Texas coach Charlie Strong is entering a critical Year 3. He needs to win football games. And a coach who needs to win football games generally doesn’t put his trust in a true freshman quarterback.
However, if that coach is convinced he doesn’t have a better option, then he might just go with his gut. It’s way too early to gauge how Strong’s gut feels about Shane Buechele, the former Arlington Lamar star, but with sophomore-to-be Jerrod Heard out with a shoulder injury, Buechele is suddenly thrust into the No. 2 spot behind senior-to-be Tyrone Swoopes.
New offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert will have a huge say, if not the final say, about which quarterback will be first to run his up-tempo, spread attack. Would he play a freshman?
“You play the best guy,” Gilbert told reporters last week during his first spring meeting with the media. “I have been around where we have played some young guys and seen it been successful. You just play the guy and the people around him have to raise their play and do their job as well.”
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It appears Heard’s shoulder strain could keep him out for the remainder of the spring. He would also seem to be the logical choice to start the 2016 season against Notre Dame on Sept. 3. He has the experience from last season, although his passing acumen did not match his explosiveness as a runner.
Swoopes’ greatest success last season came in the “18-wheeler” package the Longhorns employed on goal-line and short-yardage situations. He used his size and power to pound into the end zone, but in two seasons, Swoopes has not shown the ability to lead the offense as its every down signal caller.
Of course, all things have to be taken into consideration when discussing Texas’ horrific offense the past two seasons. It failed to produce an identity or any consistency, and never managed to develop dangerous playmakers beyond Heard and his ability to turn it upfield.
Gilbert has more young talent to throw into the mix in 2016, and that could make an instant impact for any of the quarterback candidates.
Buechele brings intangibles that could work in his favor even as the youngest quarterback on the roster. He grew up the son of Major League Baseball player Steve Buechele, and has quickly shown a strong intellect and maturity since arriving at Texas in January.
To successfully captain Gilbert’s offense, the coordinator told reporters last week that the quarterback, aside from being able to fling it around with accuracy, must possess a high football IQ.
Here’s how he then went on to describe Buechele:
“He’s headsy. He’s got a live arm about him. He carries himself well. He’s got a high football IQ, competitive and just a guy that he’s urgent about what he does and how he does it. But he’s got a lot of room for growth and improvement.”
The Longhorns are still searching for that next great quarterback since Colt McCoy left the program following the 2009 season. Kai Locksley and Matthew Merrick will also try to get into the conversation for next season’s starting job.
McCoy had the benefit of redshirting under Vince Young. It gave him a year to get in the weight room and add some bulk to his frame, which would likely do Buechele, listed on Texas’ roster at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, some good.
Buechele, though, might not be afforded that time to work behind the scenes. Heard will likely be 100 percent by the time camp rolls around, and then the race will be on. If Buechele demonstrates enough physical skill to go along with the mental side, he could give Gilbert and Strong something to think about.
With Heard now out, Buechele has all the more opportunity to begin to state his case.