Friday's practice open to lettermen marks the final session for the Texas Longhorns before Saturday's Orange-White game officially ends the spring season at 1 p.m. CT on the Longhorn Network.
Though it's tough to make too much of a spring game because the freshman class hasn't yet arrived and there are numerous injuries keeping potential contributors out of the game, there are five major objectives for head coach Charlie Strong and his assistants.
1. Showcase improved quarterback play
It's no secret that the Longhorns have struggled to find consistent play at the position ever since Colt McCoy went down in the national championship game against Alabama more than five years ago, so getting impressive showings from junior Tyrone Swoopes and redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard would be crucial for developing a positive narrative at the position heading into the 2015 season.
Instead of Swoopes running the pro-style attack devised for David Ash last spring, he'll have a chance to operate an offense designed around his particular skill set. So will Heard.
"We looked at what we had in both Tyrone [Swoopes] and Jerrod [Heard] and obviously in what we had recruited to the program in Kai [Locksley]," assistant head coach for offense/quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson said on Thursday. "What is it that we can do to put them in the best position possible to be successful to play to that skill set? That was obviously more of a spread, wide-open attack where they have a lot of run-pass options available to them, where they can use their skill as a runner. Both of those guys, and Kai included, have different running styles, but you can run all three of them."
So Swoopes, along with Heard, will need to show a command of the new tempo offense and consistently make the correct reads on the run/pass options designed put the defense in conflict and get the ball to playmakers in space.
For the incumbent starter, it's also about avoiding the self-sacking tendencies and accuracy issues that negatively defined much of his sophomore season. Strong said that Swoopes is much improved from where he was at the end of the ugly Texas Bowl loss, but how much he's improved is yet to be determined.
The Orange-White game will provide some crucial insights into his development. And one thing is clear -- Swoopes can't afford to have the type of slow, mistake-prone start that he experienced in last year's scrimmage.
With Heard, it will be the first chance for many fans to see him throw live and an opportunity to consolidate the momentum that he built over the last two weeks of spring practice, during which time he started to close the gap on Swoopes and make the battle for the starting quarterback job a true competition.
At times this spring, he wasn't always willing to stand in the pocket with his eyes downfield, so it would be positive if he can avoid scrambling at the first sign of pressure and show a comfort level delivering passes to open receivers. Several clips from the first practice showed Heard struggling to do exactly that, so he still needs to prove a basic competency level in making the available plays.
2. Demonstrate better depth, execution along the offensive line
Last year, offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Wickline had few options when players performed poorly or got winded. Now, with a season's worth of experience for a group that fielded only five total starts heading into last season's BYU game and four early enrollees, there are now plenty of options.
Wickline is looking for a higher level of understanding and execution from his group, especially at the tackle positions, which gave up numerous sacks during the 2014 Orange-White game early when the defense was showing aggressive, blitzing looks.
An ideal scenario would feature players like senior left tackle Marcus Hutchins and early enrollees Tristan Nickelson and Connor Williams holding their own against a depleted pass rush and the interior of the line creating some displacement for the running game.
3. Produce explosive plays in the passing game
After losing the two leading receivers from the 2014 team, one major storyline this spring has been the need for playmakers to emerge.
So it's all about seniors like Marcus Johnson and Daje Johnson showing some reliability and younger players like junior Jacorey Warrick and sophomore Dorian Leonard continuing to produce explosive plays.
Praise from Strong for Daje Johnson's improved maturity and praise from Watson for his increased attention to detail should allow him the opportunity to impact the game with his speed, while Marcus Johnson's own focus on the finer points of his craft could position for him the breakout season that never came last year.
Most importantly, though, Warrick and Leonard need to show that all those plays they made in practice weren't a fluke, that Warrick's ability to make defenders miss and Leonard's deep-threat ability and reliable hands can translate to game-like situations.
Otherwise, the Longhorns will enter the 2015 season with huge question marks at the wide receiver position.
4. Put star recruit Malik Jefferson on display
Quickly becoming one of the faces of the program, the state's top prospect is still a little bit lost out on the field, according to defensive coordinator Vance Bedford. Perhaps that no surprise given that he's been working more at inside linebacker since the injury to senior Dalton Santos, a new position for him.
But Jefferson should also see some time at his more natural Fox end position, which he was playing at the beginning of spring practice. It was also his high school position, so giving him an opportunity to move around and come downhill to create problems for the second-team offensive line could be the perfect way to showcase his skill set and the future of the Texas defense.
5. Avoid injuries
With half of the defensive line out or limited this spring and significant injuries sustained by projected starters like Santos and senior cornerback Sheroid Evans, the Longhorns simply don't have enough depth to survive more major injuries to important contributors, especially defensively.