LET’S TALK QBS!!!! … WHAT ELSE?
So the two questions I set out to answer for you all this week with regard to the three quarterbacks battling for the starting job – Tyrone Swoopes, Jerrod Heard and Shane Buechele (per Sterlin Gilbert) – are:
#1 … What measurable progress is being made by each of the three?
#2 … What are the biggest obstacles in each one’s way to winning the job?
All three QBs are dramatically different in terms of the things that make them most effective, which really gives Sterlin Gilbert different things to evaluate and a lot to think about.
When Gilbert said Tuesday the three QBs are still too closely bunched together to declare a frontrunner, he wasn’t kidding.
There are a certain number of reps in this offense when things start to click for the QB operating it. Some QBs get there faster – with fewer reps – than others (Buechele is giving all kinds of signs that he fits in this category).
It takes other QBs more reps to hit their comfort zone – and that’s probably where Swoopes and Heard are. Although, Swoopes is more consistent and accurate in the passing game than Heard.
The thing that keeps drawing you back to Heard is the freaky athletic ability – his speed.
So let’s start with Swoopes, who, judging by what he has shown outwardly, has basically been reborn in this offense.
The coaching staff is pumping Swoopes full of praise – every time it’s warranted – because of the belief that Swoopes has a higher ceiling and is a better fit in the G-Force offense than the fire drill he was placed in charge of each of the past two years.
A coach – not at Texas – but who learned the Briles’ offense from Briles, just as Gilbert did, said Swoopes could very possibly have much more to give as a quarterback.
“You won’t really know until you put Swoopes back out there in a competitive situation in the season,” the coach said.
“Gilbert and this coaching staff are going to try to keep Swoopes totally focused on the process and not thinking about things like, ‘Do my own fans, or maybe even my own teammates, really want to see me on the field?’
“If Swoopes starts thinking about that sh*t, he’s toast, and it would prove his confidence has been so damaged that he’s essentially a shot fighter.”
So the progress Swoopes has shown is a comfort and confidence operating the G-Force offense. He can still be indecisive at times, but Texas is only seven practices into 15 this spring.
The up-tempo pace and quick, easy reads are what Swoopes prefers. And when Swoopes trusts what he sees and lets go of the ball on time, he absolutely looks like a QB who can operate the G-Force offense with success.
The progress Swoopes has made has come in the number of completed passes and plays made in practice. He has a pro-style, live arm with a nice delivery. The more reps he gets, the more comfortable he gets.
The biggest thing Swoopes has to overcome in winning the job is carrying himself with a self-confidence and swagger that tells his teammates there’s no doubt you’re about to see the best of Swoopes, and there’s no doubt I’m the best man for the job!
Until that QB swag, charisma, moxie becomes evident, there will probably always be some doubt in the back of the minds of coaches and teammates about Swoopes’ self-belief to deliver the goods in tight moments on the biggest stage with a game on the line.
Heard hurting his throwing shoulder midway through spring practice when he’s clearly the third-most accurate passer in a three-man race – does – not – help!
And I’m hearing Heard could be out a while (it’s a sprain, which involves a partial tear and severe pain) – like maybe the rest of spring.
While this is really the first time any of these QBs have truly been coached at a high level to become religious about technique, footwork, eye control, defensive recognition and that internal clock to get the ball out – because of the tempo and timing demands of this offense - Heard needs all of that coaching the most of any of the three QBs.
Because Heard has basically always trusted his feet more than his eyes – to the point where Heard can be completely devoid of pocket presence.
(Think of all the times Heard made one read and took off last season or left a protected pocket – only to take a sack or get pressured into a negative play.)
With that being said, Heard is so fast, he could run this offense out of the single wing/wildcat scheme Baylor used with Johnny Jefferson at QB while thrashing North Carolina for more than 600 yards rushing in BU’s bowl game (and against Texas) last season.
So, that’s really what we’re talking about when saying Gilbert and the coaches have different things to consider about each QB and what they can bring to the field.
You think Notre Dame wants to see Jerrod Heard taking the snap, counting one beat, and then picking the hole where the linebackers ain’t or where Warren, Foreman and/or Bluiett are leading the way? Over and over again?
And then, once the defense is starting to cheat up to stop Heard, watching Heard (who throws a nice deep ball) lofting one long, down the sideline to 6-foot-6, 212-pound Collin Johnson, who will go MMA with his ball skills to ensure the reception is his?
For now, what Heard does best is still make HUGE chunk plays with his feet.
What Heard will have to overcome to be the starting QB v Notre Dame on Sept. 3 is 1) his shoulder sprain, and 2) his football-career-long habit of tucking the ball and trying to run his way out of trouble if he’s late with a read or encounters a dirty pocket.
But Heard has too much athletic ability, too much spark and too much confidence to be counted out – even though he is still the most erratic and inconsistent thrower of the three QBs.
If you watch practice, the first thing you notice about Buechele is not his slight frame (he’s listed at 190-something, and I’m D’Angelo Russell’s cinematographer if he weighs anything more than 180 pounds).
The first thing you notice is about Buechele is when he’s NOT the QB getting the rep in practice.
Buechele is standing right behind that QB. When the ball is snapped, Buechele turns to square his shoulders with his feet leading his eyes through the read and even simulating a throw, carrying out every QB coach’s dream (and way of life for a backup in the NFL) – the mental rep.
If the QB taking the snap does something that surprises Buechele or that he missed, he asks Swoopes or Heard what they saw?
But more and more, it’s Buechele who is making the quick read, trusting his eyes, and snapping off a blink-of-an-eye delivery that hits his target before the defender can even get in position or get his head around.
Buechele is not only “far and away” the most accurate of the three QBs as a passer, he’s progressing/improving his command of the offense at a “much higher rate right now than either Swoopes or Heard.”
The easy conclusion would be to believe that if Buechele stays on his current track, that he’ll be the hands-down starter on Sept. 3 against Notre Dame.
But, again, QBs hit their comfort level in this offense at different times. And there’s still time for Swoopes and Heard to hit their comfort levels and become very comfortable and competent operating this offense.
Remember, when the QB is given a signal for a run-pass option, he’s only reading the box to determine if it’s loaded (seven or more), causing the QB to pull the ball from his RB’s belly and throw a high-percentage pass.
Or if the box is light (six or less), causing the QB to leave the ball in his RB’s belly, so that RB can run with a lead blocker on a power or counter play against one or two linebackers.
A pre-ordered run play is either counter, power, inside or outside zone – usually disguised with some motion (usually jet sweep motion).
Once the countless reps really begin to sink in and the reads become second-nature, the added element of Swoopes and Heard as runners (different kinds of runners) – makes the G-Force offense even harder to defend.
Buechele’s progress already includes him being able to control defensive backs with his eyes. The early enrollee freshman will even instinctively pump fake a DB to really pull that defender out of position and give his intended target more separation to take his strike in stride and go do some damage.
“Honestly, Texas hasn’t seen this stuff from a quarterback since Colt (McCoy),” said one source. “And I’m talking about the 2008 and 2009 version of Colt McCoy.
“Now, it’s practice, and these coaches aren’t going to make any conclusions until they see it in game-like conditions.
“But the instincts, absorption, poise, confidence and business-like work ethic, all while connecting with his teammates – that’s all there. There’s no mistaking that. I think the kid is even further ahead than where the coaches thought he’d be. I mean way ahead.”
What Buechele needs to overcome to win the job? Gaining weight. Getting stronger. Getting bigger.
Buechele wouldn’t be removed from consideration as the Longhorns’ starter if he wasn’t able to get any bigger by the fall. But the concern would be how long or how well he could endure the punishment that comes with the position?
And that’s where we are at the QB position heading into practice No. 8 (of 15) on Thursday.
THE G-FORCE OFFENSE HAS NO PLAYBOOK
Instead, each player has an iPad with the hand signal or call (or both) – followed by a video visual of what that player’s role is in the play.
Art Briles moved away from a playbook a long time ago and believes his players are always much more “visual” learners who are more likely to retain their role in a play by watching it – rather than by studying squiggly lines on a white sheet of paper.
COLLIN JOHNSON “IS SPECIAL”
The word “special” in football parlance is basically the highest commendation you can receive.
It’s five stars for a general. It’s the “Limited” version of a car. Or a dating life on par with Derek Jeter.
If a coach says to an NFL scout, “The kid is special,” or if a high school coach says to a college recruiting coordinator, “This guy is special,” then everything is dropped and film is watched and recruiting or draft boards are re-arranged.
All that is to say – Texas early enrollee freshman WR Collin Johnson “is special.”
This isn’t jumping the gun. This isn’t trying to raise your hopes from now until Sept. 3, only so those hopes can be dashed again, like Lucy pulling Charlie Brown’s football. This is understood. All throughout the locker room – players and coaches.
And no one really minds passing it along, because they’ve already seen a professional work ethic from Johnson that has everyone convinced Collin Johnson can be as good as he wants to be.
I’ve always said, “When your best, most-talented players are also your hardest workers, that’s when the magic happens.”
That’s when the players are coaching the players – pushing each other, policing each other.
Texas obviously had that from 2004-09 as part of a magical run with a truckload of NFL draft picks – but especially so in 2008 with guys like Colt McCoy, Jordan Shipley, Quan Cosby, Chris Ogbonnaya, Fozzy Whittaker, Brian Orakpo, Roy Miller and Earl Thomas and again in 2009 thanks to guys like Colt, Jordan, Lamarr Houston, Sam Acho, Keenan Robinson and Aaron Williams.
I’m seeing glimpses of the most talented players doubling as the team’s hardest workers thanks to guys like:
Sheroid Evans and Holton Hill.
I’m probably missing some. But that’s a nice, big collection and cross-section of talent and position groups. And I think Swoopes, Heard and Buechele have put in the work this spring.
And Charlie Strong and this coaching staff are bringing in a bunch of guys in the 2016 class who have yet to arrive, who I know are cut from this cloth as well:
Again, I’m undoubtedly missing some. (So feel free to add names if you know they belong in this most elite of categories).
The seeds are being planted.
TEXAS RELAYS RECRUITING ROUNDUP
The annual Texas Relays officially began Wednesday with the decathlon and heptathlon - two events that sound absolutely miserable - but Friday will begin the races involving current and prospective football players.
Here's a list of notable guys who will compete at Texas Relays.
WR John Burt
Burt will show off his speed running in the 110m hurdles prelim Friday at 9:35 a.m.
He was ranked No. 6 nationally in the 110m hurdles during his senior year at Lincoln High School.
S Brandon Jones - Nacogdoches, Texas
The 2016 5-star signee for the Horns, Jones will be in Austin both Friday and Saturday to compete. His first event will be the Division II 4x200m relay sometime around 1:30 p.m. Jones will return Saturday morning at 9 a.m. for the 4x100m relay.
WR Reggie Hemphill - Manvel, Texas
Hemphill is scheduled to represent Manvel competing in the 4x100m, 4x200m and 4x400m relays. He will join his future teammate Jones in the 4x200m after 1:30 and will finish the day with the 4x400m around 7:45 p.m.Hemphill and Jones will meet again Saturday morning for the 4x100m.
WR Davion Curtis - Temple, Texas
Curtis will run in the most events of the group. The speedy wide receiver will compete in all three of Hemphill's events, but will also run the 1600 sprint medley Friday at 5:20 p.m.
WR Hezekiah Jones - Stafford, Texas
The relays will be a busy time for wide receiver Hezekiah Jones. The four-star prospect begins Friday with the Division I 4x200m relay around 1:30 p.m. CT, followed by 4x400m relay after 4:15. He will return bright and early Saturday for the 4x100m relay around 9 a.m.
Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford met with the media Wednesday and had the following things to say about some of the Longhorns:
LB Malik Jefferson
"A lot of the time you see young guys who might have had a good freshman year and get the sophomore year blues. We don't have time for that because we are going to play a lot of sophomores this year.
"Not just Malik but you look at [CB] Holton Hill , [CB] Davante Davis and [LB Anthony] Wheeler. These are lot of guys who will be sophomores.
"And Malik right now is the only guy who has taken the role of being a leader as how he carries himself, talking to the team, doing the right things on and off the football field, and continue to make plays on the football field. You have to more or less put them in a position where they do best, for example rushing off the edge. We want to put our playmakers in a position to make plays for us this season."
DT Jake McMillon
"Jake has done a great job for us. He is a technician. He is a fighter, a scrapper. He is a guy who takes great coaching. He does the details of the game, how you want the details to be played. And because of this he has done some great things for us this spring.
"He is fighting. He is not getting knocked off the ball. When you ask the guys to blitz, he is getting the penetrations. He is getting those one-on-ones. So far I am excited to see what Jake has done for us."
S Jason Hall
"He's been here for a while right now. He's been a big hitter and now it's time for him to take the next step and that next step is understanding the game. He cannot rely on my man [S Dylan] Haines to getting him aligned.
"He know needs to take a leadership role and have idea of what to do, how to fit the run, how to read your keys and do the little things right. And he's had a good spring so far so he's heading in the right direction right now."
S DeShon Elliott
"My man DeShon. My man has the most confidence of anybody you're ever going to see. In tight quarters, he is going to knock your helmet off. Now, the question is can he get lined up.
"I told those guys when I first got here: I love… I want to say what I want to say, grape Gatorade. Not blue, but grape Gatorade. If you can't get in line, I'm going to ask them to give the Gatorade on game day.
"It's not hard with me. It's not high school where you fly around and hit somebody, you need to get in line, make the checks. Otherwise, we're going to be drinking Gatorade together.
"And that's where he is right now. I'm not into the guys who think they know it. Show me you know it. I'm not from Missouri, but show me what you can do by getting in the right alignment and making the right checks. And if he does those things, he will play. If not, then he won't play. And he knows that already."
CB Sheroid Evans
"He has had a really good spring. A year ago he came out for spring and got hurt after about two practices. He didn't get hit. But right now he is a lot better now than he was this time last year.
"His confidence is up. He is moving around extremely well. He has made some plays. He almost had an interception yesterday. I let him know that he dropped that ball.
"He is making plays on the ball. He is trying to tackle. I have high hopes for him that he can help us out this season."
The Defensive Tackles
"We don't have a lot of depth out at this time. Poona Ford has really done a solid job for us. He has been playing for us for two years and now he is going from a freshman to a sophomore. He is having a good spring. He is healthy and ready to go.
"Chris Nelson is another young man who had quiet a few reps last season as a redshirt freshman. He is doing a good job. He is starting to understand his role and he is going to play for us.
"Paul Boyette, who has played a lot of ball around here is doing a good job.
"We have those three guys who are playing for us right now and then we have Jake [McMillon]. Jake is another guy who hasn't really played a lot around here so that is our two-deep for right.
"We will miss Hassan [Ridgeway] a little and we will miss Tank [Desmond Jackson]. But there is a day where the next guys need to step up and be ready to play."
"We have a lot of potential right now. You look at the corners that we have. I think we have four or five guys that come in and play.
"The thing that we have been talking about as a staff is this. As I have been doing research and the rest of the defensive staff, people are playing a lot of guys. It is not just upfront anymore.
"I look at Alabama. They play maybe 10 defensive linemen. I am also seeing people playing eight defensive backs and four to six linebackers. And we need to build depth that way. And we do have some young talent in the back end.
"They are all young therefore we need to rotate guys.
For example, I am trying to tell the kids right now Davante Davis is playing well for us. Hollywood [Hill] is playing well for us. Kris Boyd - guess what, you are a starter too. You might not start the game but if you have the high hand in the game, you might get four to five snaps to Davante, Hollywood.
"So they are all the starters right now and that is how they have to look at it. They need to play numbers against these high up-tempo offenses who are getting 80 to 100 plays a game."
Offensive Skill Players
"I told our defense on Saturday before we were ready to practice, I told them I don't know how we're going to tackle our two big backs. You're talking about two backs that are both 240 [lbs].
"Foreman probably goes 4.55 and he would probably tell you that he probably runs faster than that. But I'll tell you right now, the man had too many donuts. He can't like he did in high school.
"My man Warren is 244 and he's trying to show us now like a truck coming at you. So we have a hard time tackling our two big backs.
"I think that when you look at our conference, or take a look at Oklahoma, they had two big backs. They had a lot of success because they ran a football with those two big bruisers. We have two big, pretty guys.
"I like our offensive line right now. They've been physical and hitting us in the mouth. I like the direction of our offense. I'm excited. I'm really excited about what I'm seeing from our offense because it's making us better defensively and the new two big backs.
"And then I've got my man Hollywood [ Holton Hill ] back there. Yesterday, he finally made a play.
"My man [WR] Collin Johnson, it's like he's been jumping out the gym. He's been one-handing out there. I thought LeBron was out there catching rocks the other day.
"Right now, our skillset on offense is really, really good. And now we just have to have confidence because there are a lot of young guys playing.
"[John] Burt as a freshman last year made some big plays. He's also running track right now. He comes out there and he's doing a great job.
"[DeAndre] McNeal is a 225 pound wide receiver that runs 4.55. Our skillset right now is making us a lot better on defense going against those guys every single day. I just get chills thinking about going against our guys and the challenge that we have is going out there and getting ready for what we've got to face this season."
Most Impressive Players In Spring So Far
"[Anthony] Wheeler, P.J. Locke, Davante Davis, Poona [Ford] has been really good. Chris Nelson is really sound. Those guys have taken a major step from a year ago.
"And that's not saying that the others have not, but those guys have shown a lot, picking things up, and it shows on how they practice."