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Jerrod Heard already showing athleticism for Texas at WR

Why the sophomore could make an impact at wide receiver quickly and what he’ll have to overcome.

NCAA Football: California at Texas Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Now on a depth chart featuring quite a bit of speed and athleticism, Texas Longhorns sophomore Jerrod Heard is already standing out at his new position of wide receiver only several practices in, as evidenced by some praise from teammates on Wednesday and an incredible shot taken by the school:

That’s levitation, holmes.

Three years ago, Heard posted a 33.1-inch vertical leap at a Nike event leading into his senior year of high school, but he looks a bit higher on this particular catch, which shows off leaping ability that combines with his listed height of 6’3 to form an impressive combination.

“Yeah, he’s actually been doing pretty well,” receiver John Burt said on Wednesday. “He’s already been making some pretty good catches. I feel like this is a good spot for him now.”

Senior safety Kevin Vaccaro concurred.

“It’s good seeing him on the field,” he said. “He’s switching from quarterback to wide receiver. He’s an athlete, as everyone knows. He’s really fast and has the size. Today, he went at receiver a little bit and did pretty good. It’s good seeing us use him in a good way. I don’t know how exactly coach wants to use him. He might still be a QB depending on what we do each game.

However, it might be wise to temper expectations — at least immediate expectations — as the transition of Ohio State’s Braxton Miller from quarterback to wide receiver was sometimes rocky last season. Simply put, the third-round draft pick didn’t have a big impact during a lot of games.

After totaling 140 yards from scrimmage against Virginia Tech in the opener, Miller had five games with 12 or fewer yards, including 20 total yards in the last three regular-season games, despite the added of advantage over Heard of receiving 42 carries.

When Miller did get the ball in space instead of in predictable Wildcat situations behind center, he was able to showcase his athleticism. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, the drop off from Tom Herman to Tim Beck was significant at offensive coordinator, resulting in some misuse of the former quarterback in his new role.

So Longhorns offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert will have to find ways to use Heard that maximize his ability in space and keep defenses from keying too heavily on him when he’s in the game.

Instability at quarterback played a role in Miller’s relative dearth of production, too, as did a lack of other threats at wide receiver to open up space, but Miller also struggled as a blocker, which could present a similar problem for Heard, who doesn’t have experience in that area and still possesses a relatively slender build.

Two solutions for that issue are using Heard as a decoy by targeting the other side of the field in four-wide receiver sets on run-pass options and throwing bubble screens to Heard instead of slips screens to the outside wide receiver, but in all likelihood, he will be something of a liability as a blocker this year.

Still, a look at his 2015 highlights provides a refresher on why the idea of moving Heard is so intriguing:

The sophomore was absolutely electric in the open field in gaining 163 rushing yards against Cal and 115 rushing yards against Oklahoma, while the offense run by Sterlin Gilbert won’t require Heard to master a complete route tree, just hitches, outs, posts, and go routes.

With the emphasis on vertical routes that take advantage of Heard’s quickness off the ball, the potential for making an impact is even greater.

One area where playing wide receiver could really benefit Heard is in playing quickly. His processing speed in the pocket as a quarterback made it difficult for him to get the ball out on time and the need to avoid hits often caused indecision, which often became painfully obvious when Heard would run out of bounds before the first-down marker or get caught between picking up extra yardage and getting down.

Nothing about preserving his body seemed natural for a guy who put his head down and ran over four defenders in a state championship game at Denton Guyer as a junior.

"That was the first time I've run someone over like that to get into the end zone," Heard told the Denton Record-Chronicle. "I always talk about doing it, but to actually do it at Cowboys Stadium and get in there, that was really exciting.”

Now Heard can generate a little more excitement at Texas with similar plays without worrying about the risk of suffering a game-changing or season-changing injury as the starting quarterback.

As a result, he should be able to play fast and instinctively in a way that he wasn’t able to last season.

And, according to 247Sports, Heard worked out as a wide receiver this summer in 7-on-7 drills and on pass-catching drills on his own, so the fact that he was wearing gloves in that infamous backflip video wasn’t just for passing purposes.

The takeaway there is that Heard has already had time to acclimate to the position and understands the scheme from a wide receiver’s perspective, which increases his odds of early playing time.

The hamstring injury to junior Lorenzo Joe and indefinite suspension of sophomore DeAndre McNeal also open up opportunities for Heard because he’s so much more quick than other big inside receivers like juniors Dorian Leonard and Jake Oliver and has better size than freshmen Devin Duvernay and Davion Curtis.

In a worst-case scenario, Heard could serve as a decoy and open up space for his teammates because of his playmaking ability and potential to run trick plays.

In a best-case scenario, he finds some of that magic from the Cal and Oklahoma games at a new position.