LOS ANGELES -- No one questions whether the overused term "special" applies to UCLA sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen as a passer. No one questions his intelligence, vision, physical attributes or cultivated skills. He's a plus-prototype, and his combination of assets has more than a few people already penciling him in as the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL draft.
Consider that a reporter's earnest, "Are my eyes deceiving me?" appeal to Bruins coach Jim Mora is met with an equally earnest, measured response that includes a comparison that might feel hyperbolic.
"The closest I could come to a comparison would be Peyton Manning when Manning was the same age as Josh," Mora said. "I'm not saying that Josh Rosen is going to be Peyton Manning, but you see some of the same characteristics. He's different. That's what Josh is: different."
As Rosen blossoms from a curiosity as a touted true freshman starter with enormous potential to a certifiable star, his story won't be merely about statistics or even wins and losses. The coaching and curation of Rosen over the next two seasons at UCLA should prove fascinating. That is partly because of what Mora said: Rosen is different, and he demands a different approach.
Rosen, freighted with a reputation for quick intelligence that is inseparable from considerable ego, isn't a passive student of football. He isn't going to embrace the traditional coach-player relationship, the pattern of gruff bark followed by an obsequious "Yes sir."
"The way I learn, I question the hell out of things until it makes sense to me," Rosen said.
After Saturday's final spring practice, Rosen said he learns best by teaching. That simultaneously makes sense and raises eyebrows. Is he more than a player/student on the Bruins? The overall goal, according to Rosen, is fairly straightforward, one that he calls a natural "evolution."
"Ultimately, I want to have complete control [of the offense]," he said.
The above quote, including the brackets, accurately represents what Rosen said and, though less clearly, what one can gather of his general thinking, but it removes a bit of context.
Rosen acknowledges that he has a lot to learn. Also Saturday, he said his coaches "... are doing a great job of giving me what I can handle because I know a fraction of the whole football knowledge, and I'm trying to learn as much as I can. So they're doing a really good job of helping me along to get better -- not just on this team but as a quarterback."
This is an opportune moment to introduce Rosen's new offensive coordinator, Kennedy Polamalu, and new quarterbacks coach, Marques Tuiasosopo. Under instructions from Mora, they have collaborated on a new offense that moves away from the screen passes, read options and shotgun formations of the old spread scheme under former coordinator Noel Mazzone, now at Texas A&M, and resembles a stereotypical pro-style attack, with Rosen often under center with fullbacks and tight ends awaiting his direction.
Any notion that Rosen has gone rogue in claiming aspirations for undue autonomy is quickly dispelled by these men. In fact, Rosen and Polamalu pretty much parrot each other's statements in an on-the-same-page presentation that should warm Mora's heart.
"Our quarterback has the final say," Polamalu said. "That's part of our training all week as coaches, to make sure that his final say is the right say."
They lead their thoroughbred to water and expect him to imbibe to his heart's content -- and score touchdowns.
Tuiasosopo is the sensei here, and the development of his relationship with his QB figures to have significant ramifications for both, as well as the Bruins. Tuiasosopo is an up-and-coming head-coaching candidate who won a Rose Bowl at Washington and played eight years in the NFL. His career was based far more on his work ethic and moxie than his passing talent.
Also, Tuiasosopo is known as a straight arrow who never got in trouble off the field or for brash or controversial comments. That 2000 Washington team was laden with edgy personalities, but they united behind Tuiasosopo once the game started. If you wanted to create a perfect quarterback, melding the best characteristics of Rosen and Tuiasosopo would yield something pretty darn close.
"He has a gift. It's fun. That's why you get excited," Tuiasosopo said. "That's why there's all that hoopla around him. That's the challenge too.
"You'd rather, as a coach, have to reel stuff in than have to pull stuff out. I think he knows that even if I get on him a little bit, it's not personal. My agenda is to make him better. I made my name. I don't need to make my name as his coach. I told him that, 'Some days, you are not going to like me. Some days, I am going to push you, and you are going to have to fight human nature and just trust that what I am telling [you] is not for me to stand out as a coach but to make [you] better.'"
When the humble vs. cocky contrast between coach and student became worn out during an interview, Tuiasosopo countered, "You want a guy who wants the ball in his hands. I may never have portrayed it that way publicly [at Washington], but I always thought I was the best guy on the field."
So far, teammates have lined up behind Rosen's assumed ascendancy. "He leads, and we follow," leading returning receiver Darren Andrews said. Everyone is in accord, awaiting the maturation of this "special" talent.
But not everything in Rosen's self-perception matches reality, as sophomore running back Soso Jamabo, Rosen's summer roommate a year ago, hastens to note.
"He dances a lot, and he's not good at it at all," Jamabo said. "He's a terrible dancer. It's actually funny."