AUSTIN -- Following an off-season marked by sweeping changes within the football program, Texas coach Mack Brown revealed Monday that the Longhorns' menu for Rice week includes another round of leftovers at starting quarterback.
Listen closely and you can almost hear the boos from a cross-section of Texas fans who were rooting for someone -- anyone -- other than Garrett Gilbert to direct the team's retooled offense under Bryan Harsin, the Longhorns' creative new play-caller.
Gilbert, who felt your wrath during last year's 5-7 season, knows you're out there.
"That's not something that I can worry about, nor focus on," Gilbert said Monday after being declared the winner of a four-man quarterback tussle that has been ongoing since spring drills. "For me, it wasn't ever about proving doubters wrong. It's about improving every day as a teammate, as a leader and as a quarterback. That's all I can concern myself with."
Make no mistake. Gilbert, a five-star signee who threw more interceptions (17) than touchdown passes (10) while starting every game last season, is on a short leash. Brown said the Longhorns' depth chart has changed "hourly" throughout camp and could be altered again before Saturday's opener against Rice.
But don't look for any change at quarterback, where Gilbert is the lone veteran option to lead a squad Brown described as "probably the youngest team I've ever been around" as a college coach. Texas lists seven offensive starters who are freshmen or sophomores. Most view Gilbert, a junior, as a wise sage -- relatively speaking -- because he's the only quarterback who has thrown more than one career pass in college.
Although Gilbert lacks a fiery personality, veteran teammates consider him a leader and say he's made recent strides in that department that cannot be overlooked.
"He's got that voice now, that controlling one," left guard David Snow said.
"You can hear him commanding the huddle and people respond to him," safety Blake Gideon said. "If something's not right, he's going to fix it. That's something you want from your leader and the guy that's going to manage your offense."
Gilbert did not project that persona last fall but said he's made a conscious effort to be more assertive since the start of spring drills. He also showed some fight when Harsin demoted Gilbert to third team after throwing two interceptions in the Longhorns' first fall scrimmage.
When Gilbert responded with two TD passes in the next scrimmage, he moved back atop the depth chart. Harsin considered the temporary demotion a valuable wake-up call.
"You see the competitiveness come out and it's a chance to really go earn it," Harsin said. "He built himself back into the position where he is now. I think that really helped him. It helped us to see him go through that. Now, we feel better about him."
But he's still only a foolish interception away from possibly being benched in favor of backup Case McCoy. Freshman David Ash is a candidate to redshirt, from all indications, and there is speculation that Connor Wood is pondering a transfer, possibly to Colorado.
So the four-man race has become a two-man competition, with Gilbert in the driver's seat. Harsin said Gilbert has "all the tools in his tool box" needed to be an effective leader and successful college quarterback.
But to remain the man, Gilbert must cut down on the turnovers that derailed him and the offense last season. He's already been demoted once during camp. If it happens during the regular season, it could be for keeps.
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