The Texas Longhorns wrapped up their 15th and final spring practice on Saturday evening in front of about 10,000 fans at Darrell K Royal Texas-Memorial Stadium with the annual Orange-White game.
The scoreboard gave a final score that mostly pitted the first-team offense and the second-team defense against the first-team defense and the second-team offense, but as with all of these events, the final score was much less important than the overall takeaways.
Tyrone Swoopes the star of the first half
No player or set of plays drew a bigger response from the crowd than the work of early enrollee Tyrone Swoopes, who played only one series, but made a huge impact in doing so.
The player who was treated with such skepticism weeks ago seemed to quickly become a fan favorite with his work against the first-team defense late in the first half.
Donned in a game-like burnt orange jersey top that indicated he was fair game for defenders to hit, Swoopes was able to showcase the athleticism and playmaking ability that had so many so high on him back in the spring of 2011 when he made it onto the Texas recruiting radar.
While looking solid on a couple of relatively easy throws, it was the ability to improve of Swoopes that drew the attention of those in attendance. He rolled out of pressure on one play and was able to take the edge, picking up 21 yards in the process, even if he looked more like Collin Klein than Vince Young.
He also scrambled again for seven yards when he made a quick decision when his first read wasn't open and he saw a crease in the pocket to his right, putting a shoulder into Josh Turner at the end and knocking the Texas defensive back onto his backside.
On 3rd down from the 6, Swoopes used his size, strength, and balance in a VY-esque move to elude the tackles of Jordan Hicks and Peter Jinkens, who both seemed to hit him at the same time, then get to the corner and come close to the endzone, but then failed to put down his shoulder and drive the defender back into the endzone, getting stopped at the 2 yardline. An impressive play, nonetheless.
At that point in the game, Swoopes managed to score on the first-team defense in one drive after McCoy had failed to do so on his first two chances.
Up-and-down performance from David Ash
Coming into the spring game, seeing good decision-making from now-entrenched starter David Ash was not high on the list of expectations -- he had seemingly taken care of those issues last spring and had gone through live drills for the first 14 practices throwing as few as one interception the entire time.
The start supported why throwing interceptions wasn't a big worry coming in, as Ash directed the first-team offense to scores on each of his first four drives, starting 14 of 16 for 130 yards, working mostly underneath and on screens to start the game. He did throw two touchdowns, with an easy throw to Mike Davis on a busted coverage by the second-team secondary and an easy pitch-and-catch to Kendall Sanders on a hitch route that Sanders took 24 yards to the end zone after breaking a tackle.
Then things started to fall apart a bit for Ash at the end of the half when he started pushing to make big plays in the two-minute drill. First, Ash scrambled and tried to throw a shovel pass in the middle of the field under some pressure and had it intercepted by Jordan Hicks. The fact that Ash was not participating in the live contact on the evening and his desire to make the play that he couldn't with his own feet at that time may have led to the poor decision.
On the following drive for Ash, he was once again trying to make something happen and tried to fit a pass into a tight window up the seam for Bryant Jackson, but Steve Edmond got good depth on his route to force Ash to put a difficult arc on the football and he wasn't able to drop it in, as Jackson could only leap to get one hand on the pass and safety Adrian Colbert was in good position behind the play to take advantage of the tipped-ball opportunity.
The throw was a difficult one into an area of the field in which Ash struggled the most last season. In that sense, seeing him take the chance to make a big play and a tough throw was exactly what the spring game was about -- coming off the first read and attempting to make something happen.
It didn't work out, in part because of solid defense and a throw that was about a foot too high to be a catch, but there's a difference in interceptions that happen deep in your own territory with time left on the clock and a late attempt to get into field goal range where there are no likely ramifications in terms of points given up without a long return.
Excuses? Rationalizations? Perhaps.
The thought here though is that a little bit of gunslinger re-emerging in David Ash's makeup is a lot better for the team now than it was in its previous manifestation in Ash's freshman season.
Combined with the lack of interceptions through the rest of the spring and major improvements in that regard last fall, Ash's performance wasn't ideal, but it would be hard to grade it overall at anything less than solid given his efficiency outside of the two-minute drill.
The up-tempo offense didn't feel that up-tempo
Perhaps it was because of the nature of a spring game or maybe the offense just hasn't gotten that used to running the offense at an all-out tempo. Whatever the case, the offense typically got plays off typically with about 20 seconds left on the playclock, even though they went without huddling for most of the scrimmage.
The tempo may increase with some more work in fall practice, but the 'Horns didn't exactly look like Oregon flying to the line of scrimmage on Saturday night. Concerning is the wrong way to phrase that development, but the speed grade for the offense is probably still incomplete at this point.
No real base personnel grouping yet
On a related note, and perhaps for similar reasons, it didn't seem like there was one group of 11 capable of providing the looks that co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite wanted, as there was a fair number of substitutions on most drives. The desire to get a lot of players reps may have played a large role in those decisions for Applewhite, but it also unquestionably slowed the offense down at times in terms of getting plays off at a breakneck pace.
To that extent, finding that dual threat remains critical for Texas. Film review will provide some poor perspective about that, but there wasn't much production from the group on Saturday, which will make it tough for Texas to present effective run/pass personnel grouping to defenses.
Caleb Bluiett flashes heavily
One of the players who has drawn some positive buzz for his play this spring has been redshirt freshman defensive end Caleb Blueitt, a player who was at tight end last year and made the move back to the position Texas had recruited him at after Signing Day when the 'Horns failed to land any prospects along the defensive line.
His may have been the best performance of all the defensive ends, as he was consistently in the backfield even though he was typically working with the second team against the first-team offensive line, getting credited for a sack against David Ash on a play that was blown dead, stopped a reverse well behind the line of scrimmage when he played contain and brought down Daje Johnson, as well as finding himself around the football several other times.
Reggie Wilson may have a battle on his hands to as he tries to stay ahead of Bluiett in the defensive end rotation.
Mykkele Thompson still looks great with the ball in his hands
It may have been against the walk-on coverage team again, but safety Mykkele Thompson once again made a case to have the ball in his hands more often with an impressive return that saw him break a tackle, bounce off some congestion, and then take off around the corner until kicker Nick Jordan presented himself for a decent tackling attempt for a kicker along the sideline.
Just don't look for it to actually happen beyond kick returns -- it was Duke Thomas who made the move from defense to offense at times during the game due to the lack of receivers and unsurprisingly looked like the natural athlete that he is out there.
Putting Thompson back there on kick returns does look like a possibility, though. After all, what else does the kid need to do to get the football somehow another than make plays when he gets it?
Nick Rose the starter, but placekicking still shaky
One of the depth chart surprises of the evening was sophomore Nick Rose trotting out to kick field goals and extra points for the first-team offense after handling kickoff duties exclusively last season.
On his short-range efforts he was fine and showed off his impressive leg by putting two balls out of the endzone on kickoffs, one of which bounced in the handicapped seating area that constitutes the first row on the north side.
However, on his attempt from 42 yards out at the start of the second half, he missed just wide right, echoes of the second open practice last spring. HIs leg is there, but the question is whether the consistency can there often enough.
It apparently has been based on his start, but that area of special teams remains a big concern, as does punting after Anthony Fera was highly uninspiring with his ability to drive the football on two efforts that averaged about 33 yards.