Texas Football: 10 Ways for Quarterback Garrett Gilbert to Improve in 2011
The eyes of the Texas Longhorns football nation are gazing squarely at junior quarterback Garrett Gilbert.
After a poor 2010, Gilbert no longer has a firm hold on the starting quarterback slot and must compete with Case McCoy, Connor Wood and David Ash to essentially re-earn his job.
With a complex new offense being installed by co-offensive coordinators Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite, this will be no easy task and one that will require Gilbert's full engagement not only mentally, but physically as well.
Anything less could signal another disappointing season in 2011 for a Texas team already under the microscope due to a 5-7 record in 2010.
Let's take a look at 10 ways Garrett Gilbert must improve over the offseason and become prepared to truly lead the Longhorns as the 2011 season draws near.
10. Become More Comfortable in His Own Skin
Body language is a huge reflection of an individual's confidence in themselves and what they bring to the table in any walk of life.
If Garrett Gilbert's body language is any indication of the confidence he has in himself, there is plenty of work to be done.
Each time Gilbert throws an interception or makes a poor play, you see some variation of the picture in this slide. He takes his helmet off, puts it on top of his head and looks puzzled as to what just happened.
To put it simply, he just doesn't look all that comfortable with himself, and comfort in your own skin equals confidence.
For Garrett Gilbert to have a successful season in 2011, he must again find the confidence that made him one of the best high school quarterbacks in the country and a can't-miss prospect prior to arriving on the Forty Acres.
9. Develop a Better Understanding of Timing
An innate sense of timing is an essential element of becoming a successful collegiate quarterback. This sense comes not only from repetition and a strong base of fundamentals, but also from instinct, something which isn't easily taught, if it can be taught at all.
Garrett Gilbert's understanding of timing and how it relates to his role in the Texas offense must improve prior to the 2011 season.
As evidenced in yesterday's spring game, Gilbert has the tendency to hold the ball too long when under pressure, eventually forcing a pass into traffic or taking a sack instead of throwing the ball away when he realizes that a positive play is not likely to occur.
At other times, Gilbert throws the ball too soon or too late to a receiver who is running a timing route, creating interceptions or risky situations.
With a better understanding of the new offensive scheme, Gilbert should get closer to being on the same page with his receivers and timing should improve organically, but it will still require a great deal of work on his part throughout the summer.
8. Throw Without Having Tunnel Vision
Too often during the 2010 season, Garrett Gilbert telegraphed the pass he was about to throw, regardless of whether or not he was pressured in the pocket.
Many of his 17 interceptions were due to balls tipped at the line of scrimmage, which could be attributed to lack of protection from an inconsistent offensive line or a poor understanding of timing and when the ball should be released.
The remainder of his interceptions, including the pick thrown during the spring game, were due to Gilbert staring directly where he was about to throw, instead of using a quick look-off to bait the defensive back into taking that single step away from the intended receiver, which can be the difference between a completion and interception.
Gilbert must learn from NFL-style quarterbacks and how they disguise intended targets to increase efficiency and force defensive backs to make the first move. If he continues to telegraph passes, interceptions will be sure to follow.
7. Trust His Own Athletic Ability
Garrett Gilbert is a good athlete.
This simple fact is something the Texas quarterback seems to forget.
There will be times during the course of a game where Gilbert will not be able to throw and must elude pressure from penetrating defenses to turn a negative into a positive.
Gilbert must begin to trust that he is a good enough athlete to make plays with his feet and minimize the number of snaps that result in negative yardage, instead of becoming shaky under pressure and falling on the ball.
His ability to run effectively came to the surface on occasion during 2010, but it must become consistent in 2011 for the Texas offense to be successful.
6. Quit Trying So Hard
It's easy to tell someone in a pressure-packed situation to "quit trying so hard".
It's something different to calm down and let the flow of the game come to you.
Garrett Gilbert has a tendency to try and force the action rather than letting it dictate to him what opportunities are exploitable.
If Gilbert can rediscover a sense of calm in the pocket and an ability to check through his receivers and backs to see what opportunities are being presented, the Texas offense will improve accordingly. If he continues to press and throw into coverage or off-balance, it will not.
5. Complete and Total Understanding of the Texas Offense
The new offensive scheme being installed by Texas co-offensive coordinators Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite has been described as complex and difficult.
During yesterday's spring game, Texas fans had the opportunity to see some of the trickery and unorthodox play-calling which made Harsin a success at Boise State, including an end around and a pitch back, which were both successful.
It's reasonable to assume that many more wrinkles are a part of the new Texas offensive playbook.
For Garrett Gilbert to earn the confidence of his teammates as a leader, he must learn this new system inside-out and upside-down.
There are three important things for Garrett Gilbert to do this summer: study, study, study.
A complete familiarity with the playbook will allow Gilbert to improvise when necessary and feel comfortable doing so.
4. Improvement of Mental Toughness
The best quarterbacks at all levels of football share one ability: the ability to immediately shake off mistakes so another one doesn't result on the next series.
A short-term memory is a quarterback's best friend.
Over the 2010 season, Garrett Gilbert had a tendency to carry the mistakes of one drive over to the next, compounding mistakes and debilitating the offense in the process.
If Gilbert makes a bad throw, forces the action or takes a sack, he must immediately shake it off and focus on the play ahead.
Compounded mistakes can not become habit.
3. Tune Out the Noise
The media pressure surrounding the Texas football program can be a load for any player to handle, especially the starting quarterback.
As the saying often goes, the backup quarterback in Austin is the most popular person on campus, as we have already seen this spring with many calling for Case McCoy or Connor Wood to become the Longhorns' new signal caller.
Given Garrett Gilbert's shaky confidence, its reasonable to assume that he may be letting the pressure of media attention get to him and may be starting to believe some of his own negative press.
Gilbert must rise above the noise and concentrate on the only thing he can really control: his own performance on the field.
2. Greater Leadership by Example
The only way that Garrett Gilbert's Longhorn teammates will truly begin to respect him as a leader is for him to lead by example.
For a quarterback, leading by example means walking the walk, producing in spite of the obstacles thrown in his way during the course of a game.
Colt McCoy and Vince Young found ways to produce and earn the respect of their teammates in the most difficult situations.
Gilbert must find his own swagger and determine how to be consistently productive to do the same. This respect will begin with the summer workouts.
Gilbert should be the first in the weight room and the last to leave, every day. This simple touch will earn quick respect, and a greater command of the playbook could help seal the deal.
1. Respect of His Opportunity
Young kids across Texas dream of one day becoming the starting quarterback of the Texas Longhorns.
When you are actually there, like Garrett Gilbert, it is easy to lose perspective of what wearing the burnt orange and white really means.
It is the symbol of a great tradition in college football.
A symbol of the outstanding quarterbacks which preceded you, including James Street, Major Applewhite, Vince Young and Colt McCoy.
Maybe Gilbert should take a step back, realize what he is playing for, and respect the opportunity he has been given to be a part of one of the greatest traditions in college football.
It is a tradition that can bring much greater opportunity after the college days have passed, if it is treated with the respect and reverence it deserves.