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Straight Ash, Homie? Texas May Have Its Quarterback

Even if the coaching staff won't publicly admit it, the Longhorns may have found their quarterback. And he wears no. 14. (Brendan Maloney-US PRESSWIRE)
Even if the coaching staff won't publicly admit it, the Longhorns may have found their quarterback. And he wears no. 14. (Brendan Maloney-US PRESSWIRE)

To Statesman writer Cedric Golden, there wasn't a need for the question mark as part of his weekend column channeling Randy Moss to declare his support for Team Ash following the first two open practices for the Texas Longhorn football team in about 18 months.

Straight Ash, homie.

Despite all the best efforts of Mack Brown and Texas SID to dissemble about the openness of the competition and whether the staff has settled on a quarterback -- from Brown's rambling explanations in his opening press conference or McCoy coming out first when both met with the media last week -- the distribution of reps in practice and what the quarterbacks did with them clearly seemed to favor sophomore David Ash.

There's no question that was the case on Satruday, as Ash took virtually every snap with the first team during team work, didn't come close to throwing any interceptions, and made the plays with his arms and his feet that his competitor, junior Case McCoy, simply can't make.

There were some small signs of improvement from McCoy on Saturday -- generally stepping into his throw and even standing tall in the pocket (!) to deliver a pass. At his best. He also nearly threw a pick six that Aaron Benson jumped and then dropped. Anything downfield fluttered terribly, even when he was working with his receivers against air, and that's virtually no hope at this point that he will ever overcome that limitation.

If a typically underwhelming practice on Saturday could grade out as "competent back-up" material, the Dallas Morning News had it as something slightly worse:

McCoy, who Mack Brown has admired for his "gamesmanship", was not particularly sharp Friday. He was not terrible by any means and made nice throws from time to time but was by no means as good as Ash on this day. If Friday's practice was any indication of what the depth chart will look like at quarterback, Ash will be the starter, McCoy his backup, and freshman Connor Brewer -- who completed a 10-yard pass in his only action during 11-on-11 drills -- should be the third-string signal-caller.

Ash, on the other hand, didn't throw any interceptions reported anywhere over the weekend and while he still has some room for improvement, there were noticeable signs of progress for LonghornScott, even on Friday, when Ash took a few plays to get comfortable:

The biggest play of the day from him was in the scrimmage work (which actually came in a later period). The defense brought two wide blitzers on the strong side right before the snap of the ball (very similar to the overload pressure look that Oklahoma pantsed us with repeatedly). Cochran and the back worked together to make the blitzers take an outside path while the rest of the protection slid left. David took the shotgun snap, looked to his hot route, then stepped up into the lane created by the slide protection and escaped right behind the blitzers and hit Mike Davis in the flat for about a 7 yard gain. He had other throws for more yardage, a tough 3rd down conversion and he threw into tighter windows but that was a play that represented tangible progress to me.

Two throws early in team work on Saturday showed Ash starting to more consistently translate his upside into production on the field. On the first, he found Mike Davis over the middle in a small window between the underneath coverage and the safety over the top. On the next, he found a diving DJ Grant in a similar situation. Throws that McCoy can't really make.

Sure, Ash's touch still deserts him at times, but it's now happening less often and more often he's making the type of throws that he mostly only hinted at last season. As mentioned in the Saturday recap, Ash was also decisive in knowing when to pull the ball down and run, even if it meant that he wasn't consistently going through his reads, picking up major yardage multiple times, including on one play when he avoided a blitzing Steve Edmond, who had come through the middle mostly unmolested.

According to co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, more reps have already made a difference with Ash, as expected (and hoped):

I like what David's done. The biggest thing for David is having another year of experience. And for both of those guys.

The anxiety of not knowing where to go in practice or what the drills are or where we go in the next period - that's gone. The anxiety of not knowing how to call to the play exactly in the huddle - that's gone. Now, he's able to concentrate on the details.

Harsin also addressed the specific areas of focus with Ash during the offseason, which also included doing a better job of managing the game and living for another play, something Harsin has continually stressed over the last year, but now may be starting to happen:

David's a confident guy. It was just going back and getting a realistic approach to some of those scenarios and games that weren't good. What was bad about it? Well, maybe it was footwork, or mechanic or he was late. That's really what it is.

And just going back in our film study for the spring and even in the bowl practices, it really helped us to go back and re-evaluate those games that he struggled in and figure out why and understand it. I thought in the bowl practices, I thought you could see things in his mind starting to click about, 'What's my job? What's my responsibility out there as a quarterback?'

It started to make more sense. He started to feel more comfortable with what we were doing. That's really it. He's taken the next step in his preparation before we got into spring practice of studying the system and having a better understanding of the expectations for these plays and in these situations.

It could be easy to brush all that off as simple coach-speak, but, again, the tangible signs of progress back up what Harsin is saying.

On Saturday, it certainly appeared like there was some significant separation between Ash and McCoy, which raises the question of if, or when, Texas should name a starter this spring. Golden is apparently now falling firmly on the side of naming Ash the starter this spring, but it's not hard to imagine that Brown could allow the team to go into the summer without publicly naming a starter.

But is that a good idea when Ash could use the summer with the authority of being the starter to truly make this football team his -- not only what needs to happen, but also what is happening.