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Texas coaches: Changed QB Tyrone Swoopes now has an edge

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Skeptics still abound, but there's mounting evidence that the Longhorns junior quarterback is growing and maturing as a person and a player.

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Who is the real Tyrone Swoopes?

Is the Texas Longhorns quarterback "a bit too reserved and deferential," as USA TODAY Sports' Dan Wolken described him in a piece released on Thursday? Or is he a player altered by his experiences last season, the criticisms that resulted from it, and the need for a leader to emerge at quarterback this season?

Here's Wolken's case:

As media members who regularly cover Texas tap-danced around that issue in an interview session last week before fall camp started, Swoopes seemed a little too willing to indulge their skepticism. Asked if he needs to "demand that this is your team," Swoopes avoided eye contact with the reporter, looking straight ahead while saying it's a role that needs to be earned. He showed not even a hint of emotion when it was suggested to him that quarterback was perceived to be the weak link at Texas. And then, given a third opportunity to state his case as the starter, he shrugged and said practice hadn't started yet.

The problem here is that how Swoopes behaves in press conferences ultimately doesn't matter, even while it may not inspire a great deal of confidence in him -- what matters is how he carries himself on the field during practice and in games. As much discussed in these parts, Swoopes didn't have enough confidence and mental toughness when things went bad last season, showing a tendency to unravel right along with the rest of the offense.

But to hear the Texas coaches tell it now, Swoopes isn't the same player he was last season.

"I see a determined person," said assistant head coach for the offense/quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson at the beginning of fall camp. "He's learned a lot from his experience last year. He learned some good things and he learned some bad things. I think he has a real edge to himself right now. He has something that he needs to prove."

Watson's impression from the spring is carrying over into fall camp, as the ostensible Texas play caller said on Friday that "Swoopes has got an edge to him. He's had a nice camp."

An edge. A new resolve in attempting to prove all the critics wrong. A new Swoopes.

Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford weighed in before Watson.

"I see a different guy," he said.

It's showing on the practice field, where Swoopes has reportedly been much more demonstrative than in the past, encouraging his teammates after good plays and pushing them to do better after bad plays.

So what happened last year? Why wasn't Swoopes ready to break out of his shell at that time? The answer, it turns out, is a pretty simple one.

"He just wasn't ready to be the quarterback and he didn't prepare himself to be the quarterback," head coach Charlie Strong told USA TODAY Sports. "He figured, ‘I'm going to be behind (David) Ash. Then Ash goes down now, ‘Okay, big boy, here you go.' And he really wasn't ready for it."

Coming from a small high school didn't help, according to Watson. Neither did the lack of competition behind him, as Jerrod Heard simply wasn't ready as a true freshman and the Longhorns didn't have any other scholarship quarterbacks on campus when former wide receiver Miles Onyegbule blew out his knee early in fall camp and Ash's career ended after the opener against North Texas.

If Swoopes now has an edge to him in attempting to disprove his doubters wrong, Watson is his quarterback's biggest supporter, choking back tears at his Friday availability when talking about how much he wants Swoopes to succeed.

"When you get a kid to come to your program, you share their dreams," he said.

So even though Watson said that Heard is now taking some first-team reps after Swoopes took them all through three practices open to the media, if Swoopes is a different player now, he's much closer to achieving his dream.

And the Longhorns could be closer to finally finding a quarterback.