For better or worse, the Texas Longhorn quarterback situation continues to be a hot-button topic. And despite what head coach Mack Brown seems to think, Texas fans don't actually want a quarterback controversy. Last season featured enough of that for some time.
The whole topic is essentially a dead horse now beaten completely to a pulp. All rather obscene, really. But Brown did make both sophomore David Ash and junior Case McCoy available to the media, so there seems to be some obligation here to pass along what they said.
Deep sigh. Here we go.
Prospective starter Ash, now reportedly healthy after the Great Hamstring Scare a little more than a week ago, acknowledged the lack of control he has over the situation. The lack of control possessed by anyone other than Brown:
It's out of y'alls hands. It's out of my hands. It's in Coach Brown's hands and whenever it happens, it happens. The more you talk about it doesn't mean it's going to speed up or slow down. Y'all aren't going to pick it, and when it happens, it happens.
While some coaches might be unsettled by entering fall practice without a starter at quarterback, Brown sounded like he was fine with the process unfolding as it may:
They will be the ones to have it done when they make the decision for us, and then we will make it. I do think that some people panic over it and say it should have been done in June, should have been done in spring. I love the fact that if you're not really sure and it's not clearcut that the guys have had to compete and lead the team all summer.
The players will have a much better feel now than leaving spring practice who has had the best summer and who has been the best leader and who organized the sevenonsevens and who do they believe in right now. I've talked to enough of them. I've got some ideas about what they think.
And now what we'll do is, we'll tell them tonight, we are going to make that decision, not you all. So you all fight for both of them, but we have also said that everybody needs to help us at quarterback right now to get that position back and get the confidence.
Brown was optimistic that both candidates will be improved from where they were months ago at the conclusion of spring practice, as well some other things coming together that should benefit the offense as a whole:
But I think we will see David and Case so much better in the morning than they were when they even left spring practice because they have had the same offense, the same coach, the same players. That we should have a better group of players on offense than we had last year because we lost very few and a lot of the guys are coming back and they know something about the offense we are trying to run. And the offense has settled down where we want to be and where we want to go. So I'm not panicked over when it's done. I think the worst thing you can do is make it too early and make the wrong decision.
Perhaps there are some lessons from the whole Garrett Gilbert situation last year in here, though the coaching staff likely didn't have much of a choice -- with the only real experience on the team, it would have been hard to name someone else a starter. A discussion for another day.
Ash had an interesting analogy for the situation he was in last season:
We don't expect babies to write novels. Freshmen quarterbacks don't usually break open the record books and win championships. But we do expect babies to grow and learn and grow up. I've had a year to grow up and that's what I'm excited about.
Go write a novel then, David.
On something of a roll, Ash followed with a Malcolm Gladwell reference when talking about the value of repetition and putting in the work:
The more you're around something, the more comfortable you become with something and it becomes instinctive. They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. The longer you can be in something and surrounded by it, the more it becomes instinctive.
Taking advantage of every rep is a crucial step to making that jump as a player, but there are also some higher-level thought processes that are necessary, too:
Most young quarterbacks don't understand the value of a rep, so every rep I get - whether I'm warming up or whatever. How's this throw going to be made in the game? This throw off of this play how will I need to make it? How will I need to make this throw when the defender is positioned a certain way? Those are the things you have to do every second you have a football in your hand, and being able to do that for another year is going to help.
There's no question that the Holiday Bowl was a big step in Ash's devleopment. The train-wreck of a performance in the Kansas State game indicated that Ash's confidence was at a low and that he needed to spend some time on the bench -- that's just where he was. He needed to re-group. To have some controlled reps to learn the offense, for the game to slow down.
During the lead-up to the Cal game, Ash was able to grow his understanding of the offense, recover his confidence, and translate his understanding of the gameplan to his play on the field.
It was good to know that I can win a ballgame. I understood how to play that game. Also, it helped me trust what the coaches told me because they told me how to play that game. I did what they told me, and it worked. That built trust between us. So we will continue to build that relationship and hopefully [the coaches] can trust me with more and more.
The thought here is that the repetitions from the bowl games helped with Ash's understanding of the expectations being placed upon him to make a significant difference in his on-field play.
Throwing eight interceptions to only four touchdown passes illustrated the adjustment period that Ash went through, both in terms of understanding what the coaches wanted from him, but also in understanding the speed of the game:
Some of it's mental and some of it's understanding how college football works. In high school, it didn't matter what coverage it was I could fit it in anywhere. Now it's faster. I need to be careful with the ball more. It's understanding risks and that the team that doesn't turn the ball over usually wins.
Jeff Howe of Hookem.com did a good job of emphasizing this in his story on David Ash ($), but the kid was a gunslinger in high school. I remember walking up to a Belton 7-on-7 game at the state tournament and seeing Ash fit a ball into an extremely small window, a display both of his arm strength and his confidence that he could hit those tight spots. I turned to the person I was with, someone who has been in the industry for a long time, and arched my eyebrows. He nodded in agreement with my positive non-verbal appraisal. Big-time stuff, but also dangerous.
Last season, those windows that were open in high school were closed to him and he probably didn't have the comfort level to make the right pre-snap reads on a consistent basis due to his lack of familiarity with the offense in general. It's been said before in this space, but it bears repeating -- Ash was walking to the line of scrimmage making sure that he knew the play and all the shifts and motions involved. His mind was wrapped up in making sure things were ready to go on the offensive side of the ball, not walking up scanning the defense to detect weak points.
Which isn't an excuse for throwing interceptions, but rather the necessary context to help gaining the perspective to predict whether he can reduce the turnovers moving forward. Again, the returns ever since December have been positive.
Moving forward, Ash believes he has the toughness to overcome adversity if he faces it again, even if the returns in that regard were hardly positive last year:
Every game you play there's going to come a point where it's hard and you have to ride any tough period like that. I've always thought of myself as a tough player who can be resilient through anything. I don't feel like I've struggled with being tough. I did my share of hauling hay growing up and breathing alfalfa in the heat, getting kicked by cows and stuff like that. It doesn't feel good.
The stories sound a lot like some of the summers that Colt McCoy spent growing up, and Ash certainly has a similar small-town background having come from Belton. However, the question isn't really about Ash's physical toughness, which is what he's talking about. The question is how he responds to adversity, which he did noticeably poorly against Missouri and Kansas State, when he seemed to completely lose all feel for the game.
As a corollary, Ash also needs to demonstrate improved leadership qualities to truly seize control of the position. Watching him in high school, he wasn't a vocal leader with his teammates. In fact, the first time I saw him at 7-on-7, he would stand by himself between series, flipping the football into the air repeatedly in notable contrast to the middle linebacker, who was vocal in providing approbation or constructive criticism and constantly had thoughts about what the offense was running.
Even on Sunday, Ash seemed to struggle a bit to define leadership:
What is leadership? I don't know. People say it's a lot of different things. When you come down to it, it's a real abstract term that has a different meaning to a lot of people.
A bit of a cop-out answer from Ash, who did actually manage to go on to come up with at least some sort of definition later on:
You want to walk into a huddle and the ten guys looking back at you, you want them to believe you can get them in the end zone. On 3rd-and-whatever it may be, that you'll convert and they believe in you. That motivates them to play hard.
Well, that's a start, at least, and better than his first answer.
During the summer, there were several points of emphasis for Ash:
This summer I worked on accuracy. I worked on foot quickness. The biggest thing I worked on was getting in the film room and trying to understand this offense – front-and-back and sideways-and-edgewise. I tried to spend time with the players – getting to know the young guys and building a relationship with everyone.
The accuracy is key for Ash, who struggled at times with his deep passes, especially against Missouri, when it seemed like he was just chunking the ball downfield and hoping that something good would happen. Good things did not happen.
As with coaching, playing quarterback is a bottom-line profession, and Ash recognizes that:
I just want to win games -- that's the bottom line. I just want to win all of the games. Losing is horrible. I hate losing. I'll never get used to losing and I'll never accept a loss. I do know how to move on and forget things.
Hopefully Ash, and the Longhorns in general, will have to deal less with losing this season.
As for McCoy, he was significantly less quotable on the day, but did say that he's improved his arm strength after adding 15 pounds. Mack Brown wasn't exactly clear about what it addition was made that increased lil McCoy's weight:
He weighed 185 at the end of the Cal game, and he weighs 200 pounds right now. He also gained four pounds of muscle, muscle mass and really cut his body fat.
Sounds like some fuzzy math, Mack. You may want to go back and make those calculations again.
The point here though is that McCoy is now up to a playing weight that matches his older brother's weight when he played his third season in the Texas program -- Colt was also listed at 200 pounds during his redshirt sophomore season.
Case had some thoughts about how he improved over the summer:
I improved on a lot of things. I improved on the way I interact with the entire team. I learned to lead different guys in different ways. Also, I've improved my arm strength. I tried to build up my weaknesses and play to the best of my abilities with my strengths. I learned more about myself and about how to play a game that is faster and stronger than at the high school level.
All good things, but it would have been heartening to hear him talk about his footwork, which was an absolute mess both last season and during the spring. More so than pure arm strength, McCoy's upside is completely dependent on improving in that air, because until he does, he's still going to have issues with the ball coming out of his hand wrong, something that arm strength doesn't improve simply by itself.
I now consider my obligations to talk about the quarterbacks fulfilled until a starter is announced or there is some other significant news upon which to comment. Thank you.