Texas Football: 7 Things We Learned About the Longhorns This Spring
Spring football has drawn to a close for the Texas Longhorns, but not before revealing that Tyrone Swoopes can play quarterback and that Charlie Strong is following through with his promised culture change.
Though Swoopes' emergence took place in the span of 30 minutes, Strong's impact on the program has been tangible throughout the offseason. The new head coach said he would bring toughness to the program, and he has done just that.
For Strong, toughness is only part of his to-do list. Depth remains an issue in key spots, and the offensive line clearly needs to spend more time working as a unit. On a positive note, both the front seven and the receivers have proven that they will bring some serious talent to the field in 2014.
But as much as Strong's debut spring has publicized the changes he is making, the fans have shown it will take a lot more for them to change their fickle ways.
Tyrone Swoopes Is (Almost) a Good Player
The top story from spring practice was Swoopes' performance in the Orange-White Scrimmage, where he proved that he has the ability to grow into a good quarterback.
Stepping in for David Ash, the sophomore recovered from an abysmal start to finish 19-of-30 with 229 yards and three touchdowns. The struggles, namely his interception to walk-on Dylan Haines, show obvious need for improvement on the finer points of the game. But seeing is believing, and everyone who watched the game saw what Swoopes has in the tank on his 44-yard touchdown to Jaxon Shipley.
The performance is enough to keep Swoopes in contention for the starting quarterback job, and at the very least assures that the 'Horns will have a capable backup. He is almost there, and that is acceptable progress given Ash's injury woes.
The Culture Change Is in Full Swing
Malcolm Brown took a screen pass from Swoopes six yards for his second score of the game. He celebrated with 10 pushups on the sideline, atoning for a fumble earlier in the drive.
Brown's act of penance serves as the latest example of how Charlie Strong has imposed his identity on the Longhorns. Between his list of expectations, the dismissal of two players before spring ball even started and a later suspension of senior Joe Bergeron, Strong has wasted little time in making his presence felt.
But Strong's uncompromising approach goes beyond just ruling with an iron fist. Many of his players have responded and are approaching the game with newfound intensity. As a result, past underachievers like Josh Turner are coming into their own.
Strong concedes that Texas has a long journey before it is ready to contend for a title. But he is instilling the attitude and discipline it will take for this team to get there.
Hurting for Depth at Key Positions
Due to injuries, suspensions and plain lack of talent, Texas is in need of some depth at quarterback, running back and safety.
Swoopes' performance in the spring game has overshadowed how much Texas needs to get Jerrod Heard and Max Wittek on the field. Neither should be expected to start, but the current backups are former tight end Miles Onyegbule and walk-on Trey Holtz. Until David Ash proves he can stay healthy, Heard and Wittek project to be the next-best options behind Swoopes.
The running backs are in a similar situation until Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron return to the field. Both are expected to be back in the fall or sooner, but their absence leaves Texas with just Jalen Overstreet on scholarship. Overstreet has improved, but there is significant drop-off from the two upperclassmen to the former quarterback.
Still, at least there is help on the way for those two positions. Neither Adrian Colbert nor Chevoski Collins appear ready to take over a starting spot, leaving Texas small with Josh Turner and Mykkele Thompson forming the safety duo.
The Front Seven Is Talented, Deep
While the issues at safety are sorted out, Texas fans can head into the summer assured that the front seven is going to handle much of the heavy lifting.
Led by Cedric Reed and Malcolm Brown, the defensive line returns three players with starting experience and a crew of disruptive talent. Projected starters Desmond Jackson and Shiro Davis each stood out in the spring game, while top backups Caleb Bluiett and Hassan Ridgeway combined for three sacks and eleven tackles.
The pleasant surprise was the play of the linebackers, highlighted by Demarco Cobbs' comeback performance in the spring game. The senior tied for the team lead with eight tackles in the game, his first meaningful action since sustaining a knee injury in 2012.
Cobbs' play, along with the improvement of Naashon Hughes, adds versatility to a linebacking corps that returns three starters. Even if Jordan Hicks never returns to form, this should be one of the better front sevens in the conference.
The Offensive Line Will Be Difficult to Project
Just as he did at Oklahoma State, Joe Wickline is building the Texas offensive front by talent rather than by position, which will make the end product difficult to project.
Texas' offensive line coach wasted little time putting his stamp on the group, starting junior Taylor Doyle over Rami Hammad at right guard. Darius James, a top-rated recruit for the interior, played left tackle with early-enrollee Alex Anderson getting second-team duty over Curtis Riser.
Wickline's unique arrangement couldn't prevent the Longhorn defenders from racking up eight total sacks, so expect even more changes to be made, especially once tackle Kent Perkins returns from his knee injury.
This group has plenty of talent that just needs to be sorted out. Once that happens and these guys get comfortable playing together, the results will come.
Playmakers Are Emerging at Receiver
As expected, Jaxon Shipley laid claim to his status as the team's top receiver with his 95-yard performance in the spring game. Still, don't let that distract you from the talent that is emerging behind him.
Though he was less of a factor in the game, Marcus Johnson turned heads all spring after his breakout sophomore campaign. As Shawn Watson told ESPN's Max Olson, "[Johnson] is a great fit in what we do and he has had a great spring for us. He has played really well.”
Also turning some heads this spring were second-year burners Jacorey Warrick and Montrel Meander. Quiet in the spring game, Warrick made most of his noise in practice, showing off some vicious quicks in a one-on-one drill (No. 11). Meander pulled off the opposite feat, making a name for himself with the toughest catch of the game.
But perhaps the most encouraging development from this group of pass-catchers is the improvement of tight end Geoff Swaim. The senior pulled in two tough passes from Swoopes, which was one shy of his total from last season. Any ability he shows to move the chains will be a major boost for Texas.
New Coach, Same Fans
Even with a new coach in the fold, Longhorn fans showed both during and after the spring game that little has changed in their eyes.
Several fans made for the exits at halftime of Texas' spring game, showing Charlie Strong just how short a leash he has with them. Others that were concerned with the sloppy play took to the Internet to vent their frustrations, starting imissmack.com without even witnessing an actual game.
This should come as no surprise from a fanbase that has even drawn the ire of the players for its fickle nature. This recent display merely shows that patience will still be hard to come by while the program rebuilds itself.