last millisecond.
All of that was not enough to spare Rosen from a season-ending shoulder injury in an October 8, 2016 loss to Arizona State, a game in which he had thrown for a then-career-high 400 yards.
UCLA was 3–3 in Rosen’s six starts and 1–5 in their final six games without him.
Recovered from surgery on his throwing shoulder to repair soft-tissue damage, he returned with a vengeance at the start of 2017.
In the season opener against Texas A&M he went wild.
He threw the ball 59 times, completing 35 passes for 491 yards and four touchdowns to rally the Bruins to the largest comeback in school history and the second-greatest ever in the FBS.***
Final: UCLA 45-Texas A&M 44.
The Bruins at one juncture were down by 34 points.
Said A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, “We knew he was smart…But the thing I was really impressed with was his toughness. We hit him and hit him a lot, and he got better. It’s not supposed to work that way…especially in the fourth quarter.”
[ Ed.Note: Not too shabby for a tennis player.]
The next week there was no let-up.
Rosen was 22-of-25 (identical to Phil Simms’ pass completion percentage in Super Bowl XXI) for 329 yards and a career-high five touchdowns in a 56–23 dismantling of Hawaii.
It was the twelfth 300-yard game of his career, shattering the school record of eleven set by McNown.
Rosen had thrown for more than 2,000 yards in five games, the fastest of any player in UCLA history, thereby insinuating himself into any thoughtful conversation about the Heisman race.
His numbers after five contests were staggering; he led the nation in passing yards (2,135), total offense (2,158) and touchdowns (17).
Unfortunately in a 44–23 October 28th loss to Washington, Rosen was injured on a sack in the game’s opening drive. He was forced out of the ballgame in the third quarter due to a concussion which he had unsuccessfully (and unwisely) tried to hide from the coaches and trainers.
He’d completed 12 of 21 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown, the first score through the air the Huskies had allowed in Pac-12 competition all season.
After eight games Josh Rosen’s stats looked like this:
212 pass completions in 336 attempts or 63.1%; 2,713 passing yards; 8.1 average yards per completion; 20 TDs; 8 interceptions; and a passer rating of 145.8.
Next up for UCLA is a home game against Arizona State, the team which knocked Rosen out of commission in 2016.
The Bruins have lost two straight and sit at 4–5 (2–4 in Pac-12 play).
Rosen must clear concussion protocol in order to be allowed to compete and if he does he will likely feast on ASU’s porous defense. If UCLA’s defense, also weak, can hold the Sun Devils to one fewer point, Rosen will do the rest.
The present order of business involves winning 2 of their last 3 games to become bowl eligible.
Regardless, at the end of this season Rosen must decide whether he’s ready to go or stay.
Another year would do him good — academically, athletically and socially.
And if he wants to carve out his niche in the pantheon of big-time quarterbacks, remaining upright in Westwood for another campaign might not be a bad idea.
***Michigan State authored a 35-point comeback win over Northwestern in 2006.
[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in November 2017.]
In 2017 UCLA finished with a record of 6–7 overall (4–5 in the Pac-12) to become bowl eligible; they lost to Kansas State in the Cactus Bowl 35–17.
Rosen left UCLA at the end of his junior season and was a 2018 First Round draft selection of the Arizona Cardinals (#10 overall).
On April 26, 2019 the Cardinals traded Rosen to the Miami Dolphins.
His NFL career statistics thus far are singularly underwhelming:
20 GP; 16 GS; 3–13 W/L; 275 Comp; 502 Att; 54.8% Comp; 2,845 Yds; 12 TD; 19 Int; 63.5 QBR; 11 Fum; 26 Rushes; 151 Yds; 5.8 Y/A; 0 TD.