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Texas football: Longhorns spring QB preview

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The quarterback competition will be the key storyline during the spring.

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Competition.

The Texas Longhorns didn't have it at the quarterback position last fall following the injury to David Ash, leaving the coaching staff no other options when Tyrone Swoopes struggled. But now there is another option, albeit only one -- redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard, who didn't see the field last season as the staff sought to preserve a season of eligibility for him.

Most coaches prefer to have four scholarship quarterbacks on campus, a number Texas hasn't hit since the spring of 2013, when Ash, Swoopes, Case McCoy, Connor Brewer, and Jalen Overstreet were all available. Then Brewer transferred during the summer and Overstreet moved to running back in fall camp, leaving limited numbers.

Texas still isn't at that point and won't get there next fall unless a graduate transfer or junior college quarterback joins the program along with 2015 signee Kai Locksley.

Regardless, Heard should have every opportunity to win the job and it would be shocking if the quarterbacks didn't evenly split reps with the first team -- Swoopes did nothing to earn any advantages with his play down the stretch.

Let's look at the major storylines.

Did Tyrone Swoopes improve during the offseason?

At the end of the 2014, Swoopes looked like a broken player in games against TCU and Arkansas -- when things went poorly, his body language deteriorated and his confidence seemingly did the same. The put it simply, he was a mess, incapable of making basic reads and basic throws.

Yet, he still has several major advantages over Heard in this spring's competition. The Whitewright product has game experience, he flashed his tremendous upside at times last fall, especially in games against Oklahoma and Iowa State, and he improved significantly last summer.

His best throws from 2014 illustrate how capable he can be when things are clicking.

Through the 15 spring practices, assistant head coach for the offense/quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson will have to walk the fine line of building Swoopes' confidence back up, all while pushing him to achieve the mental toughness necessary to avoid letting several mistakes spiral into complete meltdowns.

If Swoopes struggles this spring, it might not be time to consider him a complete lost cause with two seasons of eligibility remaining, but it will significantly lower the substantial ceiling he's always possessed.

Now is the time to do more than hint at that ceiling.

Is Jerrod Heard ready to play?

As much as many fans would like to proclaim Heard the savior and move on from the enigmatic Swoopes, the coaching staff sent a strong message by keeping him on the bench late in the season and said as much in press conferences. Heard simply wasn't ready to make the transition from high school college.

The intangibles are there, Heard is a proven winner after notching state titles in each of his last two prep seasons, and his athleticism in the open field is impressive. There's also some serious toughness there, as he proved when he used his slight frame to punish an unfortunate defender and score a hard-earned touchdown in Guyer's 2012 state championship victory.

However, the offense he ran at Denton Guyer was scaled down from what the school ran with his predecessor JW Walsh, the son of the head coach there. And Heard was not impressive during practice leading up to the US Army All-American game, ultimately leaving him last on the depth chart for the game.

If Heard hasn't overcome occasional accuracy issues and persistent problems consistently spinning the football, he may not end up being a better option than 2014 Swoopes.

At the least, the Texas version of Heard will be on display at the Orange-White game, removing the mystery shrouding his development last fall and providing some welcome perspective on the player he can become in burnt orange.

Do the offensive changes favor one quarterback over the other?

The good news is that whichever quarterback ends up helming the offense, it will be much easier run a base system that features both of the quarterback's talents more than the pro-style system installed by Watson last spring for Ash fit Swoopes.

In the quarterback run game, where Swoopes is more effective running the power read that allows him to get downhill more quickly between the tackles, Heard is better on the more traditional zone read and the speed option. Both players can run the other plays and all of them will be in the playbook, so there's no clear advantage for either.

If Texas opts to run more tempo with the pop passes that seemed to disappear late last season, the ability to make easy reads in the passing game would benefit both quarterbacks.

The difference is with arm strength. Heard has an above-average arm, but he doesn't posses close to the arm strength of Swoopes to make throws on deep comebacks to the opposite hash. So there are certain routes and parts of the field that won't be available to Heard.