Two years and 25 games into his tenure, Texas coach Charlie Strong still hasn’t figured what to do at quarterback.
Jay Norvell may not be the Longhorns’ play-caller next season. But after Saturday’s win over Baylor, he couldn’t say who should be the team’s starter in 2016.
“No, I can’t say that right now,” Norvell said. “I’m not willing to say who is the quarterback at this point. But I think we have a lot of improvement to make.”
Tyrone Swoopes, who will be a senior next season, is not a realistic option as a 12-game starter. He only excelled this season playing in relief, when there was less pressure. The “18 Wheeler” short-yardage run package has clear advantages, though.
Jerrod Heard still has the “juice,” but he regressed as a passer as the season wore on. He averaged 101.2 passing yards per game and threw only five touchdowns. That’s simply not good enough to win at this level. Can he develop this offseason prior to his sophomore year?
No one knows what to make of Kai Locksley and Matthew Merrick, two freshmen who redshirted this season. Locksley didn’t throw for 1,000 yards as a high school senior in a run-oriented system. The UT coaches wanted to delay Merrick’s enrollment initially, only inviting him in just before before training camp started.
Incoming freshman Shane Buechele, expected to enroll mid-semester, has an uphill climb ahead. Coaches will play freshmen at skill positions, like receiver or cornerback. Starting a true freshman at quarterback may be unthinkable for Strong.
“We certainly have a lot to be desired in some areas,” Norvell said in a wide-sweeping position examination. “We have to throw the ball more consistently, we have to be accurate. I think all the way around in the passing game. There has to be exactness in the passing game. And that comes from accuracy, it comes from delivering the ball on time and that comes from guys getting open and making big plays.”
Mike Leach, one of the best quarterback coaches in college football, believes accuracy is not coachable. You are either an accurate thrower, or you aren’t. Swoopes has a .563 career completion percentage; Heard’s is .579.
Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield (.686), Texas Tech Patrick Mahomes (.650), TCU’s Trevone Boykin (.649) and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph (.626) all had better numbers this season.
As for what the Texas quarterbacks need to do this offseason, Swoopes said, “You can’t really look too much into the bad and too much into the good. You’ve got to look at what you did all year, fix it and get better at what you’re good at.”
Heard hasn’t spoken with reporters since suffering a concussion against Texas Tech on Thanksgiving. As for Locksley and Merrick, Texas officials generally do not allow players to speak to the media until they start play.
In wrapping up the season, Norvell expressed a frustration with how the team prepared each week en route to a 5-7 record.
“The truth is we’re a very immature team,” Norvell said. “We have to be more mature about the way we handle our business, by the way we practice, the consistency of practicing at a high level and taking your football seriously, to be quite honest with you.”
Norvell said the Longhorns did practice and play well at times, but they must be consistent. “This team’s gotta grow up,” he said. “I think it can. I think we’ve got good talented players, but our kids gotta really care about football every day and really be committed to being good.”
There’s no question Texas has good offensive talent, players that Norvell or another play-caller would love to work with. Running backs D’Onta Foreman and Chris Warren III will make a dynamic 1-2 punch. John Burt is a home-run threat out wide. Offensive linemen Connor Williams and Patrick Vahe are future all-Big 12 performers.
Now that the season’s over, Strong said he’ll dive head-first into recruiting.
“What I like to do is continue to build up front, because we need to build with our big guys,” Strong said. “It starts with our linemen on both sides of the ball. We recruit up front, because that’s where we’re going to build with our team.”
It doesn’t not appear Strong will sign a junior-college quarterback this offseason. So it’s on the current players and coaches to get better. Without improved quarterback play, the Longhorns will continue as a mediocre program.
“I just think we have to show major, major improvement in those areas of our football to be the type of offense we can be,” Norvell said.