As Texas prepares to put the wrap on spring football drills, defensive coordinator Vance Bedford offered a public confession that would have been unthinkable during the waning stages of last year’s 6-7 season.
The Longhorns’ offense, which ranked next-to-last among Big 12 teams in scoring (22.6 average) and total yards (360.5 per game) in 2014, has been “going up and down the field” against Bedford’s top defense this spring. He expects more of the same in Saturday’s Orange-White scrimmage in Austin, which will mark the first opportunity for fans to gauge the potential of quarterback Jerrod Heard, a redshirt freshman from Denton Guyer who has been the breakthrough player of spring drills.
Heard, a speedy dual threat, led Guyer to consecutive Class 4A state titles during his final two seasons in high school (2012, 2013) but did not take a snap last season after reporting to campus in June for voluntary summer workouts and fall drills. Heard has not wrested the starting job away from incumbent Tyrone Swoopes but he has “really closed the gap” in a competition that will continue into the fall, coach Charlie Strong said.
Criticized by coaches last fall for his inability to grasp the Longhorns’ offense coming out of high school, Heard has delivered enough in spring scrimmages that quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson paid him a major compliment after Wednesday’s practice.
“I told him coming off the field that the single most important thing that’s happened to this football team was his improvement,” Watson said.
Watson, also the Longhorns’ assistant head coach for offense and primary play-caller, tweaked the offense this spring to include more spread and up-tempo elements after Swoopes posted a 5-7 mark as the starter.
Although Swoopes (6-foot-4, 245 pounds) will take the first possession with the starting offense, Heard (6-1, 190) is expected to get a comparable number of snaps with the first unit. Regardless of what happens in today’s spring game, Watson said the job will remain open heading into fall drills, when freshman quarterback signee Kai Locksley joins the fray.
“It wouldn’t be fair to the football team or those guys that are competing to name a starter right now,” Watson said. “It’s been healthy and good for both of them to compete. They’ve both embraced it.”
Watson stressed that he does not want to use a two-quarterback approach next fall, preferring to rely on his starter to carry the offensive load. That is why the spring game looms as a significant litmus test for both candidates.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760
Texas Orange-White scrimmage
1 p.m. Saturday, Longhorn Network