Once again, the Texas Longhorns are left with a great deal of uncertainty around the quarterback position with the news that the staff has backed away from USC Trojans graduate transfer quarterback Max Wittek, perhaps because of some off-field issues.
In that regard, some news has finally emerged publicly from the USC side of things:
RE Wittek: A source is telling me "something bad happened at SC which is necessitating this whole exit"— Josh Webb (Twist) (@FightOnTwist) May 15, 2014
Another Trojans writer said that he has heard similar, but can't confirm.
With that unfortunate news, it's time to reassess where the quarterback situation sits for Texas.
Back towards the start of the spring, it seemed necessary to go through all the possible scenarios for the Horns at quarterback to better understand all the moving pieces involved, a process that couldn't truly begin until all the relevant questions were asked:
Here are the questions currently facing the Texas quarterback position, in order of importance:
- Will David Ash remain healthy through the spring and return to the form that he showed before his concussion?
- Will it be Texas, Hawai'i, or Louisville for Wittek?
- Can Tyrone Swoopes continue to grow mechanically to increase his accuracy and place himself in position to win the back-up job, even if Wittek chooses the Horns?
- Is Miles Onyegbule just another body at the position valuable to meet ideal numbers in the spring?
- Is there any chance that 2014 signee Jerrod Heard doesn't redshirt?
With spring practice now nearly a month in the rearview mirror, the answer to the first question was disappointingly answered to the negative, as the fractured left foot that Ash suffered a week before the spring game meant that he could not stay healthy for the spring, even though most reports did hold that he had mostly returned to his pre-concussion form.
Ash's availability for the fall is now somewhat in question because his Jones fracture has a 25% chance of not healing in the ideal timeframe, not to mention the continued concerns about the long-term impact another concussion could have on his career.
And it appears the second question has also been answered, also to the negative in terms of the best-case scenario that was laid out in that post, which would feature a healthy Ash on campus, backed up by Wittek.
For the third question, the news continues to be negative. There was probably some growth for Swoopes mechanically during the spring, but after overthrowing Jaxon Shipley twice in the first half of the Orange-White game on would-be touchdown passes and throwing an interception on his first pass attempt, the consensus take on Swoopes is that he's still not ready to play.
As has been Swoopes' nature over the last several years, the young quarterback responded by finishing 15-of-21 with two touchdown passes, including a nice throw over the shoulder of Shipley for a 44-yard touchdown, so there's still some upside left, it's just probably a year or two away from transitioning from potential into actual production.
The first look at Miles Onyegbule wasn't a whole lot more positive either, as he fumbled once and threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Sure, the pass down the sidelines to Montrel Meander was a throw that suggests that the former wide receiver and tight end actually has some legitimate skill at the position and he did also have a nice scramble.
However, the bottom line remains that Onyegbule seeing the field for the Horns this fall in anything other than a clean-up role would probably be a major issues for the team's chances of winning eight or nine games.
All of those previous answers feed into the final question -- is Jerrod Heard going to redshirt this fall?
Unless Swoopes can demonstrate serious growth this summer, there's a reasonably strong chance at this point that Heard could show up on campus after his two sessions with quarterback coach George Whitfield and flat-out win the back-up job, which would put him in position to start at some point if Ash can't go for any reason.
For any quarterback, the ideal situation is to gain a redshirt year and then move from there, a luxury that may not be available to play caller and quarterback coach Shawn Watson.
But going back to Ash and his potential availability for a second -- if another concussion ends his football career, that has vastly different repercussions for the 2015 season than if he misses time with a foot injury or suffers another non-head injury. In the latter scenario, Ash would return for his senior season and would likely still present the best opportunity to win games. In the former scenario, Swoopes, Heard, and 2015 commit Zach Gentry would enter the spring of 2015 in a quarterback competition, assuming that one of Swoopes or Heard doesn't take control this fall.
It may be that if Heard has a chance to play, he could take advantage to the extent that he would in the job outright and there wouldn't be a competition next spring, although that seems unlikely for a true freshman, even one with the maturity and impressive skill set of Heard.
The continued health concerns surrounding Ash fuel all of this speculation and drive the instability that is obvious at the position right now. A healthy Ash next season could help Texas contend for a Big 12 title if the offensive line can come together and the defense improves. An injury to Ash and suddenly the outlook becomes much more bleak without the margin for error that Wittek would have provided, even if there was little chance that he would be a savior.
The best-case scenario at quarterback is out the window now and that could become a serious problems, as any hopes for success this season ultimately hinge first and foremost upon the shaky health of David Ash.