As the Texas coaching staff knows, it's never too early to look ahead to the next recruiting class, even as the Longhorns look to finalize some important pieces for 2012.
As the most important position on the field, it makes sense to begin with a look at the quarterback position.
And right now, that conversation in terms of the Longhorns basically starts and ends with 2013 Whitewright quarterback Tryone Swoopes. If that last name sounds familiar, it's for a good reason -- he's the nephew of former WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes. LIke his aunt, Tyrone balls as well, but his future is likely on the gridiron at 6-5, 220 pounds and with a reported 4.59 40.
With those measurables, the comparisons to Vince Young and Terrelle Pryor come swiftly and easily. Like most comparisons, however, they fail to tell a developed story about Swoopes himself as a quarterback.
First of all, he's relatively advanced for a dual-threat quarterback, showing off a strong arm, decent footwork, and the ability to make some big-time throws. To make another comparison, Swoopes is further along than Matt Davis was at this stage last year mechanically and to continue down that lazy path, Swoopes looks a bit like Vince Young with a delivery that isn't quite ideal, coming out around shoulder level rather than over the top and at the earhole of his helmet.
If one highlight is enough to demonstrate his upside, it comes at 1:35 of this clip. Rolling right, Swoopes unloads a rocket 60 yards downfield that he puts on the fingertips of a diving receiver. So while Swoopes would have been better served to have taken just a hair off the ball to allow his receiver to keep his footing and continue into the end zone, it's the type of big-time throw that leads an observer to believe that Swoops is more than just a running quarterback, an assertion backed up by an MVP award at a TCU camp last year that would have focused solely on his ability as a passer.
Without having more film to analyze, that leaves only statistics to parse and dissect.
The good? Swoopes threw only two interceptions as a sophomore in 161 attempts, or one interception every 80.5 attempts for a 1.2% interception rate. Last season, Texas quarterback threw an interception once every 26 passes, while Boise State signal-caller Kellen Moore only had one in 64 passes intercepted.
The negative is that Swoopes had some up-and-down performances on his way to completing 55% of his passes -- there is still some room for development. In two comfortable wins during the middle of the season, Swoopes completed only five of 16 and seven of 19 passes. Once again, without context or watching the film, it's hard to say what went wrong in those games, simply that Swoopes wasn't particularly efficient.
Another positive is that Swoopes shows the ability to change speeds on his throws. He has the arm strength to put some serious velocity on the football, but he also shows touch on short passes and screens, making sure that he delivers a catchable ball.
It's as a runner that the VY and Pryor comparisons make the most sense. As always, the listed 4.59 40 time may not be entirely accurate, but it's also clear that Swoopes moves at a different speed than the 2A competition he faces and his height means that he won't ever look as fast as smaller plays, while making the speed that he does have a bit deceiving, particularly for defensive backs trying to take the correct angle.
Like pretty much any quarterback compared to Young, Swoopes isn't quite as electric with the ball in making defenders miss, but he does have good short-area quickness and acceleration for a long strider and shows some ability to use a defender's momentum in his own favor, much as Young did. And as expected for someone his size, he can run through some arm tackles and can maximize that ability at times by getting behind his pads, no easy task for a player his size.
The question for Texas is whether or not Swoopes can fit in the Harsinwhite offense or whether he's better suited for a pure spread attack. On one hand, the desire to throw the ball downfield demands accuracy and strong decision-making and the example of Kellen Moore illustrates that completing those long throws is just as much about touch as arm strength. On the other, Harsin liked to run the speed option with Moore, who isn't a particularly strong runner, and Major Applewhite gained experience running the spread at Rice.
The early returns are that Texas is interested, as area recruiter Darrell Wyatt already stopped by Whitewright in the early days of the spring evaluation period, indicating that the Longhorns want Swoopes to know that the Longhorns will be watching him.
Of course, it also matters greatly how Swoopes sees himself in college. Pryor famously (infamously?) made the decision to play in the conservative, pro-style offense of Jim Tressel in an attempt to prepare himself for the NFL rather than taking snaps in a gun-run spread. Will Swoopes make a similar choice?
Another consideration is where Swoopes fits in with the Texas quarterbacks already committed and on campus. Connor Brewer's verbal pledge gives the Longhorns their top quarterback target in each of the last four years, no small feat, but one that virtually guarantees there will be attrition before Swoopes signs his LOI in slightly less than two years. In that time, it's reasonable to expect that two of the five quarterbacks currently enrolled or committed will transfer elsewhere.
It's difficult to predict how the quarterback battle will shape up that far down the road. On one hand, the job could be open if Garrett Gilbert holds on for the next two years, which could be positive or negative -- Swoopes would be at a major disadvantage competing against older quarterbacks and might not have an opportunity after that year to win the starting job for several seasons. Murky and muddy, for sure.
Clearly, there are a lot of factors in play that will influence where Swoopes will play, but at this point the takeaway is simply that Swoopes is a rare athlete for the position with some evident quarterbacking skills and that combination will make him a fantastic prize for some lucky school down the road.
Count me as a fan, then, wherever he lands.