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Texas QB Tyrone Swoopes may be starter in all but name

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The Longhorns coaches and the players won't come out and say it, but it seems clear who will start wih the first team against Notre Dame.

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

As Texas Longhorns junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes continues to emerge from his shell as a leader and turn in solid practices, there's an increasing perception that he's unofficially the starter:

But even if Davis is correct in his assessment, the ultimate decision still rests with head coach Charlie Strong and his offensive brain trust. And while Strong admitted that there is some separation, he wasn't willing to say that Swoopes has unquestionably won the job so far.

"I don't know how big the separation is," Strong admitted on Tuesday.

Perhaps he's merely taking that position because he's already said that redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard will play against Notre Dame because it sounds like Swoopes is distancing himself from Heard because of his experience and decision-making ability.

"If you look at it, and only reason why, if you look at Tyrone, he played a lot last year, so then he just came in, just really just controlling the offense, throwing the ball very well. Has not thrown many interceptions out there, and that's what I told him just the other day, 'It's been a surprise, you haven't thrown a bad ball.' He's put the ball in the right people's hands. "

Protecting the football is a key for Strong and something that Swoopes did poorly late last season -- on top of throwing five of his 11 interceptions in the last two games, he also had the ugly fumble deep in Texas territory that resulted in a touchdown against Texas Tech and another fumble against TCU.

Redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard has struggled a little bit more with his interceptions, throwing three during the first practice. However, he's steadily improving, too.

"Even with Heard, he's doing the things we ask him to do," Strong said on Tuesday.

So the head coach reiterated his desire for Heard to see action in the opener and dished out some good-natured ribbing about making mistakes.

"I was teasing Heard today and said when you go in that game, and something happens, and it ain't good, I'm going to do that right there [Strong is pointing], and that means just keep going to the locker room. He said, ‘I'll show you, coach.' I'll show you.' That's what you want from him."

The confidence is typical of Heard, who is naturally more outgoing than Swoopes and benefited from his team's success during his high school career at Denton Guyer.

"Heard carries himself differently than Swoopes," Strong said. "He has that bounce to him. He's a very confident young man and is always filled with enthusiasm. He's a winner. He's won state championships. When he takes the field, he's a guy that says, `We'll go score.' But he's still learning the game. When he does, he'll have a chance to be pretty special."

The staff clearly has some confidence in Heard and believes that he will eventually find success, it's just unlikely that he'll be ready to take over the starting role against Notre Dame or at any other point in the non-conference season.

In an ongoing theme with the coaching staff, perhaps the most important thing is having Heard to push Swoopes to be better, both as a player and as a leader.

"The greatest thing that happened was Jerrod [Heard] in the spring," assistant head coach for offense/quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson said of Swoopes last week. "That helped him a ton. He needed competition. He needed to feel somebody, and Jerrod made him feel him, and Jerrod has made him feel him in camp."

Swoopes is better off as a result and so are the Longhorns.