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What to watch at the Texas Longhorns spring game

Get primed for the Orange-White game.

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

The Texas Longhorns conclude spring practice on Saturday afternoon at 1 pm CT with the annual Orange-White game on the Longhorn Network, the first public viewing opportunity for fans since the hire of new head coach Charlie Strong back in January.

So while most spring games don't feature a great deal of drama with vanilla looks on offense and defense, which quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson acknowledging that the offense will indeed show little, it will still provide some welcome perspective on the ultimate direction of both units, as well as where the current players are in their various stages of development.

Here are some of the critical questions facing the team as it gets ready for scrimmage.

What is the base offense?

Unsurprisingly, there has been a lot of talk about balance, multiplicity and being physical in the running game, but those comments don't reveal a great deal about what the offense will actually look like.

Will it typically operate with a run-heavy lean with two tight ends or will Watson and offensive coordinator Joe Wickline opt for a more balanced run-pass personnel grouping with three wide receivers and one tight end or H-back?

How often will Texas run four- or five-wide sets?

Can Tyrone Swoopes throw with accuracy?

There weren't a lot of takeaways from the limited snaps Swoopes got last year, but his running ability is pretty much unquestioned and his throw against Oregon that was dropped by Mike Davis provided a tantalizing glimpse of his arm strength and ability to get vertical in the passing game.

The bigger question is if he can make the right decisions and get the ball where he wants to it go after he makes his initial read. It was a problem in high school and from all reports, it's something that has continued to plague the big quarterback.

If he ends up having to play this fall, the Texas coaches won't ask him to look like an NFL quarterback and get deep through his progressions -- in such a scenario, they would probably just keep things simple and ask Swoopes to execute at a basic level.

Likewise, he doesn't need to be a superstar on Saturday to reverse the negative developing narrative around him that has some questioning his future at the position even though his development was always going to be a slow process. Instead, Swoopes just needs to make smart decisions and be accurate with the football.

How effective are the tight ends?

The coaches have been selling tight end recruits on being showcased in the new offense, something that Watson was able to do with great success last year at Louisville when the players at the position caught nearly 70 balls.

For the offense to work next season, Geoff Swaim and company won't have to approach that level of production, as Swaim and the currently injured Greg Daniels are both good enough in the blocking game to provide value without catching passes -- essentially the story of the tight end position in 2013.

But since Swaim is at his best on the move, will he work in that capacity with Daniels out, the guy who was the in-line blocker last year? Can Blake Whiteley hold his own with his hand on the ground and firing off the ball as a blocker? Is MJ McFarland going to see the field at all after hardly seeing the field last year, which represented a drop in his playing time from 2012?

If any of those three can show anything in the passing game, it would be a major bonus.

Is Jalen Overstreet really a running back?

With only two scholarship running backs available for the game with senior big back Joe Bergeron out working on his academics, the sophomore will get some significant playing time behind starter Malcolm Brown. And while Overstreet was good against New Mexico State last fall, he didn't really look like a natural late in the season and there are still questions about his future position and whether he even has a future in the program.

The stakes are probably as high for Overstreet to show something on Saturday as for anyone on the team with the exception of Swoopes.

Will Jacorey Warrick flash?

The sophomore wide receiver was good enough to get on the field as a true freshman last fall, one of the few players in the class who didn't redshirt, but he didn't catch a pass or play enough to form an opinion about his eventual upside, seeing brief action in four games.

But the tantalizing looks at his open-field elusiveness from practice video is enough to wonder if he needs to play this fall. There are a number of players in front of Warrick, including Jaxon Shipley, Kendall Sanders, and Daje Johnson, so the path to playing time won't be easy and there are plenty of wide receivers who have played well in the spring game only to fail to build on those showings in the fall (hey there, DeSean Hales), but catching some passes on Saturday would be a positive step.

How capable are Darius James and Camrhon Hughes at tackle?

Developing depth at a position that is skeletally thin right now is a huge priority for Joe Wickline. Sure, the play of Taylor Doyle in his starting guard spot and the play of Rami Hammad behind him will be critical to establishing the potential of the line since the starters will get the majority of the snaps, but seeing whether James or Hughes are viable players is just as important to survive an injury or ineffectiveness.

Hughes didn't look like a contributor last fall just more than a year after his ACL injury and didn't see any playing time at all. James was a high school center who hasn't played outside other than a stint there at the Under Armour All-American game and was projected to play guard when he signed with Texas.

Either of those players looking like legitimate rotation options next fall would be a major bonus for the Horns. Unlike the guard position, there aren't numbers to throw at it like at guard, as evidenced by the fact that James wasn't even a tackle entering the spring.

Can Shiro Davis emerge?

The junior needs to have a break-out season replacing Jackson Jeffcoat after not contributing much his first two years on campus, but will he play in a stand-up position or will he play with his hand on the ground? He's bulked up to 258 pounds, the size of a strong side defensive end, so he should be able to hold up at the point of attack from a pure mass standpoint.

Given that the game plan defensively will surely be as vanilla as the game plan offensively, if the staff does plan on moving Davis around and allowing him to drop into coverage, it might not come out on Saturday, but he will get to go against the first-team offensive line in a starting role for the first time.

Jeffcoat was one of the most prolific players in Texas history in creating stops behind the line of scrimmage, despite the inures that he suffered in his career, so replacing his production is hardly an easy task. The talent of Davis isn't in question, it's just a matter of starting to put it all together and the spring game will provide some insight into where the Louisiana product currently stands in that process.

Who plays in the nickel?

Last season, Quandre Diggs struggled mightily with his run-pass responsibilities and dealing with blockers in his face in the nickel, but Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford may divorce the position of some of those responsibilities, which could potentially allow Diggs to stay there.

When asked about this position at a recent availability, Diggs wasn't willing to reveal much and Strong hasn't directly addressed the question either. Antwuan Davis has the size for the position, unlike Bryson Echols, for instance, but Texas may need Davis at the boundary corner position vacated by the graduation of Carrington Byndom.


So, Texas fans, what do you want to see from the end of spring practice? Which players will you be watching?