A bounce-back performance by Texas Longhorns sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes has reduced the popularity of redshirting freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard until at least the TCU contest, but where is the young player currently in his development?
On Friday, play caller Shawn Watson discussed the progress of the Denton Guyer product more than a few Texas fans thought might end up being the savior this season in case of an injury to David Ash. The injury to Ash happened, but Heard hasn't seen the field.
Watson said that he and head coach Charlie Strong have sat down each week during the season to discuss Heard and the possibility of giving him a chance to play.
"In the end, to be honest with you he wasn't putting the work out there yet, because he was still learning," said Watson. "It would make us look like what we say is not what we mean or what we deliver. He's gotten better as a result of it. He's been growing, he's progressed, especially in the latter half of this season has been good; he's coming along a lot better. He didn't have the spring as for example Tyrone Swoopes did, and that's really where you see him right now."
Swoopes, of course, looked terrible for most of his spring game performance early before locking in some after the defense reduced the amount of pressure he was facing, exactly the type of learning that Heard didn't have a chance to do.
Working with quarterback guru George Whitfield on two separate occasions was surely beneficial, but it wasn't working under Watson and learning his expectations and his playbook. Heard needed that instruction, to begin to understand a relatively complex collegiate offense, to understand how to read coverages.
"It takes time," Watson admitted. "He's never been a part of a passing game like we have and that's a major transition. He hasn't been a part of all the different coverages that go on in football. In the week to week preparation, one week you see a middle closed team, next week you see a quarters team that plays cover two, you see a team that plays quarters and has man pressures..."
Swoopes went through some of that last season and is certainly going through a trial by fire on the field this season. More refined than Swoopes because of all the extra reps that Heard in high school that the current starter did not, the freshman still going through a similar process.
"He's just coming out of high school; he's been getting his feet on the ground with the system," Watson said. "He's got a better understanding today of what college football is, what is going to require to be an elite player. That's going to be a lot of study and hard work, which he's going to put in."
If there's on criticism of Heard so far, it's that he's not clearly a prodigy in that regard -- Watson said that only Teddy Bridgewater "got it right away." Every other quarterback he's ever coached had to endure a learning curve that included being overwhelmed by the type of preparation that it takes at the college level, a level of preparation that even a conscientious high school quarterback can't normally achieve.
So it's a mild criticism, but it does temper any program-saving expectations for Heard in the near term.
Watson did say that the young quarterback has been learning, that he is closer to being ready to play. The time constraints of needing to work in depth with Swoopes on his own mental approach to the game are significant for the Texas play caller, but Watson still takes the time to sit down with Heard and go over the script before practice.
It's an important time for both Watson and Heard because it reveals what Heard doesn't understand, identifying the weaknesses in his comprehension and allowing Watson to target them for growth. And it's not all about the X's and O's -- Watson's learning how Heard learns, the buttons he needs to push to get the best out of his pupil.
At times in practice is pays off with the type of execution that allows for some positive feedback and the evolution of Watson's teaching style with the former two-time state champion.
"Now he's starting to get it. He'll be really competitive for us in the spring."
And Watson has said that there will be an open quarterback competition when those 15 crucial practices happen as the weather starts to warm in anticipation of another hot Austin summer.
The final two games will to a large extent the narrative for Tyrone Swoopes heading into the spring and either open the door even more in the competition if he struggles as he did against Kansas State and at times against West Virginia or further cement his position if he can continue to grow as he did against Oklahoma State.
Most likely there will be some bad moments and some good moments in a mix that will continue to be impossible to predict, but Heard will be much closer to being ready to get on the field during his first spring
Perhaps by the end of it Swoopes will even have some serious competition on his hands.