Saturday, April 19, 2014
Strong era begins at Texas with shaky QB play
AUSTIN, Texas -- The Charlie Strong era began at Texas with a shaky performance at quarterback and few questions answered about just how quickly the Longhorns can rebound in the Big 12 under their new coach.
With next season's presumed starter David Ash not playing because of a foot injury, Tyrone Swoopes took all the snaps with the first-team offense in the Longhorns' annual spring scrimmage. Swoopes rallied from a poor start to finish with 229 yards and three touchdowns against the second-team defense. But he likely did little to establish himself as the potential top-flight quarterback the Longhorns have lacked for several seasons if Ash's injury problems persist.
Ash missed most of last season with concussion symptoms but had been cleared to return in the spring. His injury left Swoopes as the only scholarship quarterback available for the scrimmage.
Strong had planned to play the starters against each other, but instead opted to pit the first-team offense against the second-team defense to help give Swoopes a confidence boost. But Swoopes threw an interception on his first attempt and was just 7 of 17 passing until a desperation heave at the end of the first half turned into a touchdown catch by Daje Johnson.
Swoopes was better in the second half, throwing touchdowns to Malcolm Brown and Jaxon Shipley. Strong said he liked that Swoopes rebounded from the poor start, but acknowledged he hasn't gotten the play he wanted at quarterback this spring.
"We're going to have to get better there, whether it's David or Swoopes or someone else," Strong said.
The Longhorns signed one quarterback in their 2014 recruiting class, Jerrod Heard, who will arrive on campus in June. Texas is also courting USC transfer Max Wittek, who has yet to announce his destination.
Texas hasn't had consistent play there since Colt McCoy was injured in the 2010 national championship game against Alabama. Since then, the Longhorns haven't won more than nine games in a season or won the Big 12.
Strong was hired in January to replace Mack Brown and turn around that trend of mediocrity. After 15 days of spring practice, Strong said the team still has a lot of work to do.
"I don't know how good we can be," Strong said, adding: "I wish I had 15 more days of practice, but I don't."
Here are five things to take away from Texas' spring scrimmage:
QUARTERBACK: Still the great unknown. Swoopes' final numbers -- 17-of-30 passing against the second-team defense -- will look much better than the first half when the offense managed just 100 total yards on 37 plays until his heave to Johnson. Swoopes made a sparkling throw on a 44-yard touchdown pass to Shipley in the second half.
Strong insisted he wasn't looking for Swoopes to take over the position with one spring game.
RUNNING GAME: Texas' running game remains the strength of the offense. Malcolm Brown rushed for 82 yards and scored two touchdowns. Jalen Overstreet, seldom used last season, gained 68 yards, most of it against the first-team defense. Johnathan Gray, who is still recovering from an Achilles tendon injury, didn't play.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Texas' revamped offensive line was spotty. The starters allowed four sacks to the second-team defense, including the first time Swoopes dropped back to pass. The rules made it easy for the defense, however, allowing a sack for simply touching the quarterback.
Texas has to replace four starters on the line next season.
"We weren't in sync," center Dominic Espinosa said.
KICKING GAME: Nick Rose showed a strong leg on a missed 55-yard field goal try in the first quarter that had plenty of distance but sailed wide right. He made a 40-yarder in the second quarter. Texas must replace Anthony Fera, who was 20 of 22 on field goals last season and was one of the top kickers in the country.
LINEBACKER: Demarco Cobbs had eight tackles and returned with a flourish after missing the 2013 season with a knee injury. A healthy and productive Cobbs would give Texas some much-needed depth at a position that was a weak spot in the defense last season.