The increased emphasis on physicality and the zone-read game offensively resulted in some big changes for the Texas Longhorns during the spring, including the three young back-up quarterbacks wearing burnt orange jerseys during the spring game on Saturday that indicated they could be tackled during the scrimmage.
All that after the first scrimmage featured some live work from quarterback David Ash, who scored a touchdown and ran for another significant gain, though both he and Case McCoy wore their black no-contact jerseys, as the coaches decided not to take any risks with their top two signal-callers.
Co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite said after the game that the coaching staff felt it would be a chance to learn more about the back ups and how they deal with game-like situations:
Not having the opportunity to get any live snaps or hits on them and always being redshirted [no contact in drills], we just wanted them to get more of a feel for the game. I thought it was a good idea to get them live and see if they would bounce back from a shot and be able to protect the ball.
Of the three young quarterbacks, getting a look at early enrollee Tyrone Swoopes with live tackling was the most important. One of the question marks surrounding his jump from small-school 2A football in north Texas to the high-speed college football game was how his running ability would translate, especially after his 40 time was uninspiring at The Opening last summer.
To the extent that those questions could be answered in one drive, they were. Swoopes shook off a high tackle attempt from Shiro Davis for his 21-yard scramble and trucked Josh Turner at the end of his next effort, which featured a decisive escape through an opening on the right side of the line. His final effort was probably his best, as he avoided sure tackles from Peter Jinkens and Jordan Hicks to nearly pick up a 3rd and goal from the 8, finishing two yards short.
As a runner, Swoopes doesn't look much like Vince Young, as mentioned in the post-game recap, but he does in one sense -- his ability to stand tall and strong and shake off arm tackles with good balance. Some might want to continue to criticize the tackling efforts of Texas defenders, but the inclination here is to give Swoopes credit for his size and strength.
The question now becomes whether or not Texas should continue with tentative plans to redshirt Swoopes, who did also complete both of his passes, including an dump-off pass to Malcolm Brown in the flat that wasn't easy to deliver under heavy pressure.
Case McCoy essentially is who he is at this point -- a good back up who still struggles with decision-making at times, as evidenced by his hopeful lob that was intercepted and returned by junior cornerback Sheroid Evans. He should be serviceable in that role as much more reliable than Swoopes with his accuracy and command of the offense. Not to mention his prodigious moxie.
Allowing the defense the opportunity to tackle Jalen Overstreet also helped unleash the other true dual-threat on the Texas roster. While it was disappointing not to see Overstreet throw the football much, as he mostly had to take off and run in drop-back situations, his athleticism was impressive to see in live action, although it did come against a defense that featured mostly walk ons.
Without knowing more about where he is a a passer, it's tough to start talking about a potential move to other positions because it's not clear if that is warranted yet, but there's no question that he has enough athleticism to play wide receiver or linebacker. At some point, all that athleticism may force the Texas coaches to find away to get him onto the field. Now that Swoopes has moved in front of him on the depth chart, there's an increasing likelihood that when Overstreet does see the field, it won't be as a quarterback.
If the coaches do want to get develop a running package for Swoopes or Overstreet, putting in Overstreet would seem to make more sense -- he's faster and more dynamic in short areas, in addition to the fact that Texas wouldn't need to burn a redshirt to get the Tatum product onto the field.
For Connor Brewer, a much more pocket-bound passer, the decision to allow him to get hit didn't make much of a difference in terms of what he was able to show out there, though his arm strength did look slightly better, even if his opposite-hash-to-sideline throws still don't inspire a great deal of confidence in his ability to make them against fast defensive backs capable of driving on those efforts.
All in all, the decision to allow live tackling was one that surely aided with the evaluation and development of Swoopes and Overstreet, even if it didn't result in a gaining any particular knowledge about Brewer in terms of his pocket presence or running ability. It was a calculated risk by the Texas coaches, but one that paid off both in helping the team and in providing a higher level of fan enjoyment.