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Coach Charlie Strong says Texas' QB race is 'wide open'

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas' latest quarterback competition, a five-man race that coach Charlie Strong is calling "wide open," officially got underway Monday at the Longhorns' first spring practice.

The early frontrunner is senior Tyrone Swoopes, who got the first reps with Texas' No. 1 offense. He has a slight edge on Jerrod Heard, the Longhorns' starter for 10 games the past season, with true freshman Shane Buechele running third.

Strong said all three, along with redshirt freshmen Kai Locksley and Matthew Merrick, have clean slates and fair shots to prove they can run the scheme that new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert is installing. Strong is confident the top contenders will separate themselves early.

"It'll be enough reps where we'll know fairly quickly who the guy will be," Strong said Monday. "I think you'll be able to see it."

Swoopes, Texas' starter going into 2015, was benched after a 38-3 loss at Notre Dame but developed into a valuable threat as a power rusher. He picked up 451 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on 74 carries and led a 24-17 road upset of Baylor in Texas' season finale.

Whether it's Swoopes or someone else, Strong is hoping to have a decision by the end of spring practice. He'll leave that to Gilbert, who was hired from Tulsa in December to build a Baylor-style, up-tempo offense.

"Sterlin, whoever he's comfortable with, he'll be able to know that right away," Strong said. "We'll give the guys enough reps to where he'll be able to place them in that position. Then he can just say, 'Hey, this is the guy we've got to go with.'"

Heard had an up-and-down redshirt freshman campaign, in which he threw for 1,214 yards and rushed for 556 yards with eight total touchdowns. Despite the experience he and Swoopes provide, Strong said he wouldn't rule out the possibility of playing Buechele, a true freshman who enrolled early, if he proves to be the most capable option.

"We've had two guys that played a lot last season. Now you've got some more guys that are pushing them," Strong said. "You're just hoping that at some point that someone will rise up and become the guy there."