DeAndre McNeal Catching On Quickly

Debate about whom the Longhorns should roll with at quarterback all you’d like until your blue in the face.

It won’t matter if it’s Tyrone Swoopes, Jerrod Heard, Kai Locksley, Matthew Merrick or the water boy if Texas’s receivers don’t catch the ball.

There were way too many dropped passes during Sunday’s practice inside Darrel K. Royal Texas-Memorial Stadium with a thousand or so fans in attendance. It wasn’t the way Charlie Strong had this one playing out.

“We get out here for the first time and have more dropped balls than we’ve ever had,” Strong said. “You talk about fundamentals and technique, I probably need to do this more often so our guys can get to where they just feel it. When they are in the stadium it is time to compete.

“We have to get better, we have to improve and catch the ball. This was the first time we had shoulder pads. Didn’t have any drops up top and then all of a sudden you put shoulder pads on, we just had way too many drops. It stops the flow of trying to get some things going on offense.”

There were certain aspects of the passing game that did look OK, like true freshman DeAndre McNeal, who is playing tight end right now but will be moved around all over the offense.

“He’s gained some weight. He doesn’t care where he plays,” Strong said. “There’s a toughness to him. When he catches the ball in the open field he can create a mismatch for the linebackers.”

He can also block, made evident from him pushing fellow freshman Charles Omenihu back five or so yards in a 1-on-1 blocking drill.

“It’s all about pad level and fundamentals,” Strong said. “The thing about McNeal is he got down and got underneath his pads. Omenihu was up high and he [McNeal] was able to knock him back.”

Something else that was a noticeable improvement, even from Friday’s practice, was Texas’ quarterbacks taking care of the ball.

“The good thing about it is they are making the right throws,” Strong said. “That’s what you like. Instead of throwing to the other team at least we were throwing to ourselves.”

Through the first few days of practice it appears as though Swoopes has positioned himself as the front-runner for the starting job ahead of Heard. He looks a little more crisp and sure of himself. Strong said that just comes with the experience he gained from the 2014 season.

“The thing with Tyrone is he is more comfortable because he’s been there and Jerrod hasn’t,” Strong said. “He can make the checks because he’s a year into it. The thing Jerrod has to do is just be patient and let the game come to him. I think he’s forcing it right now. It’s going to happen because he’s such a great athlete.”

Speaking of great athletes, that’s something you could definitely claim the true freshmen defensive backs are. Cornerbacks Kris Boyd and Davante Davis don’t look overwhelmed at all, while Bryson Echols and Antwuan Davis are doing what they can to stay ahead in the pecking order.

“You look at those young corners, Echols is coming on, and Davis,” Strong said. “Then you look at the young guys with [Davante] Davis and Boyd. It’s good competition. You have some good competition in the back end.”

Holton Hill, Texas’ other true freshman cornerback, was dressed out but didn’t participate.

DeShon Elliott, one of two true freshmen safeties along with P.J. Locke, suffered a toe injury during a “bull in the ring” drill. Strong said he didn’t know how severe the injury was.

One of the players Elliott is working toward taking playing time from is former walk-on Dylan Haines, who had a really strong day.

“Dylan is a vet now. He’s smart enough to go make plays,” Strong said. “He understands the defense and he can adjust.”

Connor Williams might be a true freshman but he’s showing the making of a veteran right tackle for the Longhorns. He’s worked with the first team in all practices so far ahead of JUCO transfer Tristan Nickelson.

“Connor is so mature and has really developed,” Strong said. Speaking of Nickelson, he threw a few punches with defensive end Derick Roberson toward the end of practice. Cooler heads prevailed and the two went right back to work.

It was one of three or so scuffles that broke out on Sunday.

You don’t want to see fights because you want guys to protect themselves. But I tell guys all the time to stay up and let’s not be silly with the fights. We just have to shake it off and go on to the next play.

He then added, “It’s either intensity or getting beat. It’s one of the two.”

At the end of the day, the main takeaway was definitely the dropped balls by the wide receivers. Texas just can’t afford these types of mistakes.

“We have to get better and improve fundamentally,” Strong said. “We know we have steps to make. We have to get better on offense, have to move the ball. We talk about up-tempo, we have to get up on the ball and make plays. There were so many drops by the wide receivers.”

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