Texas Football: The Unanswered Questions Heading into Texas' Spring Game
Can Tyrone Swoopes become Texas' starting quarterback? That's just one of the Longhorns' pressing questions as they gear up for Saturday's spring game.
Elevated to the starting role following David Ash's foot injury, the Swoopes storyline will command most of the attention in Charlie Strong's first Orange-White Scrimmage. How he handles first-team duty will set the tone for the rest of his and the program's offseason.
But Swoopes' passing isn't the only issue that requires special attention. The Longhorns still have to sort out which of the spring stars are ready to ascend the ranks. The projected starters at safety and tight end also bear significant importance, not to mention figuring out who will replace All-American placekicker Anthony Fera.
To a certain degree, each of these questions will be answered by the game's conclusion.
Where Is Swoopes as a Passer?
Since his recruitment, Swoopes' polish as a passer has been the chief obstacle to his stardom. His progress, or lack thereof, will be the main topic of conversation following Saturday's game.
After completing just 38.5 percent of his passes as a backup, Swoopes' entire goal for this game is to prove he can consistently deliver accurate throws. He has his work cut out for him, running against the first-team defense in Charlie Strong's new format for the game.
If Strong's assessment of his quarterback's performance in the team's last scrimmage is any indication of Swoopes' progress, spectators could be in for a pleasant surprise. "He did a really outstanding job last Saturday," Strong told media members on Tuesday. "... He had really good numbers and threw an unbelievable ball to [wide receiver] Marcus [Johnson] down the sideline."
By making a few more plays like that, Swoopes will position himself nicely to own the starting job in the fall.
Which of the Spring Stars Is for Real?
As is the case every spring, young players have emerged to capture the attention of the coaching staff. But which of these spring stars is actually ready to break out and be a major contributor in 2014?
On offense, running back Jalen Overstreet and receiver Jacorey Warrick have stood out from the pack. With Johnathan Gray on the shelf, Overstreet has a clear path to the backup role behind Malcolm Brown, at least until Joe Bergeron returns from his suspension. Pay close attention to his power between the tackles, where his lean 6'2" frame has been an issue.
Although the 'Horns return three receivers with starting experience, as well as all-purpose weapon Daje Johnson, there is no question Warrick merits an extended look. The 5'10" receiver has ridiculous quickness (wearing No. 11), and should see action in four-receiver sets out of the slot.
For the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Tim Cole seems to have earned himself a starting spot, while tackle Hassan Ridgeway may finally be ready to handle a regular role. Sophomore corner Bryson Echols rounds out this trio of veterans who was singled out by Strong on Tuesday.
Redshirt freshmen Antwuan Davis and Chevoski Collins have also made names for themselves along the back end, with Deoundrei Davis showing notable improvement at linebacker. As a bonus, 3-star recruit Andrew Beck's name continues to come up here as well.
Each of these players will see plenty of action in Saturday's scrimmage.
How Will Texas Make Up for a Lack of Size at Safety?
As of Tuesday's press conference, all signs point toward Josh Turner and Mykkele Thompson being Texas' starting safeties Saturday. If that's the case, then Strong has to figure out how to make up for its combined lack of size.
Strong has been complimentary of Turner going back to the beginning of the month, and added this week that Thompson was "having a good camp." He has also given nods to bigger safeties Adrian Colbert and Collins, but the sense is both are being treated as backups.
This is an issue for Texas, because Turner and Thompson weigh 179 and 182 pounds, respectively, which is smaller than most cornerbacks. These two have run into trouble in the open field against bigger skill players, and Strong himself said "we drop our safeties down in the box."
There is the possibility that Strong could employ the use of an extra, faster linebacker on early downs or a hybrid outside linebacker/safety. One way or another, he has to address this problem.
Who Replaces Anthony Fera?
Anthony Fera spoiled Texas fans last year, earning All-American honors by connecting on 90.9 percent of his field-goal attempts. Now he's gone, and the Longhorns have yet to announce a reliable replacement.
Nick Jordan, the favorite to take over Fera's placekicking duties, connected on just 60 percent of his attempts (1-for-6 from 40-plus yards) as a freshman. The other option, Nick Rose, has never even attempted a field goal at the college level.
Whoever wins out needs to be ready to make big-time kicks. With tough games against UCLA, Oklahoma and Baylor in the first six weeks, a missed field goal could easily mean the difference between winning and losing.
Which Tight End Will Emerge?
Charlie Strong has stated he wants to involve the tight ends more in his offense. The only question is which Longhorn will emerge to fill the role on most downs.
Texas currently has four tight ends on the roster, not including flex receiver John Harris. One is early enrollee Blake Whiteley, who is not expected to make an immediate impact on the passing game. That leaves Geoff Swaim, Greg Daniels and M.J. McFarland, who combined for 42 yards on three catches.
Compare that to Louisville's tight ends Gerald Christian and Ryan Hubbell, who caught a total of 42 balls for 662 yards. That's the potential the Longhorn tight ends have in Shawn Watson's West Coast system—the issue being none of these guys have ever been reliable collegiate receivers.
Swaim and McFarland are the two who stood out to Strong in practice, but it's anyone's guess as to who will be the guy in the fall. Expect a carousel in the spring game, and a position battle that lasts until the season begins.