Two seasons after he underwhelmed as the emergency starter and one season after he was stripped of his starting duties after one game, Tyrone Swoopes might somehow be the best option Texas coach Charlie Strong has heading into the critically important 2016 season.
Texas fans might find that bit of news hard to swallow. The ghost of Colt McCoy is still hovering over a program that hasn’t produced a quality signal caller since the kid from tiny Tuscola delivered the Horns back to college football’s biggest game following the 2009 season.
The Longhorns, who failed to make a bowl game after last season’s 5-7 finish, started six weeks of spring practice Monday by putting in a no-huddle, up-tempo offense that comes from the Art Briles family tree. Strong might feel better if he had one of Briles’ quarterbacks to run it.
He doesn’t, and so the senior Swoopes, Strong told reporters, would “probably” start with the first group. And he did, mostly because of seniority. Sophomore Jerrod Heard took over for Swoopes early last season with a flash of brilliance, but then showed he was far more advanced with his legs than his arm.
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Strong declared the five-man quarterback race “wide open.” Perhaps the most intriguing wild card of the group is early enrollee Shane Buechele from Arlington Lamar. The son of former Texas Rangers third baseman and bench coach Steve Buechele received rave reviews as a strong-armed passer at each high-profile prospect camp he attended.
The remaining two candidates are redshirt freshmen Kai Locksley and Matthew Merrick.
“The slate is clean with these quarterbacks,” Strong told reporters Monday. “(They) are going to have a good battle. It will be wide open.”
Yet, with seemingly so much unsettled, and no sure-fine candidate for the position, Strong surprisingly then told reporters that he hopes to have the QB situation cleared up by the time spring drills end next month.
“I hope we’re not talking about it in the fall,” Strong said. “I hope by the end of the spring we at least say, ‘Hey, we feel comfortable with this guy.’”
New offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert will make the final decision as to who will be under center when Notre Dame arrives in Austin for the season opener on Sept. 3. It’s an incredibly critical decision for Gilbert and Strong, who knows his long-term fortunes with the Longhorns are directly tied to the quarterback play, and winning games.
“The team is going to go as the quarterback goes,” Strong said. “We have the numbers there. It’s about who is going to step and be that guy.”