Several months ago, Casey Thompson was the fourth-string quarterback running the scout team, tasked with impersonating opponents instead of running head coach Tom Herman’s offense.
Coming out of spring practice for the Texas Longhorns, the redshirt freshman who spent nearly a month in the NCAA transfer portal is now the backup one injury away from the starting job.
In the Orange-White game on Saturday, Thompson concluded a key spring practice that saw him take reps with the first-team offense and second-team offense in a heartening performance.
“I think we all feel confident in the trajectory of Casey and the improvement and strides that he has made,” Herman said. “We’re happy. We think we’ve got as good of a situation as possible there with Casey Thompson.”
The situation doesn’t feature the same depth as last season with the departure of fellow 2018 signee Cameron Rising to Utah and the transfer of former backup Shane Buechele to SMU. Buechele started 19 games for the Longhorns and threw for more than 4,600 yards, good for 10th in school history. In two appearances last season, Buechele proved himself a capable game manager who made winning plays.
Thompson hasn’t yet thrown a pass in college.
Still, in an era where quarterbacks often transfer quickly in search of playing time, Thompson stuck around and did enough throughout the spring to alleviate the most serious concerns about his development.
As a runner, Thompson provides a dynamic quality that showed up on quarterback runs and in scramble situations. He finished with 62 yards without sacks and the only touchdown of the game. Behind second-team center Rafiti Ghirmai, Thompson often had to deal with poor snaps that disrupted the timing of plays, but managed to make defenders miss on that goal-line touchdown run and picked up available yardage when he left the pocket.
Other than an interception when it appeared Thompson’s arm was hit as he threw into the wind, he didn’t seriously endanger the football and commanded the offense with decisive reads. In going 14-of-31 passing for 83 yards, Thompson suffered from numerous dropped passes and wide receivers who weren’t on the same page with him.
Even junior starter Sam Ehlinger wasn’t able to complete passes downfield, but Thompson made the best touch throws down the sideline, his best attribute in the pocket. On two potential touchdowns, redshirt freshman Al’vonte Woodard and freshman Bru McCoy created separation, then decided to slow down in apparent attempts to maintain position instead of maintaining speed. Both passes ended up overthrown — there was no reason for Woodard and McCoy to change their routes after stacking the cornerback.
On other occasions, targets simply dropped passes that were delivered to the correct spots.
With so many young wide receivers, then, the biggest area for growth as Thompson moves into the offseason is making sure that they are on the same page and doing what their quarterback expects them to do.
“Casey was very accurate throwing the ball,” Herman said. “He showed you what he can do with his feet, but I thought he threw the ball well, too.”
The unsurprising departures in front of Thompson at quarterback put the Horns in a difficult position, but the Oklahoma legacy did what he could this spring to prove that he can become a capable backup.