UCLA QB Josh Rosen living up to hype—so far; Tennessee's rocket scientist quarterback
Noel Mazzone is hardly the nervous type. The self-deprecating UCLA offensive coordinator likes to kid that it's because of all he's seen in his four decades of coaching. Yet when highly-touted Josh Rosen took the field last Saturday against Virginia, it marked the first time a true freshman quarterback has started under the 58-year-old Mazzone's watch.
“There were a lot of unknowns," Mazzone says.
Rosen answered them impressively by completing 28 of his 35 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns in the Bruins' 34–16 season-opening win. He set school single-game freshman records for completions, attempts and passing yards. Mazzone now faces an increasingly common conundrum for coaches. How does he temper expectations for his young quarterback in a the age of social media?
“It's going to be crazy," Mazzone says.
It already is for the 18-year-old Rosen, nicknamed “Chosen Rosen," and perhaps the poster child for college football's social-media microscope. He's been hyped since before he even had a drivers license and was the top-ranked high school quarterback in the Class of 2015, according to one recruiting service.
Some pundits all but handed him the Heisman Trophy after last Saturday's game, while others were already predicting NFL greatness. On Twitter, one even created a photo depicting Rosen as Jesus.
“It's one game, right?" Mazzone says. “O.K., so the guy completed a couple of footballs and now all of the sudden everybody's talking about him. There were a lot of other guys out there that completed a lot of footballs too."
But in an age of tweets, vines and GIFs, Rosen's opening-game heroics spread across college football faster than his speedy teammate Myles Jack can run the 40-yard-dash. “These poor kids, I don't know how they handle it," Mazzone says. “There's no privacy. It's an age of distractions."
Not that the hype surrounding Rosen is completely unfounded. After all, Mazzone gushes about the arm of his 6' 4", 210-pound signal-caller. “It's just a God-given deal,' Mazzone says. “He's got a string on that ball. He's got all the throws. As they say in the PGA, he can work the ball. He can drive the ball in there. He's got a great feel for dropping the ball over the top. He can throw over guys. He's really a gifted kid in that aspect."
Mazzone also praises Rosen for his ability to manage the game. Early on last Saturday, Virginia defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta loaded up the box to try to keep the ball out of the hands of Bruins star running back Paul Perkins.
“I would have done the same thing to see if Josh can make some throws," Mazzone says. “They just happened to pick the wrong freshman."
After throwing his first career touchdown pass on UCLA's second possession, Rosen started coming back to the sideline and answering all of Mazzone's questions correctly. He also began asking all the right questions.
“He's got a great feel for what's happening in the game and what the defense is doing to him," Mazzone says. “He's got great pre-snap wide vision. He can really process the information quickly so he can focus on what's important on the play."
Mazzone is quick to point out though that Rosen is being helped by an experienced offensive line and a cache of playmakers. A majority of them played in UCLA's sloppy 28-20 win at Virginia last season, a game in which Mazzone says Tenuta "whipped our ass."
The Bruins surrendered five sacks to the Cavaliers last year, four less than last Saturday. "His heartbeat doesn't rise much when he's in the pocket," Mazzone says of Rosen.
Neither does Mazzone's when watching his freshman quarterback, who he jokes is more intelligent than him. But sometimes the freshman is too smart for his own good. "He's a very competitive, driven guy who's fun to be around," Mazzone says. "But he's got a thought or an idea on everything. Sometimes you've got to say, 'Hey Josh, just shut up and run the play we called.'"
Mazzone just wishes it was that easy to squelch the expectations for Rosen. "He came out and played a good game, but we've got a lot of football left," Mazzone says. "Obviously, the great ones consistently make plays for you. That's his next step."
And with all the hoopla surrounding Rosen, Mazzone has new reasons to be nervous. Says Mazzone with a laugh: "My main job now is just to make sure he gets on the bus to the game."
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports
Q&A with Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs
The Inside Read: You're often called a rocket scientist. But you're actually majoring in aerospace engineering. So what's the difference?
Josh Dobbs: They're similar. It really depends on what you want to do. I want my focus to be more on airplanes' design and structure. Rocket science is obviously space shuttles, rocketry type stuff.
TIR: You famously recited the first 48 digits of Pi on Pi Day earlier this year. Why?
Dobbs: (Laughs). It's about the challenge. Last year, I did like 26. They asked me if I wanted to do it again so I said sure. I was tops last year as well. I have a really good memory when it comes to things like patterns. I had to top myself from last year. Next year, I guess I'll have to blow the 48 out of the water. I'll try to make it something crazy.
TIR: You need to try to reach one of your offensive lineman's jersey numbers next year.
Dobbs: (Laughs) All right, I like that. I'll keep that in mind.
TIR: You did an internship in Florida this past spring with Pratt & Whitney, an aerospace manufacturer. What's the most pressing issue facing the U.S. space program today?
Dobbs: The biggest thing going on right now is the race to Mars. They're trying to build space stations on the moon to get us there. They're trying to develop a spacecraft that can get you to Mars in a sufficient amount of time and how to sustain life once people get there. There's supposed to start sending people there in the near future like 2016, 2018. It's more a world push than just a U.S. push at it.
TIR: Your new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord coached Tom Brady at Michigan. What's the best Brady story he's told so far?
Dobbs: He talked about Brady's work ethic. How he'd leave the complex late at night and look out and see Brady throwing, putting in that extra work, the extra hours that it takes to be great. It's just been about how much Brady works off the screen. It's not just what you see on TV.
TIR: Where's your aerospace engineering expertise make the biggest impact on the field?
Dobbs: It's just understanding the physics and concepts. When you're playing, you don't really think about it. You just go out and play. You're not really thinking about what physics are involved in football. But football is all about physics like on the trajectory of balls and kicks and everything. It's especially important on deep balls in terms of arc so your receivers can run under it. Understanding how to throw with that type of arc and trajectory to reach your target.
TIR: Rival fans have been obsessively cruel about your eyebrows or lack thereof. Is it a medical issue?
Dobbs: Yes, I have a medical disease called alopecia areata. There's a lot of treatments. There's a lot of different types of variants … Yeah, I hear about it, but it's all just noise. There's people who understand it and don't understand it. Just take it with a grain of salt and keep going about your day. I have close friends from high school and people I've met here who have the same thing. They're not ashamed of it. I've barely met anyone who's ashamed of it … I don't have a problem speaking about it. I haven't really been asked any questions about it. I just answer them when I get them.
TIR: Last question, would you rather win the Heisman or walk in space?
Dobbs: I guess why can't you do both? I guess my whole mentality I have is to stay on earth. I guess if I'm lucky enough to win the Heisman, I'll take that.
Ben McDaniels (Josh's brother) thriving at Rutgers
With all the controversy surrounding Rutgers in recent weeks, Ben McDaniels has been unfazed. The first-year Scarlet Knights offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach knows what it's like to be scrutinized all too well. After all, he was the Denver Broncos' quarterbacks coach during polarizing Tim Tebow's rookie year in 2010.
So while fourth-year Rutgers coach Kyle Flood has come under scrutiny recently for emailing a professor and with a rash of player arrests connected to alleged home invasions, McDaniels is thriving entering Saturday's game against Washington State. In his play-calling debut last Saturday, the Scarlet Knights blitzed Norfolk State in a 63-13 win behind 539 yards of total offense.
"It's been a blast," McDaniels told The Inside Read.
The 35-year-old McDaniels was promoted to his current position from wide receivers coach in February when Ralph Friedgen stepped down after one season. Last year, Rutgers had a surprising 8-5 record in its Big Ten debut that included a Quick Lane Bowl win.
It's been a seamless transition for McDaniels, the younger brother of former Denver Broncos coach and current New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. But it wasn't after the younger McDaniels also lost his job at the end of the 2010 season when the Broncos fired his brother.
He tried unsuccessfully to land a new job and ultimately sat out the 2011 season while still under contract with the Broncos. "I've heard that's supposed to be an enjoyable experience," McDaniels says of his yearlong hiatus. "I would tell you that it's very much not. You struggle to make sure you're busy. You're always looking for things to do. You're struggling to quench your football thirst regardless of the amount of film you're able to watch."
During his sabbatical, McDaniels took trips to visit CFL and college coaches. He ended up getting hired as Columbia's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in late 2011. Three months later, McDaniels returned to the NFL under as an offensive assistant for two seasons under then-Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano. He arrived at Rutgers last season after the Buccaneers fired Schiano.
McDaniels has a close relationship with his brother. They talk regularly regardless of whether it involves football. But McDaniels insists that he doesn't measure himself against brother, who has won four Super Bowl rings with the Patriots.
"I just try to do my job and do it really well," McDaniels says. "His successes in his career have far surpassed mine to this point. It's kind of silly to try and chase those down at this point."
The McDanielses grew up around football. Their father, Thom, is a legendary former Ohio high school coach. Ben was an assistant under his father at three different Ohio high schools. He was also a Minnesota graduate assistant before he joining his brother at the Denver Broncos in 2009 as an offensive assistant.
Ben McDaniels credits his father for instilling in him a strong work ethic and meticulous preparation. He also praises Josh for teaching him the importance of relationships with players. "I learned a lot of significant things from him," McDaniels says of his father.
Unlike most offensive coordinators, McDaniels doesn't have a patented scheme that he runs. His offensive attack actually uses fullbacks and tight ends, a rarity in this spread era.
McDaniels wants his offense to be violent and physical, but also smart and explosive. "We're going to play the way we need to beat that team that week," McDaniels says.
It's been five years now since McDaniels last coached Tebow, but he's still asked plenty about his former quarterback.
"I understand everyone's interest and admiration towards him both as a person and player," McDaniels says. "It was a really enjoyable experience for me. He's a great person. He works really hard. I had a lot of fun with it."
In his year coaching Tebow, McDaniels believes his former quarterback made significant improvement. Last week, Tebow was cut by the Philadelphia Eagles, likely his last shot in the NFL.
McDaniels and Tebow don't stay in touch anymore, but McDaniels wonders what could have been. "We made progress," McDaniels says. "I would have loved to coach him for however long I would have been allowed."
And if Tebowmania didn't grate on McDaniels don't expect Rutgers' woes to ruffle him either.
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