With Texas hard-pressed to find a starting quarterback and team leader and game manager and the next Colt McCoy preferably all wrapped into one person, Charlie Strong promised an intense quarterback battle this month.
And why wouldn’t he?
Last year’s starter, David Ash, played one game before concussions ended his career. His replacement, Tyrone Swoopes, started the next 12, won just five and lost seven. He played miserably in the last two against TCU and Arkansas. He led an offense ranked 110th in the nation.
To make matters worse, he finished the season ranked 10th in the 10-team Big 12 with 185 passing yards a game, 36 yards behind the guy ranked ninth. In pass efficiency, he didn’t even make the league’s top 10. Baylor and Texas Tech each had two quarterbacks in the top seven. Is he Tyrone Oops or a reliable, emerging quarterback with 19 games of experience?
So, Strong predictably said the job was open. And I presume it was.
Best I can tell, the competition has already ended.
Tyrone Swoopes is your starting quarterback.
That’s not etched in stone. Neither Strong nor quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson has come out and said so. And backup Jerrod Heard hasn’t issued a concession speech. Now things can change, especially at such a critical position when the hard scrimmages take place.
But the gut feeling here is Swoopes will take the first snap in South Bend on Sept. 5 and most of the other snaps as well. Heard will play, I’m guessing a couple series here and there, but it sure seems like the job belongs to Swoopes. If Swoopes struggles against the Irish, the door opens for Heard.
At first blush following the spring game, Strong conceded he’d be nervous starting a redshirt freshman quarterback against a Top 25 Notre Dame team, although he later backed off that comment. And it makes perfect sense to suggest a full-scale competition because the best guy should start and because announcing Swoopes as a starter this soon might incite a revolt as well as deflate Heard.
Swoopes looks better so far. Granted, he’s three practices into workouts, and the bullets aren’t live. But he’s been through the fires, he’s survived and so what if he’s a yes-sir, no-sir kind of young man. At least, he’s not working on his rapper career.
When Swoopes was asked if it bothered him that he still hasn’t won the job despite 12 starts, he didn’t bristle. He didn’t flinch.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Swoopes said. “I don’t have a problem with competition. I think it’s fun.”
I just don’t sense that the coaching staff trusts Heard yet. He doesn’t wow you in practice.
Maybe he’ll be the biggest gamer since James Brown led Texas to the first Big 12 title with the milestone upset of Nebraska. But Heard looks like a change-of-pace replacement who still lacks game reps – he has none – although he’s clearly the better runner, better athlete and played in a high school offense at Denton Guyer that he said is “very similar” to the new Longhorn attack.
In the two Longhorn practices open to the media and to about 2,000 fans at Royal-Memorial
Stadium on Sunday, Heard never took a rep with the first-team offense. Strong shrugged it off following a lively, intense, 2½-hour workout on a sweltering day and said, ”We’re alternating the quarterbacks. (Heard’s) working with everyone.”
Maybe so, but it doesn’t appear that way. It seems obvious that Swoopes is the guy.
He looks the part, but always has.
Swoopes is strong at 244 pounds, although defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said Thursday that he’s told the contact-shy Swoopes,”You’re big. Go play that way. When you run downhill, there’s not a defensive back who’s going to want to hit you.”
He’s comfortable in the new up-tempo offense that at times Sunday was rattling off plays with even 31 seconds remaining on the 40-second play clock.
Swoopes even has some swagger that has always been missing from a guy built like a redwood. After all, he’s shown flashes of being good against UCLA, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Iowa State, but only flashes.
Swoopes, who could probably win the Mr. Congeniality Award in the locker room, is nice. When asked on Thursday if he were too nice for the position, Swoopes nicely replied,”Some people might think I am. I don’t.”
Who cares how nice he is, so long as he crosses the goal line with regularity and severely limits the turnovers that plagued him last year in a 6-7 season?
Strong all but hinted at the “open competition” after Friday’s first practice. One must get the job done if Texas is to make any progress.
On when he expects a quarterback to distance himself in the competition: “You just keep watching them. It won’t be hard.
“It won’t be as tough of a decision as you think it will be.”
Maybe because it’s already been made.
Contact Kirk Bohls at 512-445-3772.