DALLAS -- Texas Longhorns coach Mack Brown brought an entourage into the interview room Tuesday for his session at the Big 12 media day at the Westin Galleria.
In a strange scene, a dozen cheerleaders, from seven of the conference's schools, followed Brown and stood to the side of the stage while he spoke with media members. Brown said the cheerleaders were going to help him with hard questions.
They were his backup.
Turns out, the most difficult questions were all about the quarterback: who will start and who will be the backup.
Junior Case McCoy and sophomore David Ash split time as starting quarterbacks last season and traded possessions during games. Right now, Brown can't give either the starting job.
"They left spring practice even," said Brown, the only coach to bring a cheer squad to one of the morning sessions. "Talking to the guys, they've had a very competitive summer. Both of them are in the mix. We should have a great battle at that position in the preseason."
Going into 2011, the Longhorns were in a similar position. Texas had four possible starters, including Ash and McCoy.
"I think this thing is a lot closer," Brown said. "I think you need to wait and see. From what I'm hearing, it's a battle. I don't think it's a done deal."
Both players had up-and-down seasons in 2011. Ash played in all 13 games as a freshman, starting six. He finished 98-for-173 passing for 1,068 yards with four touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also picked up 103 yards rushing with a TD. McCoy played in 11 games, starting five, and finished 89-for-145 for 1,045 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions.
"What we need is a guy who can manage the game and protect the ball," Brown said. "David is a bigger, stronger, better runner than Case. Case is quick and can make people miss him. Case is really good throwing the ball on the move. Both of them are tough and have won in high school."
While Texas should have a powerful rushing attack this season, Brown said reaching balance on offense will be crucial for success and having a play-action passing threat will be important.
"We have to throw the ball better," Brown said. "We have got to have more explosive plays out of our passing game."
So far in summer workouts, McCoy and Ash have impressed their teammates.
"They've both grown, and it's not just one guy who is pulling away and making himself a clear leader," said junior offensive lineman Mason Walters, the Longhorns' only offensive player in Dallas on Tuesday. "They have both worked hard over the summer, and camp will be the first time we've seen them in a football environment since spring ball. We will get to see who has done more."
A quarterback controversy can be draining with players fielding a constant stream of questions about which player should start, but Walters said the Longhorns' focus won't waver.
"A lot of positions are open for competition, so why not quarterback?" Walters said. "I hope only the decision-making process is scrutinized. I think once we pick somebody, the quarterback will be good. They are both good players."
Playing quarterback for the Longhorns comes with pressure to be great. Two minutes into his news conference, Brown had already mentioned two recent Texas legends: Vince Young, who delivered a national championship in 2005, and Colt McCoy, who took the Longhorns to the 2009 title game.
Brown doesn't expect Ash or McCoy to play at that level, but he hopes they help Texas win.
Having multiple options at quarterback might be an advantage for the Longhorns. Brown cited former quarterback McCoy's injury in the '09 championship game against Alabama, when Texas lost without an experienced backup.
"Right now, we are going to play to the strengths of the two-quarterback system," Brown said. "The negative about two is that it can get confusing from a leadership standpoint. It could get confusing with chemistry. The positive thing about having two is that if one is not playing well, the other one can come off the bench with experience. And if one gets hurt, you can put a guy in with experience immediately."
Brent Shirley, 817-390-7760