Texas Quarterbacks: Separation Week?

Asked about the performance of Garrett Gilbert, new Texas co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin spoke broadly about the competition. Harsin's fellow co-coordinator was not nearly so coy, mentioning Gilbert and true freshman David Ash by name.

Harsin did clear up any doubt about splitting repetitions early in the season, saying that the Longhorns will have a starting quarterback to face Rice. Whether the starter lasts any distance into the season received no mention, in large part because neither Harsin nor Applewhite would be willing to lock the Texas offensive into a quarterback long-term without strong performances on the field.

Gilbert may be entitled to the extent that he's favored by virtue of experience and necessarily in repetitions in practice -- not all four options can split the available time in live drills evenly, there simply isn't enough. As a result, Gilbert had more opportunities through the split youth/veteran practices to begin the fall session, with Case McCoy receiving the second most. Pecking order, in my opinion.

But Mack Brown clearly laid out what the Texas quarterback must do this fall:

The biggest thing is leadership. You have got to have great leadership at that position. You have got to protect the ball, and you have got to be able to put the ball in the end zone. And other than that it doesn’t matter.

Ha! Not much there, Mack, huh? Except the three major things a quarterback must do well and the three major things that the incumbent starter Gilbert did so exceedingly poorly throughout this first and only season as a starter.

Unsurprisingly, separation didn't happen during the summer with the coaching away from the players, leaving the coaches hoping for some of that sweet separation by the second week of practice. To seize the job, Gilbert, McCoy, Wood, or Ash must win the "competitive drills" through which the coaches will seek that separation, according to Brown:

Every pass will be charted to see who has the most completions and who is the most accurate. It will be when we are in competitive drills and when we are not. We will have a lot more third down scrimmage situations to see who is making the third downs. We will have a lot more red zone situations. And we’ll put them in a lot more critical competitive situations than you would if you just knew who the quarterback was going to be, and you weren’t trying to separate them.

While the Eyes of Texas won't have a chance to take in any aspect of the competition with practices once again closed to fans, the eyes of each member of the offensive staff -- from Mack Brown to Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite to the quality control staff -- will look for any glint of that separation.

As Harsinwhite collectively pointed out, It could happen this weekend during the team's first scrimmage of the fall -- that will be the beginning at least -- with an emphasis on managing situations like the third and long and red zone plays with which Texas struggled so mightily in 2010. Simply scoring more touchdowns in the red zone could have a tremendous impact on both sides of the football.

Could David Ash separate? Buzz surrounded the Belton product from the moment he stepped onto campus early and possessed the most imposing frame and best ability to spin the football of any gunslinger on the 40.

Continuing into the fall, repetitions for Ash remained limited, but his impression on anyone observing workouts remained strong, even the Major:

"He’s done a great job of understanding the scheme. He’s a physical specimen, just a big kid. He’s very strong. He has a natural feel to him about the position. He’s done really well.

That and he also might throw the best football on the team, combining the arm strength and accuracy that none of the other contenders seem to possess in equal measures.

The sturdy Ash improved by leaps and bounds his senior season, rewarding the potential seen by Greg Davis at the Texas camp following an injury-plagued junior season. The villainized long-time coordinator opted for Ash over the consensus top quarterback in the state, Denton Guyer's JW Walsh, a coaches son himself, a decision increasingly validated with every glowing report emerging from the program.

After only months in the program, Ash could be setting himself up as the back-up to Garrett Gilbert and emerge as the heir apparent if the likely starter falters early in the season. A spring-game performance that saw a poor decision on a three-man play-action route that resulted in an easy interception and the sack he took in the redzone on a ball that should have been thrown away hardly indicated advancement from the 17-interception 2010 campaign.

Still, all the speculation about which quarterback will separate loses track of the timeline. Will it happen during this week, when the coaches will so crossly track each play, each decision? This weekend during the first scrimmage?

The head coach believes the decision will likely last deeper into fall practice. Brown referenced the last real quarterback battle for the team, Longhorn legend Colt McCoy holding off the upstart Jevan Snead and claiming a job he would not relinquish until he became the winningest quarterback in total victories during the NCAA's existence.

But how much easier is it to determine a starter between only two candidates, not twice the number? And how much did it help public perception that McCoy seized control of the job in a way generally unexpected upon his elevation to starter?

I mean, half the competition hasn't even received mention here, class of 2010 quarterbacks Connor Wood and Case McCoy, the two quarterbacks also not mentioned during the Harsinwhite presser.

What's alarming for the Gilbert-haters and those fans in the middle simply waiting for one of the four candidates to seize control is the fresh memory of the Chris Simms-Major Applewhite debacle that lingers so close to the surface despite a nation championship victory and another opportunity.

Yet, in the aftermath of that sobering comparison, the light of Harsinwhite's brilliance shines through. Anticipated brilliance, that is. For it seems that any knowledgeable mind of the intricacies of the game known as football in this country would respect the success of Bryan Harsin and the potential of Major Applewhite molding together to form one of the most advanced offenses in the country.

It's undoubtedly a burnt-orange Kool Aid every reasonably optimistic Horns fan drinks, believing that the right choice will end up behind center this season, whatever trials and tribulations may come. No development from Gilbert approaching the conference schedule? Pull the trigger, and may the top talent take over. Harsin and Applewhite have it under control. Right?

Hope so. Despite the desire for separation, it probably won't be an easy choice.

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