Swoopes is Who We Thought He Was

Making sense of the scuttlebutt that followed Tyrone Swoopes's play at The Opening.

Football coaches are quote machines, even when they aren't necessarily trying to be.

From Mike Gundy telling us exactly how old he was to Mike Leach talking about his players' girlfriends, there's no shortage of material.

And it's one of those quotes that might best describe the odd predicament of Tyrone Swoopes, Texas's intensely talented quarterback commitment who's in the process of getting a handle on those gifts.

"They are who we thought they were," Dennis Green shouted about the Chicago Bears, who had just beaten Green's Arizona Cardinals team.

In the case of Swoopes, the intriguing thing is that he IS exactly who we thought he was. But that hasn't stopped Texas fans from hitting the panic button.

Take last week's performance at The Opening, by many accounts a disastrous one. Here's the thing: everybody predicted that it would come to that outcome. Take a raw quarterback, one known for his legs, put him in an event that neutralizes his greatest strength, plays to his biggest weaknesses and it's a recipe for a poor result, like casting Megan Fox in a movie dressed in a bulky monster suit and asking her to carry it based on her acting chops.

"I kind of got the picture that I expected to see out of him," said Greg Powers, Scout.com National Recruiting Analyst. "I really don't know that I was surprised by anything. You knew going in that he was hit-or-miss at that kind of event. He looked good in a few [games], and looked bad in a few. The one time he really didn't look great happened to be the one game on national TV. That was probably his weakest game of the entire tournament.

"Coming out [afterward], there was a general consensus that he's not a good quarterback," Powers said. "That definitely surprised me. He pretty much did what I thought he would."

And that's why it's so interesting that Swoopes has been the target of so much vitriol. Back in February, when Texas garnered a commitment from the Whitewright product, the book on him was the same that it was now: huge kid (6-4 230), big arm, a better runner than a passer and raw in the latter category. His 2A competition was another question mark that figured to be solved over time.

So why, just a few months later, at a passing-only event, against elite athletes from across the country much better than those Swoopes has faced over the last few years, was Swoopes slammed for his performance? What changed?

Powers, who is in charge of scouting the Midlands region that includes Texas and Oklahoma, among other states. has seen Swoopes several times in person, and broken down the quarterback's film. He might have suffered from Swoopes saturation.

At the same time, The Opening gave Brandon Huffman his first chance to see the five-star prospect. Another National Analyst for Scout.com, Huffman covers West Coast recruiting, and year-after-year gets to spot quarterbacks in arguably the deepest region today for producing elite-level talent at the position.

"Honestly, he reminded me a lot of Jake Rodriguez last year, who was more of a dual-threat guy," Huffman said. "He and Swoopes use their legs just as much, if not moreso, as their arms. And Rodriguez had a nightmare type of performance last year. That's just not an event geared toward dual-threat quarterbacks.

"I don't think last weekend served to give us an accurate reading on Swoopes," Huffman said. "He wasn't absolutely terrible. He struggled a bit, sure. But he made some throws that showed you, that made you say: 'OK, I see you working. I see the tools you have to work with.'"

That's precisely what Huffman said he expected, and wanted, to see from Swoopes. He said that, at an event like The Opening, a dual-threat quarterback fell into the same category as a running back, a true middle linebacker or a pass-rushing outside linebacker who projects to a 3-4 defense. You hope those players will show flashes, Huffman said, but you also acknowledge that the format isn't the best to gauge their overall skill-set.

"All-in-all, it wasn't a true, fair scale to make a case for or against Swoopes," Huffman said.

Yet some saw enough to question whether Swoopes was really a quarterback, or just an athlete moonlighting at the position.

"I think in this day and age, with offenses being the way they are, he absolutely is a quarterback," Huffman said. "The quarterback position has evolved so much, and the way people use their quarterbacks has evolved. I don't want to make this comparison, but Vince Young and Cam Newton had mechanical issues and got it done with their legs and size as much as their passing ability.

"I don't remember how either of those guys specifically looked coming out of high school, but I can't imagine that they were that much better technically than Swoopes," Huffman said.

Mechanics are often cited as one of Swoopes's main issues, though many are fixable. And Powers said that Swoopes's main two issues — confidence in those types of settings, and a tendency to squeeze the ball, leading to the occasional duck — fell into the category of those that could be improved with more practice, comfort and college-level coaching.

"When he spins it, he can spin it with the best of them," Powers said.

He'll get a chance to spin the ball, and to receive high-level coaching at the Elite 11 National Camp this week. Swoopes earned his spot in the camp by showing massive improvement over the course of a weekend at the Elite 11 Regional Camp and the ensuing Next Level Combine in Dallas. According to Elite 11 coach Yogi Roth, the players will be expected to show command of the huddle, to display improved footwork, an ability to study film, and of course, make the right decisions and the right throws.

It's that kind of coaching, Roth said, that could prove vital to someone like Swoopes.

"I think this week is extremely beneficial for all of our quarterbacks," Roth said. "In this type of system, they have to learn how to take a drop, identify the defense and be confident in their reads. A lot of these quarterbacks, one week here might save them an entire year.

"Of course, once we give them those tools, it's up to them how far they're going to take them," Roth said.

And Roth said he wasn't concerned about Swoopes's desire to work, improve and take the tools he's learned and apply them elsewhere.

"I'll be shocked if Tyrone doesn't improve the most from Day One to Day Five," Roth said.

Despite his raw status as a passer, Swoopes won't be given special treatment, Roth said, with "every kid starting at the same place." But Roth admitted that Swoopes wasn't starting at the same place as some of the more polished pocket passers. And he lamented the fact that Swoopes dealt with that kind of criticism.

"I think, No. 1, that's just the age that we're in," Roth said. "You see people say Derek Jeter is over the hill, and he goes out and hits 3-for-4 with a home run. Peyton Manning was supposedly done last year, now who knows, he might make a Pro Bowl this year. It's just so subjective, and that's the way it rolls.

"He's going to have to get used to it, because that's how it is at Texas," Roth said. "If he wins a big game, he'll be mentioned with Colt McCoy or Vince Young, and if he didn't, he's the next 'insert name here' who didn't win at Texas. He is going to have to deal with pressures."

How he'll deal with those pressures at Elite 11 is another question. With 25 players from 15 states, the camp — aired on Aug. 7 and 14 — represents the best-of-the-best. And again, Swoopes will be operating without his main weapon, his ability to take off with the football under his arm.

And Powers said that had a double negative effect on Swoopes. Not only can he not showcase his ability with his legs, but his ability to run often opens things up in the passing game, leading to easier throws.

"So you're definitely handicapping him, in more ways than one," Powers said. "He can be effective throwing the ball, but he is more effective throwing when he can run."

That's why Powers said it was silly to drill Swoopes in the rankings for his performance in a 7-on-7 event.

"I'm a little surprised," Powers said. "It seems like some people were down on Swoopes from the beginning, and were almost looking for reasons to move him down. I guess [The Opening] was the perfect opportunity.

"I stick by my evaluation," Powers said. "When we're evaluating, we're not looking at a finished product. Everybody wants him to be perfectly polished. He's not. He's a raw prospect with a very high value. And he always has been."

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