Well we’ve finally reached that time of year where we get our first glimpse of how the Texas Longhorns will look later this fall. The spring game this year in particular is very important for the Longhorns, because not only are they trying to figure out who will start at quarterback, but they are also installing a new offense.
Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard have been the focus of every Longhorn fan this spring, as they anxiously await to see who will take the job by the horns (see what I did there?) and win the job outright. While Swoopes and Heard are high on my priority list, there are some other things I will be focusing during the spring game as well.
With the Longhorns losing key cogs from both sides of the ball, it will be very important that some underclassmen take the next step and fill those shoes.
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1. How is Joe Wickline’s offensive line progressing?
The offensive line was atrocious in 2014. There was plenty of blame to be handed out last year on why the offense couldn’t be consistent from week to week, but if you can’t create holes in the run game or create a steady pocket or your quarterback you are going to have problems. One of the issues that plagued Wickline’s unit was the lack of depth, but with early enrollees like Connor Williams, Tristan Nickelson, Brandon Hodges, and Garrett Thomas already on campus, depth shouldn’t be an issue going forward.
2. Linebacker depth
The linebacker position is probably the biggest question mark on the defense right now. When you have to replace the production of Steve Edmond and Jordan Hicks with players who haven’t taken any snaps in live action you are going to take a step backwards. When Dalton Santos went down earlier in the spring with an ankle injury it only made the situation murkier than it already was. I am interested in seeing how Malik Jefferson and Edwin Freeman are will look now that they will forced into the lineup from the get go. Both were very highly rated recruits when they signed with Texas and both possess athleticism that could go a long way at the linebacker position.
3. Who will step up at wide receiver?
John Harris was a very pleasant surprise in 2014 after having a fairly quiet career and Jaxon Shipley was always Mr. Reliable who you can count on to move the chains. With Harris and Shipley heading for the NFL, the Longhorns are looking for some playmakers to emerge on the perimeter. Dorian Leonard and Jacorey Warrick are two names that coaches have consistently brought up this spring so I will be watching them closely. Marcus Johnson is looking to bounce back from a lackluster year, and coaches seem to be pretty excited about him and the work he has been putting in this spring.
4. Cornerback depth
With Quandre Diggs gone and Duke Thomas banged up this spring, this position worries me just as much as the linebackers do. Sheroid Evans not being able to avoid the injury bug didn’t do this group any favors, as he seemed poised for a breakout year before hurting his knee. Bryson Echols and Antwuan Davis have received the most reps with the first team defense with Thomas and Evans out, and John Bonney seems to have put his stamp on the nickel position vacated by Diggs.
5. The quarterback competition
This is the elephant in the room. It seemed like Swoopes had separated himself from Heard early on in the spring, but now Charlie Strong and Shawn Watson has said that Heard has closed the gap on Swoopes due to his ability to make plays with his feet. I want to see how both young quarterbacks have adjusted to the new offensive philosophies, and most importantly I want to see if I see any progress has been made by Swoopes since the end of the season. Most reports have said that Swoopes’ decision making in the passing game has improved since the new offense has been installed, so I will be paying close attention to see how true that is. While I hope to see drastic improvement from this position, I will dial my optimism back some since the defense is pretty banged up at this time of year.
As I sit and watch the team today, I will try to make sure my expectations are tempered. It is real easy to get too high or get too low at this time of year, so you have to remind yourself that this is just the spring game and that the team is not going to play a real game next week. There is still the summer time and fall camp before we will see the finished product of the offseason, so just try to sit back, relax, and enjoy the fact that we are able to see some form of football.