Starter named but questions remain

DALLAS, Texas - - What we do know about David Ash is that he’ll begin fall camp as the starter. Texas head coach Charlie Strong said so on Tuesday.

What we don’t know is how Ash will respond once he’s hit for the first time since Sept. 21 when he was injured against Kansas State and missed the last 10 games of the 2013 season with concussion-like symptoms.

Ash wasn’t at Big 12 Media Days on Tuesday to answer those questions but he had several teammates willing to go to bat for him, confident that the play of the QB that went down against the Wildcats will resurface better than ever this season.

“Before he got hurt it was exciting to see how well he was practicing, and how well Tyrone [Swoopes] was practicing,” senior center Dominic Espinosa said. “It was sad to see him go down. But he is such a hard worker and is so ready to come back and do great things that he is an exciting guy to be around because he’s so positive.

“I’m excited to see him in a roll where he is 100 percent clear and can start competing again. It’s going to be excited to see all of those quarterbacks compete all camp long. It’s only going to make our team better.”

Now, Espinosa is an Ash guy. He’s as close to Ash as he is with anyone on the team, just as any center and QB should be. But even that last quote could be construed as subtle doubt - “It’s going to be excited to see all of those quarterbacks compete all camp long. It’s only going to make our team better.”

And if that wasn’t then maybe this was.

“Obviously the quarterback position is very important,” Espinosa said. “David has the most experience and he has played extremely well when he has been healthy. That would be the perfect world [if he remained healthy]. But the reality is we don’t know so we have to play as an offense like both quarterbacks are going to play.”

Fact of the matter is, no one knows how Ash is going to respond the first time a defender drives him into the ground. No one knows how his left foot, which he broke during spring camp, is going to hold up when he breaks the pocket and scrambles for positive yards.

It’s a wait-and-see approach and will remain that way throughout the season.

If things go as he hopes, and he remains the starter for the duration of Texas’ 2014 campaign, then this offense has a chance to be among the best in the Big 12.

David Ash’s career stats at Texas

YearG/GSCompAttPctYardsRatingTDINTLong
201113/69917456.91,079107.44848/2x
201212-1221431867.32,699153.319875/TTU
20133-3538760.9760156.37274/NMS
          
Total28/2136657963.24,372139.9301875/TTU

When he was healthy in 2012, starting all 12 games, Ash completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 2,699 yards and 19 touchdowns. At the time of his injury last season he had thrown for 760 yards in three games with seven touchdowns against only two interceptions.

There’s no doubt he’s capable of being among the Big 12’s best signal-callers. He just has to stay on the field long enough to prove it.

“He is a guy that it’s not going to bother him,” said Espinosa, doubting Ash will have to overcome any sort of mental hurdle in order to play to his capabilities. “It’s happened before to him and he’s come back and played better. I think it’s going to be the same type of deal this time around. I know there are guys on this team and on this staff that make sure he stays positive and has the confidence he needs to perform well. We are excited about that.”

If, for whatever reason, Ash isn’t able to go the whole season the Longhorns would likely turn to five-star freshman Jerrod Heard.

Sources have told HornsDigest that Heard might not even need Ash to go down in order to see playing time. The Texas staff thinks that highly of him.

Jerrod Heard hopes to make an impact this season.

Strong tempered those expectations somewhat by saying that Heard and sophomore Tyrone Swoopes "will be given an opportunity to compete” upon announcing Ash as the starter. But that’s not going to stop Longhorns fans from asking about the heralded freshman.

Heard, a five-star recruit rated as the No. 2 QB in the country, put together one of the state’s all-time great high school careers, which concluded with consecutive state titles.

He completed 155-of-250 passes (62%) for 2,090 yards and 17 scores. He added an additional 2,138 yards on the ground with an impressive 35 touchdowns to earn All-state and District 5-4A MVP.

Texas senior running back Malcolm Brown said that he’s heard from mutual friends of he and Heard’s that all Heard talks about is coming to Austin and winning. He told HD during his recruiting process that he envisioned having similar success as some of the recent true freshmen to come in and become national sensations.

Swoopes, on the other hand, seems to be the quarterback people are least talking about from UT simply because of the hype surrounding Heard.

A former high school All-American, he had a golden opportunity to cement himself as a legitimate contender for playing time this spring when Ash went down with his foot injury, but failed to capture the moment after a down-and-up spring game.

His first throw was intercepted by a walk-on and he completed just two of his first nine passes and was sacked four times in the first half. He rebounded admirably to finish with a respectable 17-of-30 for 229 yards and three touchdowns.

Strong was asked about Swoopes on Tuesday and didn’t discount him competing for playing time.

“We have to be smart about it in how we use him,” Strong said. “He’s going to be able to go compete not only with Ash but then you get Heard. There’s going to be competition in that position. He understands he’s just got to get better and better.”


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