For the second time in two years, Texas Longhorns quarterback Shane Buechele is undergoing a trial by fire — learning a new scheme, adjusting to new coaches, and competing for the starting job in Austin.
On Thursday, offensive coordinator Tim Beck confirmed that behind the incumbent starter in competition for the starting job is early enrollee Sam Ehlinger, who is in a similar position to this year’s version of Buechele and last year’s version of Buechele that arrived on campus one semester early.
Ehlinger is learning a new scheme, adjusting to new coaches, and competing for the starting job, but he’s doing so behind a quarterback who just turned in the most impressive true freshman season at the position in school history.
So far, Beck sees a positive trajectory with the two guys who are receiving — and need, in his opinion — all the practice reps they can get.
“I do think they’re improving,” Beck said. “I like both of them. They’re working really hard. They’re competing. They’re locked in, dialed in.”
In that sense, it’s not a surprise that two quarterbacks with maturity and poise beyond their years would get it in that sense — it isn’t news now and hasn’t been for some time. Just a little more confirmation, if anything.
That trial by fire is not easy, though, as the staff is purposely gauging scheme retention with an aggressive installation plan on both sides of the ball that has resulted in the defense often getting the best of the offense.
However, just like head coach Tom Herman wasn’t worried about that outcome, Beck isn’t either.
“At times, it can be overwhelming,” Beck said. “I’ve seen a lot of different things for those guys, but that’s okay. That’s part of what spring ball is. Just throw everything at them, as much as you can, when you install. See what they can handle and can’t handle. The harder we make it for them right now, the easier it’s going to be for them in a game. That’s part of the process.”
So don’t read too much into the fact that Buechele is leading or the fact that both have struggled at times. Again, part of the process.
“To think they’re going to go out there and complete 90 percent of their balls, and go 22-of-24 with six touchdowns, that’s not realistic. We’re trying to make it very, very difficult. Very hard for them, mentally, physically, emotionally. We keep installing. We keep challenging those guys, so they have to rack their brain and be pros, study the game away from football, and be able to come back and take it to the field.”
In that process of transitioning study and ability to the practice setting, Buechele’s game experience gives him an edge in processing speed.
"He understands and knows where the hole might be, where he needs to go with the ball faster than Sam does," Beck said.
One element of that growth process for Buechele is growing into a more vocal leader, a role that doesn’t necessarily come naturally for someone with the workmanlike approach always adopted by Steve Buechele’s youngest child.
“He’s growing in that area, certainly,” Beck said. “Obviously, last year as a true freshman, had some seniors, older players, they kind of took that charge, and for Shane, that wasn’t his role. Wasn’t expected of him.”
On the offensive side of the ball, departed players like Tyrone Swoopes, who gracefully handled another loss in a quarterback competition, were able to fill that role. That’s the nature of college football and college sports in general — the seniors lead and the freshmen try to get acclimated as well as possible.
By any measure, Buechele did that exceedingly well, but now the expectations are different.
Suddenly, he’s the oldest quarterback in a small position room that only includes Ehlinger and sophomore walk-on Josh Covey, who played quarterback in high school but spent his time at wide receiver last year.
“I expect that of him,” said the Texas offensive coordinator. “I do, and Coach Herman expects that of him. He’s learning. He’s growing into that. Again, sometimes it’s very hard to lead when you’re overwhelmed. There’s been days when the information I’ve given him has been like shoving a hose down his throat. Hard to lead when you can’t speak. He’s doing really good. I think he’ll be able to do that for us.”
Last spring and summer, a lot of the stories around Buechele focused on his work ethic, but also the way that he became a focal point for the team, a gravitational force that drew other players to him and to the football facilities.
Buechele’s workmanlike attitude extends to his entire demeanor, but don’t mistake that for a lot of caring.
“That’s one of the things I’ve learned — he doesn’t always show emotion on his face, he’s hard on himself and he’s a professional,” Beck said. “He wants to be really good — the best he can be. He just doesn’t wear it on his sleeve, jump up and down, those types of things.
“I’m trying to let him know it’s okay to play with passion and emotion and allow that to show. And I think he’s learning it. Because the harder you work, the more you put into it, the harder it is to let go of it.”
David Ash struggled with a similar transition — an admitted perfectionist, he often struggled to let the game come to him. The young quarterback currently leading the quarterback competition is already ahead of Ash in that regard, perhaps well ahead, so the potential for Buechele to grow further into his increased role is an intriguing storyline that could turn into a significant development for the Longhorns program.