We flip back to the offense for the 2019 Texas Longhorns Position Preview series to take a look at the quarterback position. So far, we’ve covered running backs, linebackers, the offensive line, the defensive line. the wide receivers/tight ends, and the defensive backs.
Junior: Sam Ehlinger
Freshmen: Roschon Johnson, Casey Thompson (redshirt)
The 2019 Longhorns’ quarterback room consists of veteran Sam Ehlinger and two young quarterbacks in redshirt freshman Casey Thompson and true freshman Roschon Johnson. Texas also has walk-on players at the position in Sam Saxton and Ben Ballard, as second-year walk on Tremayne Prudhomme is now at defensive back. Both walk-ons are true freshman from the Austin-area, and the 6’5”, 205-pound Saxton has gotten a little bit of buzz this off-season as well.
The Longhorns football season will largely hinge on three key aspects surrounding star quarterback Sam Ehlinger: 1) His ability to execute the increased emphasis on run-pass options, 2) his development as a passer connecting with receivers downfield for big plays, (40+ yards), and 3) Texas’ and his ability to maintain his health throughout the season.
The reality is that the results of successfully executing #1, more RPOs, should support both #2 and #3. And if executing RPO’s is goal number one then generating more big plays is certainly a related goal.
When completing long passes of 10-plus, 20-plus, and 30-plus yards, Ehlinger was consistently ranked fourth in the Big 12 last season in totals behind some combination of Kyler Murray, Will Grier, and Taylor Cornelius. When the metric increased to passing plays of 40-plus yards, Ehlinger’s production drop drastically to 10th in the conference, a ranking with neighbors like quarterbacks Shawn Robinson and Jett Duffey.
In total, Ehlinger completed just five passes of 40-plus yards. TCU’s Shawn Robinson, who predominantly played in six games, totaled four passes of 40-plus yards while Texas Tech’s Jett Duffey, who played extensively in about five games, totaled five.
There’s no question Ehlinger showcased a lot of ability last season. His 25 touchdowns through the air and 16 touchdowns on the ground were a few of the reasons why he’s been named to the Davey O’Brien Award Watch List, the Maxwell Award Watch List, selected as the Big 12 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, and has garnered hype from the media and former players such as Bruce Feldman and Longhorn great Vince Young.
The versatile quarterback is a strong leader who can impact a game with his arm, legs, and gritty leadership. But for Ehlinger and this Texas offense to truly take the next step, showcasing accuracy on long passing plays and taking advantage of those opportunities and others as more run-pass options should generate will be factors that determine what level of production the Texas offense generates in 2019.
Ehlinger’s ability to stay healthy will of course also directly effect the level of success the 2019 Longhorns’ offense achieves. In theory, implementing more run-pass option plays will also create two initial options (handing it off to a running back or passing it to a receiver) that don’t involved Ehlinger keeping the football in his hands.
Does that mean the Longhorns won’t utilize Ehlinger as a weapon in the run game and red zone? Not at all. BON’s own publisher Wescott Eberts pointed that out in the article linked above. Instead, the focus on the offense shifts some to highlight more skill position players around the quarterback position, resulting in less opportunities for Ehlinger to absorb contact from defenders.
In the event Ehlinger does miss time or need to be spelled mid-game, redshirt freshman Casey Thompson will be the first off the bench at quarterback.
After deciding to pull his name from the transfer portal and return to Texas for his second season, Thompson has shown positive signs of development throughout the off-season with the goal of at least being a serviceable back-up if called upon.
The natural strength of the 6’1, 195-pound former four-star quarterback out of Oklahoma has been his legs. As a senior in high school, Thompson rushed for over 1,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. Since arriving to Texas, the staff has focused on developing his passing ability.
Herman and company would definitely prefer to insert Thompson into games at their leisure with comfortable leads on the scoreboard. And considering Thompson has yet to step onto the field in a live game at Texas, creating an opportunity for Thompson to play with a lead as early as this Saturday against Louisiana Tech would be ideal.
Regardless, the coaches will need to continue to prep Thompson best they can to prepare the young quarterback for his time on the field, whenever it may come.
Behind Ehlinger and Thompson sits true freshman Roschon Johnson. A 6’2, 220-pound quarterback out of Port Neches, Texas, Johnson is a former four-star prospect who was an electric play-maker amassing nearly 4,900 yards on the ground and 7,710 yards through the air.
With injuries plaguing the running backs heading into week one, Johnson has actually been getting reps at running back as a lifeline for the position should the Longhorns need him.
How Johnson factors into the Longhorns’ offense long-term is intriguing. He has size and skills to attack a defense in a number of ways. For the short term, his versatility will help the staff fill in the depth chart where there is need.
With Ehlinger leading the way, the quarterback position at Texas has an elite signal-caller at the helm. Expectations are that Ehlinger continues to develop, ultimately leading Texas to play in a consecutive Big 12 Championship game. And with more weapons surrounding him along with a re-tooled offensive line, the makings of a strong year for Ehlinger are certainly there to be had.