Entering this afternoon’s spring game, the Texas Longhorns were facing multiple questions on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
With uncertainty surrounding the quarterback situation, an inconsistent offensive line, a new coaching staff and a porous defense, Texas fans and those across college football were curious to see what has transpired during the past few weeks of spring practice.
With a unique setup where the offense and defense were split into teams “Texas” and “Longhorns,” Mack Brown created an opportunity for all four of the quarterbacks competing for the starting position a chance to get snaps during the course of the afternoon.
On the defensive side of the ball, new coordinator Manny Diaz was given an opportunity to see how his first and second team defensive units matched up against each of these quarterbacks who have different strengths and weaknesses.
Here are our impressions of the overall performances in this afternoon’s game on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball:
The eyes of Texas fans, and those who closely cover college football, were squarely on the four quarterbacks wearing the black jerseys at Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium this afternoon.
Who made the biggest impression during today's spring game?
As the returning starter, Garrett Gilbert was looking to prove that last fall’s poor performance was not a sign of things to come. As the starter for team “Texas,” Gilbert was underwhelming, finishing with 8-15 passing for 76 yards and throwing an interception during the first half.
As was common during the 2010 season, Gilbert looked uncomfortable in his own skin, often rushing throws when under pressure and only completing passes when he had ample time to check off through receivers and time his throws.
Overall, sophomore quarterback Case McCoy was more impressive.
McCoy completed 9-of-11 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown.
McCoy struggled with his footwork in the first half, tending to throw off of his back foot even when there was not substantial pressure, but corrected this and made more confident throws as the game went on.
Connor Wood was the only other Texas quarterback to see substantial action, connecting on 8-of-14 passing attempts for 82 yards. Wood looked confident in the pocket and out of it as well, throwing with accuracy on the run and when able to set his feet.
At first glance, McCoy looked more like starting material than Gilbert, although it's hard to make a true determination given the fact both quarterbacks at times were facing second-team and scout team defenders, especially as the game entered the second half.
Other individual skill players had strong performances as well, some whom were not currently on the radar prior to this afternoon’s game.
One of the most surprising performances was from walk-on junior receiver Patrick McNamara. The Lubbock native was a consistent target for Case McCoy and Connor Wood, making several confident catches in traffic, including a touchdown catch in the first half.
McNamara ran very impressive routes and could be a dark horse candidate among the Texas receivers to make a contribution in 2011.
Often a source of disappointment among Texas fans due to his weight control issues, running back Cody Johnson was impressive in today’s contest. At a solid 250 pounds, Johnson appears to be in the best shape of his time in Austin and could contribute to Bryan Harsin’s offensive scheme, which prefers to run downhill rather than along the line.
Running backs D.J. Monroe and Jeremy Hills also saw several carries and were strong. Monroe and Hills both have the athletic ability to break tackles and gain substantial yards after the first tackle is attempted at the line of scrimmage.
Either could contribute to the Longhorns rushing attack this fall, which figures to be spearheaded by incoming freshman running back and top national recruit Malcolm Brown.
For the Longhorns to succeed offensively in 2011, the offensive line must improve. If Trey Hopkins has anything to do with it, they will.
Hopkins was dominant throughout the game, opening solid holes for the backs, especially in short-yardage and goal-line situations, including the two touchdowns by Hills and a late-game touchdown by Cayuga redshirt freshman, Traylon Shead.
In all, the Texas offense looked strong at times and uncertain at others. Until the quarterback situation is solidified, it is hard to determine the level of success the team should expect in 2011.
Regardless, don’t expect all four quarterbacks who are competing for the job in the spring and early fall to remain on the roster for 2012-2013 if the past migration of non-starters at Texas is any indicator.
Entering 2011, Texas was seeking a return of the toughness (even nastiness) of a defensive unit which at one time was the most intimidating in college football.
The new defensive unit under coordinator Manny Diaz needs the emergence of a vocal and physical leader who is willing to set the tone for others to follow.
Given this afternoon’s performances, two Longhorns may be emerging from the pack to take on this role.
Wilson, a sophomore defensive end from Haltom City, Texas, finished the game with several tackles for loss, quarterback pressures and sacks. Wilson used his athleticism to push past offensive linemen and pursue the quarterbacks who were flushed from the pocket.
The Texas staff has been excited about Wilson’s progress throughout the spring according to interviews with Mack Brown during the ESPN broadcast. They expect him to be a consistent contributor during the 2011-2012 season.
Pflugerville sophomore defensive end Alex Okafor also had a great afternoon. Recording three sacks and generally being a pest to the Texas offense, Okafor showed the type of pursuit ability which could help him put up some strong statistics for Manny Diaz’s defense this fall.
In general, everything which had been reported about the Longhorns' struggles in 2010 is still applicable.
A starting quarterback is still yet to emerge, although, if today is any indication, Case McCoy may be right on the heels of Garrett Gilbert.
The offensive line must find an identity and a leader; could this leader be Trey Hopkins?
Defensive nastiness and aggression will be key to success in 2011, and it appears that Alex Okafor and Reggie Wilson, along with mainstays Keenan Robinson and Kheeston Randall could be the tone-setters.
As Texas fans bid farewell to football until the fall, several questions still need answers, but there is hope for improvement if today’s individual performances are any indicator.