On Sunday morning, the Texas Longhorns held an open practice for all the “godless heathens” among the burnt orange faithful as part of Fan Appreciation Day and the passing game was perhaps the biggest story — on both sides of the ball.
Practice is over. This is the best the passing game has looked in years, which I recognize is a low bar. Buechele and Swoopes had good days.— Ryan Autullo (@AutulloAAS) August 7, 2016
The quarterback position, as it has been for years, is of course the most important element there and for the second straight day, freshman Shane Buechele and senior Tyrone Swoopes split the first-team snaps, with sophomore Jerrod Heard working with the third team.
After watching practice on Saturday, even redshirt freshman Kai Locksley was able to see a limited bit of action and completed an impressive deep pass:
However, the big storyline remains the ongoing competition between Buechele and Swoopes that head coach Charlie Strong wants to resolve early in fall camp. By all accounts, Buechele has been impressive over the first two days.
Sterlin Gilbert watching Shane Buechele. Freshman was sharp again today. pic.twitter.com/MKu9YkwnSR— Max Olson (@max_olson) August 7, 2016
Buechele hasn’t been perfect, as he was intercepted by sophomore cornerback Davante Davis on a jump ball in the end zone intended for sophomore wide receiver John Burt:
Texas DB Davante Davis intercepts Shane Buechele pic.twitter.com/9dtBDzsskr— Anwar Richardson (@AnwarRichardson) August 7, 2016
Still, there’s at least one beat writer who believes that Buechele is clearly the favorite after connecting with Burt on a touchdown that beat Davis and making other positive plays:
After watching two practices, the Texas QB picture is what we thought it was. Shane Buechele should be the starter vs. Notre Dame.— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) August 7, 2016
One of those plays had the fans buzzing — when Buechele hit fellow freshman Devin Duvernay down the sideline with a nice touch pass:
Swoopes got the first reps with the first-team offense and worked some with the 18-Wheeler package.
Texas going 11-on-11 now. Tyrone Swoopes got first reps with No. 1 offense. pic.twitter.com/7AqA2Sf7t9— Max Olson (@max_olson) August 7, 2016
Offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert has even put in a throwback pass to Swoopes, but the big senior dropped a good throw that hit his hands before launching a towel into the stands.
Maybe he’s not a tight end after all.
One interesting note on Heard — he’s been wearing gloves to throw in an effort to solve his persistent issues with the ball coming out poorly. It’s quite unusual to see quarterbacks wear gloves, but it has always worked for one of Strong’s former quarterbacks, Teddy Bridgewater.
Whether or not the change will ultimately benefit Heard is still inconclusive after two practices. However, he did have a nice touch pass on the day, so perhaps it will make a bit of a difference.
Mostly the sophomore and former starter has been working as a player who may have a situational package like the 18 Wheeler, as he was mostly running the zone read on Saturday.
Along the offensive line, the starting group was the same as Saturday (from left to right) — Connor Williams, Patrick Vahe, Zach Shackelford, Kent Perkins, and Tristan Nickelson.
Behind the starters, freshman Patrick Hudson got some run at right tackle while redshirt freshman Buck Major worked at guard.
At wide receiver, Burt expectedly drew some rave reviews:
Two practices in, get the sense Texas WR John Burt is in for a breakout season. pic.twitter.com/4Ojfyx3b7e— Max Olson (@max_olson) August 7, 2016
As a whole, the wide receivers and tight ends did a good job of avoiding dropped passes on Sunday, a potentially large development.
On defense, the secondary was once again impressive, prompting the notoriously compliment-averse Kirk Bohls:
Secondary gonna kill it this year for Texas.— Kirk Bohls (@kbohls) August 7, 2016
Indeed, it was a young group last season that lost only nickel back Duke Thomas and added some extra talent in addition to the seasoning of experience.
For instance, sophomore cornerback Kris Boyd isn’t good enough to start for this team, but he can still make plays like this:
Texas WR Collin Johnson vs DB Kris Boyd pic.twitter.com/NovQz3oi91— Anwar Richardson (@AnwarRichardson) August 7, 2016
Even the linebackers got involved, as freshman Demarco Boyd intercepted a pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Matthew Merrick and The Shark, freshman Jeffrey McCulloch, read a rollout from Heard and was able to jump the short route for his own interception (a play initially incorrectly attributed):
DB Jordan Strickland with an INT during practice pic.twitter.com/JgGyrazelF— Anwar Richardson (@AnwarRichardson) August 7, 2016
Sophomore Anthony Wheeler also deflected a pass that sophomore cornerback Holton Hill intercepted with a diving play.
Considering that the pass defense ranked No. 20 last season in pass defense S&P+, the sky truly is the limit for Strong’s group in that area of the game.
It was also a positive to see graduate transfer kicker Trent Domingue connect on a field goal that was at the edge of his effective range:
Strong had put Domingue’s Saturday effectiveness at 5-of-6, exactly what the ‘Horns need from the 2015 Lou Groza Award semifinalist.
Also of note is the fact that Texas is no longer wearing the burnt orange and black practice uniforms that are so divisive, but continue the tradition of not earning the helmet decals until the season starts.
Do you like the practice uniform change?