Thursday, June 28, 2007

Player Profile: Ben Olson

Everyone has heard Ben Olson's story. I think FSN, ABC, and NBC worked it to death last year, giving us a personal history lesson each week. It went something like this: High School phenom, BYU for one season, Mormon Mission, and then UCLA. As far as I'm concerned, all of that is ancient history. Any past accomplishments are long gone and It is all about this season and finally living up to all the hope, hype, and the mountain of expectations that have followed him since his prep days.

Ben is definitely the most talented and skilled quarterback to put on a Bruin jersey since Cade McNown. He is tall, has a cannon for an arm, and the 24 year old is wise and mature. He has all the measurables you like to see at the position and the guy has had NFL scouts watching him for years. Even in high school, people were pegging Olson as a guy who would be playing on Sundays.

Unfortunately for Ben, he's managed to play just five games in the last five years and the rust was very apparent this last season. He got off to a fantastic start against Utah, but it quickly went down hill as he struggled against the lowly Rice Owls and he really never found a consistent grove. The knee injury against Arizona, which was a nasty cheap shot, unfortunately cut short a season where he could have gotten some much needed time on the field. He wrapped up the season connecting on 79 of 124 passes for 822 yards, 5 TDs, 5 INTs.

The one good number from Ben's sophomore campaign was his completion percentage. He landed 64% of his passes, which is exactly what you want to see from your quarterback in a west coast offense. Now, admittedly, that was against some pretty weak competition (Washington, Stanford, Arizona, Rice, and Utah) but if Ben can be as accurate this year then the Bruin's offense will put up a lot more points.

Ben was named the starting quarterback this spring and he'll head into the fall camp, for the first time, knowing he's the number one guy. He had a decent spring practice, but the new offense installed by Jay Norvell means learning a whole new vocabulary and set of plays. Ben seems like a smart guy but there is bound to be a learning curve. Hopefully, Olson can draw on some of what he has learned over the last two years in the west coast offense, to make the transition a little easier. It was his competition percentage and his grasp of the new offense that gave him the leg-up over Pat Cowan this spring. If Ben struggles with accuracy during the season, however, Pat will be waiting to take his place.

New offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Jay Norvell had this to say about Olson, "He's very settled in where he is as a person and very confident in what he wants to get done. Probably the most underrated quality in a quarterback is stability. You need someone mature and stable."

Ben played his prep ball at Thousand Oaks High School. He graduated in 2001, which is a lifetime ago in the college football world. Olson was rated the #1 player in the entire country with both Rivals and Scout both gaving him 5 stars. A Parade All American, He was named to the all-CIF team and given pretty much every national award out there for a quarterback. He was very highly recruited, as you would expect, and he picked BYU over a long list of schools.

After his Mormon mission, Ben was able to re-open his college recruiting. Dissatisfied with the way he was utilized at BYU, he looked around for a new program. He chose a school close to home in UCLA and Ben was almost immediately lauded as the savior of the Bruin football program. He was greeted like a rock star on campus and even earned the short-lived nickname "South Paw Jesus". The hysteria has definitely quieted down over the last two years, but the expectations are still sky high among the fans.

Over his first two years at UCLA, he has been set back by some injuries. He had a small fracture in his throwing hand that limited his minutes early in 2005. He also had the leg injury last year that kept him on the bench for most of the season . Ben does have decent mobility but we'll have to see if the leg injury slows him down in 2007. Drew Olson suffered a nasty leg injury his junior year and he broke school records as a Senior, so hopefully Ben can be just as successful.

In so many ways this is a season of reckoning for the Bruins in general and for Olson in particular. A big year from the southpaw could mean the difference between a great season or a rather average one for UCLA. It is really now or never for Ben to prove that he is that same player that wowed so many fans back at Thousand Oaks. I'm sure nobody has bigger expectations for this season than Olson himself. The only question that remains is will he deliver.

(photo credit: Ghetty Images)

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

great profile! it's time to let Ben stretch the field ... his arm strength is unparalleled so while it's nice to have the short completions etc I really want to see us work in the deep 15 / 20 yard outs etc which Ben can throw ... basically it'd be nice to really utilize his unique strengths.

jtthirtyfour said...

I was at the Utah game, and really thought that we had arrived - I thought I had witnessed the beginning of something great, its unfortunate that he was injured but the silver lining is that Pat Cowan got a chance to shine. I agree that what he did in the past doesn't matter, from what I saw last season, Cowan looked like the better quarterback (aside from that Utah game), but the coaching staff is much more informed and has seen both QBs during spring ball.

Anonymous said...

well done!

Let's see what he can do.

Go Bruins, let's have a great season with positive support from the fans!

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