Just a little more than seven months ago, VICE boldly proclaimed that Texas Longhorns quarterback Jerrod Heard was the "Most Important Player in College Football" after his school-record 527 yards of total offense against the Cal Golden Bears in late September. Now the redshirt sophomore is third on the depth chart heading into a crucial summer after suffering a minor shoulder sprain that cost him half of spring practice.
And, much like redshirt freshman quarterback Kai Locksley, there are serious questions about Heard's future in Austin. If true freshman Shane Buechele does earn the starting job, as expected, would Heard consider transferring to play quarterback elsewhere? Would he simply sit behind Buechele and senior Tyrone Swoopes, the likely back up? Or would Heard opt to switch positions in order to get onto the field?
In the long-term arc of Texas football over the next several seasons, the last option is the most intriguing. Remember what defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said about Heard last season?
"Heard, athletically I just have to say that he's difficult to contain," Bedford said in August. "He can probably play wide receiver for a lot of teams and be a starter and all-conference player and he's back at quarterback. When he starts running around, you just shake your head. He's made a lot of our guys miss in the box and in space. He's very dangerous on the perimeter. You see two different type of football players."
Looking back, it almost seems like deep down, maybe Bedford knew something. Sure, there were wonderful flashes like Heard showed against Cal in that magical comeback that fell short. But by the end of the year, it was clear that Heard was a work in progress as a quarterback after he only managed to break 200 yards during the conference season -- against Kansas, thanks to an 84-yard touchdown pass to John Burt -- and threw more interceptions (three) than touchdowns (two) over the last six games.
His pocket presence suffered at times, he showed limited ability to keep his eyes downfield while scrambling or work through progressions, and his accuracy was often an issue, as was his inconsistent ability to spin the football.
So maybe it's time to start thinking about whether Heard really does have all-conference potential at wide receiver thanks to a recent Instagram video of Heard that shows him pulling off a standing back flip:
Besides the impressive feat of athleticism, notice anything else interesting about the video? Like the fact that Heard is wearing gloves like a wide receiver? Like maybe he had just been catching some passes?
It's certainly the case that Heard has never worn gloves to throw before, just like most quarterbacks not named Teddy Bridgewater, so there may be something there. However, such position changes aren't easy to keep a secret at a place like Texas, so the guess here is that any official position change wouldn't happen until fall camp and that Heard will spend most of his summer throwing passes.
But imagining his potential as a wide receiver isn't difficult, as his quickness would definitely translate well to the position. The most recent official measures of his athleticism came at The Opening in 2013, when Heard ran a 4.59 40-yard dash in Oregon, posted a 4.49 shuttle, and recorded a 33.1-inch vertical leap. The last two numbers aren't especially outstanding for a wide receiver, but the straight-line speed is pretty good and may be better now after nearly two full years in the Longhorns strength and conditioning program.
The key here may be to consider that besides Ryan Newsome and Jacorey Warrick, Texas doesn't really have a dynamic player comfortable working from the slot position with Armanti Foreman playing outside, so there is a niche that Heard could fill nicely, even though he's a bit taller than most slot receivers at 6'2.
Heard can no longer vie for the title of the Most Important Player in College Football, but he could become the most important offseason addition to the Texas wide receiver corps.