Media members received the first look at the 2015 Texas Longhorns during the team's opening practice of spring football on Wednesday, with the viewing providing an early look at the team's depth chart.
The foremost storyline, of course, was the play of the Texas quarterbacks. Since the coaches made it clear that redshirt freshman Jerrod Heared wasn't ready to compete for the job last season, it wasn't surprising that junior Tyrone Swoopes was clearly ahead of Heard in his Wednesday work both on the depth chart and in his performance, according to most observers.
KEYE's Adam Winkler agreed that Swoopes looked better and also noted the increased tempo of practice. After reports from head coach Charlie Strong that Swoopes was winning conditioning drills against the skill players, the Statesman's Ryan Autullo thought Swoopes looked slimmed down.
Just how far ahead of Heard is Swoopes? "Way ahead" was the description from Orangebloods' Anwar Richardson, though Heard reportedly looked good on the run. The thing is, he just can't match the overall arm talent of the bigger Swoopes.
But perhaps it's too early for such definitive statements:
After one spring practice I have no idea who the best QB is but there is absolutely no doubt Swoopes throws a better ball. Not close.— Mike Finger (@mikefinger) March 25, 2015
Among the notable starters were junior college transfer Tristan Nickelson at right tackle, redshirt freshman John Bonney at nickel, and senior cornerback Sheroid Evans at the corner spot opposite of senior Duke Thomas. One of the leading candidates to occupy the nickel position because of his versatility, Bonney's ability to function in that role will be an important defensive storyline.
At wide receiver, sophomore Lorenzo Joe received extensive reps with the first team. On defense, seniors Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens shared times with the ones at middle linebacker, backed up by redshirt freshman Edwin Freeman, while Thomas and sophomore safety Jason Hall impressed in the defensive backfield.
Sophomore Andrew Beck, now recovered from his offseason surgery to the extent that he's ready and able to practice, was the starter ahead of sophomore Blake Whiteley at tight end and had an impressive moment:
Texas TE Andrew Beck had the catch of the day. Snagged a one-hander behind him. #HookEm— Justin Wells (@justinwells2424) March 25, 2015
Beck moved from linebacker to tight end last fall in large part because he impressed assistant head coach for the offense/quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson with his reliable hands.
More surprising was the presence of Nickelson in the starting lineup -- he wasn't praised as effusively as the other early enrollees along the offensive line and is generally considered a raw prospect and a redshirt candidate. Instead, it was fellow junior college transfer Brandon Hodges (right tackle), Connor Williams (left tackle), and Garrett Thomas (left guard) working with the second-team unit.
Especially with the offensive line, it's too early to make too much of Wednesday's pecking order since offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Wickline is going to experiment with different combinations throughout the spring. He's also known as a coach who likes to cross-train his players to ensure maximum flexibility.
And, of course, the practice represented early enrollee linebacker Malik Jefferson's first day in a Texas uniform:
Malik Jefferson at his first Texas spring practice pic.twitter.com/qWjrmxvhGm— Max Olson (@max_olson) March 25, 2015
Texas DC Vance Bedford spent an inordinate amount of time coaching Malik Jefferson, guiding him in drills. Frosh LB was on 2nd team unit.— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) March 25, 2015
Turns out that Jefferson looks as good in a Texas uniform as the burnt orange faithful expected.