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Casey Thompson, Hudson Card discuss their thought process on Texas’ QB battle

Thompson: ‘The fans, the team, the players, the coaches will all see the work that’s been put in Sept. 4’

After five practices, there is still no daylight between Texas quarterbacks Casey Thompson and Hudson Card. At times, they’re literally throwing side by side, one aiming to his left, the other to his right.

The one and only difference is the jersey number as No. 11 and No. 1 battle to work with the ones, that being the first-team offense.

“I’m sure it looks like synchronized swimming to y’all,” Thompson said after Wednesday’s practice. “The quarterback battle’s going great.”

Texas quarterbacks Casey Thompson, left, and Hudson Card hustle down the field during the Longhorns' first practice of preseason camp last Friday at Denius Fields. One of them will be named the starter for the Sept. 4 season opener. But which one will it be?

For Thompson and Card, the waters should get choppy in the coming days. The Longhorns have their first practice in full pads on Thursday and their first scrimmage on Saturday. Coach Steve Sarkisian is curious to see who keeps their rhythmic symmetry and who might flinch.

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“I wanted them to make it hard on us,” Sarkisian said earlier this week, “and they’re doing just that.”

Both quarterbacks were flawless with reporters on Wednesday.

“I feel like I do a good job of being a leader, preparing, being accurate and consistent,” Thompson said. “I think consistency over time is the most important thing at this position. One mistake here and there or one really good play here or there is not going to make or break the outcome of the competition, the outcome of the game, the outcome of the season. 

“It’s going to be consistency over time,” he added. “So I think that would probably my main focus right now is try to be consistent over time, day by day, and I keep telling you guys, we’ll see Sept. 4.”

Casey Thompson probably has the inside track for Texas' starting quarterback job; he relieved an injured Sam Ehlinger at halftime of last year's Alamo Bowl win over Colorado and threw four touchdowns in the second half.

Any nerves? “I don’t really feel like nervousness is part of my DNA,” Thompson said. 

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Said Card: “At the end of the day, I don’t want to go out there and do things I’m not coached just to show an ability. Just be myself, play within the system and things will take care of itself.”

Neither quarterback has a lengthy resume, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Texas had a four-year starter in Sam Ehlinger, who is now turning heads with the Indianapolis Colts. 

Thompson redshirted in 2018, played a mop-up role in 2019 and saw action only twice during the regular season in 2020. But he went wild in the second half of the Alamo Bowl against Colorado after Ehlinger got hurt.

Thompson threw four touchdowns and led five scoring drives in Texas' 55-23 blowout. Four touchdown drives covered 75 yards or more and took five plays or less. One working theory is that Thompson deserves the starting nod on that performance alone.

RELATED:No more rotations, participation ribbons: Under Steve Sarkisian, the best will play at Texas

Card had cameo roles in two games last season as a freshman, allowing him to preserve his redshirt status. He was a high school All-American at Lake Travis and the nation’s third-best dual threat quarterback prospect in 2020, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

Maybe Card has more long-term upside. He does throw a prettier spiral and has more fluid body motion. But it’s hard to imagine Sarkisian bypassing Thompson for a lesser-experienced quarterback in the coach’s UT debut against Louisiana on Sept. 4. Nobody wants to get Maryland-ed again.

Texas quarterback Hudson Card was a high school All-American at Lake Travis and had brief appearances in two games last season as a true  freshman. He ended up redshirting.

On Monday, Sarkisian compared this decision to one of the toughest of his career — Matt Cassell or Matt Leinart at USC going into the 2004 season, having to replace Carson Palmer.

“Matt Cassel was a year ahead of him, little more experienced. Matt Leinart was coming up, and that was a tough call,” Sarkisian said. “In the end, Leinart ended up being named the starter, but we really prided ourselves on the development of Matt Cassel.”

Leinart won the Heisman Trophy and a national title in 2004. Cassel was drafted by New England and logged 107 games over a 14-year pro career. 

“This one, this one’s a tough one,” Sarkisian said. “They’re both playing well, they’re both improving. They’re both trying to do the things we’re asking them to do.”

So how does one quarterback separate himself from the other?

Thompson said there were four key areas he’s focused on. He’s watched as much opponent film that he could. He’s devoured the new playbook. He’s watching and dissecting how the UT offense handles these plays. And there’s an intense self-scouting process.

“Specifically, I watched my progress, my footwork, my ball placement, my accuracy, my arm strength and my eyes, kind of how they progressed from my freshman year in high school to my senior year,” Thompson said. “Then I go to my first year in college, watching practice film and game film. Then, I go second year, leading all the way up to the present day.”

Thompson said he’s also had additional film sessions with the receivers, specifically the freshmen. “They’ve done a good job of coming in, when I ask them to and watch the film in the afternoons or in the summertime,” Thompson said.

Card said he soaked up everything he could from Ehlinger, who left UT statistically speaking as the second-best quarterback in school history. “He prepares super well, that’s one thing I took from him,” Card said. “Just how he controlled himself on and off the field.”

At some point, Card may have to do something extraordinary to dazzle the coaches and his teammates. 

“I would say just do what they tell me to do,” Card said. “There’ll be plays and certain opportunities where I have to showcase certain things. I just try not to make anything up. If it’s within the system, and the opportunity is there, just play within the system. Certain times will happen where I have to make plays, and ultimately I’m just going to be patient with that.”

If the decision was based on who projects more confidence, Thompson wins easily. He was at ease talking about his offseason work and name, image and likeness opportunities like NoKidHungry.org and Feeding America. He said he’s looking for NIL opportunities to set up “mailbox money,” a term that shows advanced thinking on his part.

All that said, Thompson still must earn it on the field. 

Sarkisian is expected to make a final decision sometime after UT’s second scrimmage later this month. It’s likely that a first-team quarterback will be in place by Aug. 23, giving the Horns two work weeks before the Louisiana game.

“I feel like I’m doing a good job of preparing every day,” Thompson said. ”It’s interesting, but I think we’ll all see Sept. 4. The fans, the team, the players, the coaches will all see the work that’s been put in Sept. 4.”

Briefly: Receiver Joshua Moore did not practice Wednesday due to a shoulder injury, according to a team spokesman. He is considered day to day. 

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.