Practice has officially picked up for the Texas Longhorns as they gear up for this highly anticipated 2012 season. The only problem is there is still a large elephant lingering in the room regarding who should be the starting quarterback: David Ash or Case McCoy.
Ash was not stellar last season in his rookie campaign, committing nine turnovers against only four touchdowns. However, Ash showed some serious potential in his very controlled performance in the Holiday Bowl victory over Cal and has done nothing but reinforce that notion ever since.
Based on his performance both in the Cal game and the offseason, Ash is the favorite to beat out junior Case McCoy for the full-time starting job come September 1. Here are the arguments both for and against Ash being the team's No. 1 signal-caller.
At 6'3" and 225 pounds, David Ash is not only the biggest quarterback on the roster but also the best athlete (not counting Jalen Overstreet) with his upper-4.5 speed.
Size matters when it comes to playing the quarterback position. Just ask pro's like Vince Young, Cam Newton Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, who are all 6'4" or taller. Bigger quarterbacks are not only able to see the field better, but they are less susceptible to the chronic injury problems you see from guys like Michael Vick.
Ash's size certainly helps him, but his legs are definitely his greatest asset as a player, especially when you consider that he is not an elite passer. Ash will maybe be asked throw the ball 25 times per game this season, and when the play breaks down you want a guy back there that can hurt the defense with his legs. Last year Ash ran the ball 73 times for 103 yards and a touchdown, whereas McCoy ran the ball 23 times for -3 yards with no touchdowns.
When you do not have an elite thrower under center like Landry Jones or Matt Barkley, the next best thing is to have a guy back there that can get it done with his legs. Ash fits the bill there and has the size to take a little extra abuse, which will give opposing defenses something else to think about when they face Bryan Harsin's already-confounding offense.
With a running game that will do most of the heavy lifting backed by possibly the best defense in college football, the Longhorns quarterback simply must be an effective game manager.
That is David Ash in a nutshell.
Whereas Case McCoy is more of a creator from the quarterback position, David Ash is about as conservative as you can get. Sure he had a few too many turnovers last season and his accuracy was poor, but that is to be expected from a true freshman that did not ever think he would play.
Ash is certainly most comfortable on the field when he is tasked with being more of a facilitator, which was his role both in the Cal bowl victory and in the spring game. As an example, Ash threw the ball more than 25 times in two games last season against Oklahoma State and Mizzou, both losses. In those games, he had a 50.7 completion percentage and threw three interceptions. Against Cal he threw 23 times with a 60.9 completion percentage and only threw three passes in a spring game in which his squad dominated; in neither contest did he commit a turnover.
Ash also opens the door for Texas to run both the zone read and the pod formation, a set that would allow the 'Horns to get up to three of their uber-talented running backs in the backfield at once, each of whom add a completely different element to the offense for which the defense must account. And the more the defense has to think, the more effective this offense can be.
This may not be true in the long run, but this team's ceiling, and Ash's along with it, is the highest if the rising sophomore is the one under center this season.
Ash takes a lot of heat for his play last season, but the cards really were stacked against him. First, he was starting as a true freshman, something neither Colt McCoy nor Vince Young did in their tenure as Longhorns. He was not around for the entire offseason, and when he was his only reps were in the pod formation. Heck, he thought he was supposed to redshirt.
Also consider the situation Ash was thrown into. This was a 19-year-old kid coming from a town of 20,000 people that had to perform on Saturdays in front of 100,000 people for a team with a new offense. Not to mention the Fozzy Whittaker injury that eliminated a key element of the already-limited offense.
Now Ash has taken the offensive first reps for this team ever since this team was preparing for the Holiday Bowl. He also will be given the opportunity to run the zone read and pod where, as previously mentioned, he is highly effective. Combine that with the improvement that is inherent in a quarterback's first full offseason and Ash could be the surprise player in this loaded conference.
Case McCoy certainly has his flaws as a quarterback, but he is to be commended for the way he can rally his guys around him. Meanwhile, David Ash is still figuring out how to be a leader for this team.
Even if Case McCoy never takes another snap for this Longhorns team, he has certainly earned his spot in Longhorn lore for his performance last season at A&M in the last game of the embittered rivalry. That victory was possible because McCoy was able to play outside of himself when it counted and his team believed in him.
David Ash just does not inspire his teammates with his play, or at least he has not yet. This could easily be remedied by Ash gutting out a win in one of those early tests against Oklahoma State, West Virginia or Oklahoma, but as of now McCoy is the proven team leader of the two.
Longhorns head coach Mack Brown has said time and again that he will not make the decision on who will start at quarterback, but rather the team and the winner of the job himself. If that is to be believed, then why hasn't Ash already done that by now?
Ever since his performance in the Holiday Bowl and grossly outplaying McCoy in the spring game, Ash has been the odds-on favorite to be Texas' next full-time starting quarterback. But Ash has presumably not done enough to set that matter in stone or else we would all know about it.
The concern here is that Ash has not done enough to prove to his teammates and/or the coaching staff that he is their best option. This could be something they all already know and fans are just being kept out of the loop, but we are only a little more than three weeks away from the opener and Brown has not given an inch on the topic.
My bet is still that Ash will be the guy when the 'Horns play Wyoming on September 1, but I would feel a lot better if he set himself apart before the season got here so he could build some essential confidence.