For the second straight offseason, the message coming from the Texas Longhorns program is that quarterback Tyrone Swoopes is a changed man. He's more comfortable, more confident, improved in the new offense, and ready to lead the team.
Excuse the skepticism, but after that same rhetoric from last year was quickly proven false during the disastrous season opener against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish that cost play caller Shawn Watson his title and Swoopes his starting job, it was simply more of the same, for Swoopes and for the failed experiment offensively.
Yet, that hasn't stopped that same rhetoric from continuing -- asked whether gaining experience or opening up has allowed Swoopes to have more fun in practice this spring, head coach Charlie Strong flashed back to last offseason for his answer.
"It's a combination of both, because you look at him now and he's been here and he's a senior, so now you see it," Strong said Thursday.
The problem is that Strong's statement rings hollow after Watson said those same things last fall while seemingly proving himself as being too invested in Swoopes by tearing up talking about his quarterback at a press conference during camp.
"I see a determined person," Watson said. "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."
Even defensive coordinator Vance Bedford weighed in, saying that he saw a "different guy." Strong joined in the chorus, echoing Watson's comment about Swoopes gaining an edge. Cornerback Duke Thomas said that Swoopes was starting to talk trash in practice.
It took an outsider to truly present a different view, as USA TODAY Sports writer Dan Wolken came to Austin and quickly determined that Heard was the "alpha dog personality," while Swoopes was "a bit too reserved and differential" to succeed as the starter. The on-field results quickly proved him right.
The result of an open-field move against Jaylon Smith (Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports)
Now there's a strong sense of deja vu as Swoopes once again has an early lead to become the starting quarterback this fall.
However, if the former US Army All-American does end up winning the starting job over sophomore Jerrod Heard, early enrollee Shane Buechele, and trailing redshirt freshmen Kai Locksley and Matthew Merrick, the difference will be the comfort level that Swoopes generated while working in the 18 Wheeler package last fall.
"I think that last year, with the package that we put in for him, he's had some success with it and that, more than anything, helps him with his overall attitude and how he really feels about himself," Strong said. "So now when you watch him take the field, he has that confidence about him, which I didn't think he had last season. Now he has that confidence factor there, now it's more or less now, 'Hey, I know I can do this now. Now it's about me going to go get it done.'"
Running with authority and pad level for the first time, Swoopes used his 244-pound frame to great effect, scoring 12 touchdowns, rushing for 451 yards on 6.1 yards per carry, and recording a career-long run of 46 yards against Kansas State that helped seal that rain-soaked victory.
As a passer, he showcased his tantalizing upside with his touchdown pass to tight end Caleb Bluiett early in the game against Baylor:
Yet, for all the positives associated with his success as a short-yardage runner and the occasional flashes as a passer, he wasn't able to put together any truly impressive performances through the air. Sure, he threw only one interception in 93 attempts in 2015, an interception rate of 1.07 percent to provide evidence that he improved as a decision maker, but he was also put in a better position to succeed by attempting play-action passes in the 18 Wheeler and often playing when the game was out of hand, whether for better (Kansas) or worse (TCU).
And these are the facts -- his completion percentage was not impressive in dropping nearly eight percent from his shaky sophomore season and that, in most of his extended action, the Whitewright product struggled overall, with Baylor serving as the only exception:
Perhaps the Baylor game was a sign of better things to come. Perhaps the increased confidence and greater experience will help Swoopes channel the potential that made him a five-star prospect by some services early in the 2013 recruiting cycle. Perhaps an offense that requires him to read only one side of the field and will likely feature a heavy emphasis on the running game behind breakout stars D'Onta Foreman and Chris Warren will make all the difference.
Then again, perhaps his upside will remain nothing more than a tease and his career will end as a disappointment, just another in a long line of high-profile recruiting mistakes at the quarterback position by former head coach Mack Brown.
Right now, the only absolute is that we've heard this all before and believing wasn't worth the effort.