With Saturday’s closed-doors scrimmage marking the unofficial end of Fall camp for the Longhorns, let’s take a look at how the storylines and position battles have shaken on the offensive side of the ball as Texas gets ready to throw down with Notre Dame on 9/4.
Ain’t no need to bury the lede. Charlie’s stated desire to ID and name his starter early in camp went a-glimmering, and the best read on the staff’s Project QB Maskirovka and the ongoing Pay Site Source-Off at the position is that the battle has truly been closer than we expected going into camp. While details have been somewhat scant and frequently contradictory, the two guys’ strengths and weaknesses seem to have broken down about like you’d expect. Swoopes has the gun (and has done a solid job of being on target downfield), adds a nice dimension to the run game, has played looser when freed of the burden of Shawn Watson’s West Coast complexity and has handled pressure reasonably well (even if that just means tucking the ball and taking what he can get rather than throwing it up for grabs). Buechele has been fine downfield (though at shorter ranges than Swoopes), stands out with his short/intermediate accuracy and processing speed but has turned the ball over more than you’d like by trying to do too much - especially in the face of middle pressure. If I’m setting the odds for 9/4, the sheet looks like:
- Both quarterbacks play at least ten snaps against ND (-750)
- Tyrone Swoopes takes the first snap against ND (-170)
- Shane Buechele logs more total snaps with the full offense between the 20’s (-120)
- Tyrone Swoopes logs more total snaps inclusive of the 18-Wheeler (-130)
- Texas fans react in a calm and reasoned manner to the entire proceedings (+3500)
Look for a piece detailing the potential look and feel of a Swoochele Offense later in the week.
One other quick note - assuming Swoopes does take the first couple of series against ND, there’s a good chance that someone in the market runs with a “Charlie overruled the entire offensive staff and mandated Swoopes as a starter” narrative and pounds it 24/7.
Don’t buy it.
Foreman and Warren top the depth chart as they had at the start of camp, but the pair has gone in different directions since July. At that time, it sounded as though Foreman was carrying a few extra pounds while Warren looked like a Greek God at 255. Over camp Foreman got back into the 230’s and looks to be running with plenty of speed, burst and violence. Reports have Warren going as high as 265 - with probably less than 7% bodyfat, but he may be running into a place where physics and precedent start saying you’re not going to survive as a high-touch running back. A recurring preseason hamstring injury is scary for any skill-position guy, let alone one who’s already way out on the Physics/Precedent Precipice. Warren can be an absolute monster when healthy and leads the defense’s “Dudes We Hate To Tackle” poll by a landslide, but
Fortunately, Texas looks to be rocking a legitimate four-deep at the position for the first time in a long time. Kirk Johnson has shown the explosive speed and dirty cuts that we expected - he’s had to limit his reps to deal with swelling in his surgically repaired knee, but it seems structurally good to go and he should be able to handle 8-10 touches a game in the near term when called upon.
Kyle Porter is doing his best to answer the “was it him or was it the Katy Tiger OL?” question that we posed in Thinking Texas Football with a definitive “It was me, dammit!” He has been shifty, explosive and tough to tackle while taking the lion’s (tiger’s?) share of late-camp reps as the other backs nursed nicks and bruises.
John Burt has been nigh-uncoverable throughout camp, even for proven specimens like Holton Hill and Davante Davis. He’ll make a legitimate run at first-team All-Conference if he gets effective service from the quarterback position.
With Armanti Foreman missing time with an ankle injury, Collin Johnson has likely locked himself into the starting spot opposite Burt. While he’s still adding nuance to his game as a route-runner, he’s reportedly been good for at least one long TD a day in camp and has been doing a good job attacking the ball on hitches and underneath throws when corners bail back into Cover Three looks. Foreman will hopefully be back for ND and figures to rotate between the outside and the slot once he does, but it’s been tough to get a read on how quickly he’ll be back on the field.
Maybe the most exciting development amongst the wideout corps has been the emergence of Jerrod Heard as a legitimately scary weapon in the slot. He hauled in a 50-yard strike from Beuchele in Saturday’s scrimmage and has shown more route-running savvy than we probably had a right to expect from a new convert to the position.
Devin Duvernay is still moving along the learning curve, but offers instant and obvious danger out of the slot on fly routes, posts and switch fades along with the ability to house a bubble screen. That’s all he’ll need to serve as an early-season weapon with much more to come.
Two more guys in the slot who have garnered praise have been Jacorey Warrick and Jake Oliver. I like Foreman better than Warrick as a slick underneath option with some verticality, but Warrick has reportedly acquitted himself well and should log solid snaps in four-wide looks. Oliver still feels miscast as a possession/chain-moving guy in an Attack Uber Alles O, but he’s been money on quick outs with Buechele and - for what it’s worth - ran right by Dylan Haines for a long TD in Saturday’s scrimmage action. Hopefully he’s able to add that kind of effective route diversity in games, because right now I’d call an automatic Palms/2-Read defense on his side of the field if he aligns in the slot and have my corner waiting to jump the nigh-inevitable out route.
Dorian Leonard has improved his hands and overall consistency and should earn himself some snaps on the outside.
Blueitt remains the man, and there’s optimism that he’ll do a more effective job of working the seams and open hook zone spaces than we saw in the Spring Game. Beck has taken some steps as a receiver, but it still figures to be tough for him to earn his way onto the field in anything other than short yardage/18-Wheeler situations rather than just simply playing a third receiver.
Connor Williams, Patrick Vahe and Kent Perkins have been the rocks of the OL as expected. Williams and Vahe won’t make the jump from Freshman All-Americans to Actual All-Americans in a single season, but they both look to be moving along some nice growth curves and should be plus players all season. Perkins has taken to his natural position at guard like a duck to water and is the OL’s most potent in-line person-mover.
There’s still hope that Tristan Nickelson makes it back in time to line up at right tackle against the Irish, but if not the Longhorns won’t be bereft of options. Brandon Hodges, Denzel Okafor, Patrick Hudson and Jean Delance have all taken reps on the right side. Some reports have Hodges as the leader to start against ND if Nickelson can’t go, but we’re still putting our money on TTF favorite Okafor to grab the job and hump it into submission. Good news on the Delance front is that he’s shown a little more functional power than he did in his high school All-Star game appearance, and that coupled with his already elite feet could make him a survivable fill-in at either tackle spot. Not ideal, mind you, but survivable.
Center is...interesting. Zach Shackelford is still out with no word on his return, and the staff has been content to roll with Jake McMillon as the sole backup (discounting, as always, Terrell Cuney) rather than cross-training anyone else at the position. Even if that can be read as optimism that Shack will be back for ND, he’ll still be a true freshman who missed out on more than two weeks of important camp reps. If there’s a spot on the offense that can turn the whole thing pear-shaped against Notre Dame (and senior NT Jarron Jones), this is it.
That’s the rundown on Sterlin Gilbert’s bunch with 13 days to glory(?) - for an even more comprehensive look at all things Longhorn, don’t forget your copy of the best preseason guide on the market.