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Spring game review: Texas

4/20/2015
Play4:46
Longhorns were on display for Texas spring game

The Texas quarterback battle heated up between Jerrod Heard and Tyrone Swoopes on Saturday. Courtesy - Longhorn Network

The Texas Longhorns held their annual Orange-White spring scrimmage in front of about 20,000 fans on Saturday afternoon. Here’s a rundown of what happened:

Best offensive performance: Running back D'Onta Foreman got his chance to shine on a day in which Johnathan Gray's workload was relatively light. The true sophomore churned out 81 rushing yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, including a nice 28-yard gain when he found space on a sweep.

"It's always fun when you watch big D'Onta run behind his pads," head coach Charlie Strong said. "He's a guy that can run behind his pads and move people out of the way."

Though he didn’t get many chances in 2014 behind Gray and Malcolm Brown, Foreman brings a nice dose of power to the equation. With redshirt freshman Duke Catalon and three incoming freshmen also in the mix, Texas should have serious competition in the fall to determine who’s first off the bench to relieve Gray. Right now, Foreman has to like his chances.

Best defensive performance: Strong showed junior defensive end Bryce Cottrell a lot of love after the spring game, going so far as to call him the surprise of the spring. "He’s coming out of his shell," Strong said, and playing with far more confidence. It showed on Saturday: five tackles, two tackles for loss and a 7-yard sack.

The No. 2 offensive line had a rough time containing Cottrell, who has played in 20 games but should make his first starts this fall. Before the scrimmage, defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said Cottrell and Shiro Davis will split the strongside defensive end job 50/50 this season. It’s a lot easier to see why now.

Best debut: Malik Jefferson, Texas’ most hyped and popular signee since Gray, took care of business in his first appearance in burnt orange. Playing inside linebacker with the No. 2 defense, he made five stops -- including a nice takedown of Foreman in the backfield -- and arguably the play of the day by retreating from a blitz to strip Daje Johnson and set up Edwin Freeman">Edwin Freeman's 33-yard touchdown return.

"Malik is just so athletic," Strong said. "He made a lot of plays."

Jefferson ended up at inside ‘backer after Dalton Santos went down with an ankle injury this month. Santos and Timothy Cole are still the front-runners to start at that spot, but Jefferson’s decision to enroll early certainly paid off. Once he gets all caught up, he’s going to be a force.

Developing storyline: Can Jerrod Heard win Strong over by the end of August? The head coach tried to shut down any talk of a quarterback controversy after the scrimmage by reiterating that Tyrone Swoopes is his No. 1 quarterback at the moment.

Still, all the praise of Heard’s progress last week is reflective of the fact he turned 15 practices into a much tighter race than most expected. The redshirt freshman will have to do much, much more during fall camp to convince Strong and the staff he gives the Horns the best chance of winning at Notre Dame on Sept. 5.

"It's going to be fun just going into the summer with those two guys still battling it out," Strong said.

Biggest question answered: We won’t know the real answer until Texas plays a game that matters and finds itself in a pressure situation, but the Longhorns’ special teams situation isn’t as bad as some might have feared. Nick Rose had a great day, connecting on field goals from 42, 52, 49 and 31 yards. New punter Mitchell Becker put three of his five punts inside the 20. Texas should be OK at returner if Johnson can be relied upon, but he did muff one punt return Saturday. At least there are lots of other speedsters who can take on those duties. It’s not a team strength, but Texas’ special teams shouldn’t be as much of a weakness as in 2014.

Quotable: "Well, what happened, he threw one of those balls out of bounds, and it hit the kid in the face. So I just told him go over and see the young man and check on him. I don't know, I didn't really see it, I just know the young man was holding his nose or mouth. You don't want to see that happen to anyone." -- Strong, explaining why he sent Swoopes over to visit an injured young fan near the bleachers late in the scrimmage.