A year ago, Texas quarterback Shane Buechele took control of his spot on the Longhorns’ depth chart with a better performance in the team’s Orange-White spring game than incumbent Tyrone Swoopes.
Buechele, an Arlington Lamar graduate, eventually started all 12 games as an incoming freshman during the team’s 5-7 season. He’ll be pushed for playing time this season by Sam Ehlinger, an incoming freshmen who enrolled in January and has been described as an “alpha male” and a natural leader by first-year coach Tom Herman.
But Herman acknowledged Buechele’s experience at the college level has allowed him to grasp things more quickly during the team’s installation of its new offense. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck said Buechele has proven to be “a very cool customer” who has been able to make effective decisions more quickly than Ehlinger during drills and scrimmages.
Herman has made it clear that competition for starting jobs will continue into fall regardless of what happens during Saturday’s spring game in Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium (1 p.m., Longhorn Network).
But his goal, Herman said earlier this week, is to leave spring drills with “a definitive pecking order of guys that we trust, guys that are on the cusp, guys that are probably a year away and guys that probably aren’t going to be there.”
Toward that end, here are five storylines to track as the Longhorns prepare to close spring drills:
Quarterback battle: Beck said Buechele has been able to adapt more quickly to the new offense and, while quieter than Ehlinger, has shown his leadership skills to the new coaches. “The players do gravitate around him. I think he is a competitor,” Beck said. “He doesn’t always show his emotion on his sleeve … I’m trying to let him know it’s OK to play with passion and emotion and allow that to show.”
Replacing D’Onta Foreman: Chris Warren III, the frontrunner to replace Texas’ departed 2,000-yard rusher, was shut down April 1 because of a hamstring ailment but should be healthy for fall drills. That has shifted the focus to other backs. Sophomore Kyle Porter (ankle), the star of last week’s scrimmage, has been ruled out of the spring game. That probably means an extended look at Toneil Carter, a heralded incoming freshman who enrolled in January, as well as other young, unproven backs.
Increased intensity: Herman has stressed physicality during practices and, at one point, urged the “fat guys” in his defensive line to lose weight. Earlier this week, Herman praised defensive tackle Poona Ford (5-foot-11, 303 pounds) as someone who has flashed the “fanatical, championship effort that you need to play with” on every snap during spring drills.
Young receivers: Two receivers who have shined in spring drills combined for just two receptions last season: freshman Reggie Hemphill-Mapps, who was redshirted, and Lil’ Jordan Humphrey (two catches, 15 yards), a sophomore from Southlake Carroll.
More forced turnovers: Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, who spent the last two seasons with Herman at Houston, seeks to improve Texas’ minus-3 finish in turnover margin last season. The Longhorns forced just 20 turnovers in 12 games (10 fumble recoveries, 10 interceptions). Although the schemes project to be basic on both sides of the ball in Saturday’s game, Herman said: “You should still be able to see a defensive line that flies to the football, 11 hats to the football, and is getting takeaways.”
Texas Orange-White game
1 p.m. Saturday, Longhorn Network