When the Texas Longhorns take the field at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium for the Orange-White game in nine days, fans will have a chance to see new and improved versions of Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger, the two quarterbacks seriously competing for the starting job.
“Both of those guys have really accepted and ran with the challenges we gave them in the offseason,” head coach Tom Herman said on Tuesday.
Ehlinger, now a sophomore, took the first big step in addressing the issues from his debut campaign with the Longhorns by avoiding turnovers against the Tigers in the Texas Bowl. Late interceptions against Oklahoma State and Texas Tech and a fumble in overtime against USC cost Texas three games last season.
So after an offseason that included developing a better understanding of how to manage games to avoid those critical turnovers, Ehlinger took mental reps to improve his situational awareness.
Back in February, Herman expressed optimism about that development.
“I think just the year under his belt and the year of college football, another spring practice, another training camp, the speed of the game is going to slow down for that kid monumentally,” Herman said.
Through 10 practices, that work is playing off.
“For Sam, that was quickening his release and protecting the ball,” Herman said. “He’s done that.”
The need for Ehlinger to quicken his release hasn’t gotten nearly the same amount of attention as the larger game management issues he struggled with, but is also extremely important. Ehlinger often struggled to get the ball out on time last season — hence the need for the game to slow down for him — and offensive coordinator Tim Beck wasn’t able to call as many run-pass options for Ehlinger as for Buechele because his release was slower. To execute those plays at a high level, the decision-making process and the actual release of the football, starting with the passer’s footwork, have to align and happen extremely quickly.
Beyond other bigger-picture considerations when looking at the offense, if Ehlinger can handle all the run-pass options that Buechele can execute, it will make the process of calling plays much easier for Beck and won’t require him drop most of that package of plays when Ehlinger is in the game.
With Buechele, the big concern is whether he can stay healthy after once again entering the offseason with an injury, this time a hip/abductor issue that required surgery. However, Herman wanted him to focus on aspects of his leadership style and command of the system.
“And for Shane it was the management of the offense,” Herman said. “Don’t just be a participant in the plays. You’re the conductor of the plays — not just a passive participant.”
Herman sounded pleased about the progress of both of his quarterbacks on Tuesday after declining to say much about their play through the early part of spring practice. In fact, the Longhorns head coach said that the quarterbacks threw the ball consistently and created explosive plays in the passing game during last Saturday’s scrimmage.
“Both of those guys have really gotten better.”