Trent Dilfer is the best friend of every QB prospect who works hard and has a good arm. He’s on the record saying some pretty silly things in defense of QB’s, but he’s also a fantastic coach of the mechanics of spinning the football. And he loves Tyrone Swoopes.
Trent Dilfer loved Tyrone Swoopes coming out of high school. Why? Because he worked extra hard and really zeroed in on his instructions and tasks. Also, he’s exceptionally large and powerful and can throw a pigskin a quarter-mile.
However, coming out of a 2A high school program that lost nine games his senior year and essentially asked him to run over and around opponents 15-20 times a game as an offensive strategy, Swoopes was a pretty raw prospect.
After coming to Texas he quickly packed on good weight to get to about 250. He passed up Connor Brewer on the depth chart somehow and then he had his shirt burned by Mack when Ash went down, Brewer left town, and the team was left with Swoopes as the back-up to a QB who’s life was on the line every time he stepped on a football field. Mack took the most raw, most uniquely gifted, and most difficult to project athlete on the roster and burned his redshirt to gives us a reel of tape that runs about 5:00. Thanks Mack.
So what can we learn from those five minutes? What do we have with Tyrone Swoopes and how does he fit with the new ball-control offense?
Part 1: The physical tools
The additional 20-30 pounds that Swoopes added after enrolling at Texas did not help with the one flaw in Swoopes athletic skill set, his acceleration. Swoopes does not have elite change of direction or acceleration, but he does have quickfeet and isn’t slow to the hole:
Link to clip
In this play he’s running one of the best and most popular plays in football today: the Zone Read with an arc block. I call it “Zarc,” I believe I’m alone in doing so.
Here’s the trick with “Zarc,” first you have the normal read of the unblocked defensive end. In this instance, the boundary DE is unblocked. If he dives in after the RB, the QB pulls the ball and attacks the edge. The wrinkle is that he has a lead block from the H-back. If you attempt to handle this play with “scrape exchange” in which the DE dives after the RB and the outside linebacker (in this case “W”) handles the QB, then the linebacker has to first beat the H-back’s block. Realistically, the safety better get there pretty quick.
Kansas has an extra man in the box because they drop down the boundary safety but they screw it up when their Will linebacker is caught inside going after the RB and the safety is left to beat the H-back’s block AND make the tackle on the QB.
Swoopes is just able to cut outside the DE diving desperately at his legs, and then he gets North & South. His initial read is good, his quick move outside is decent, but his straight line power and ability to snatch up yards reminds of Collin Klein. Overall that’s a good way to understand his running skills. Once he gets North & South, he’s dangerous and can make head fakes while his legs gobble up yardage. When he’s not up to full speed and is trying to make lateral moves in the backfield he’s a far cry from Johnny Manziel.
Swoopes isn’t an elite running prospect, but his quickness, power, and size make him a guy that could add the QB run game to an offense as a component without the fear of injuries ruining everything. That’s a valuable trait when plays like QB draw, Zarc, and Power-read are dominating the college game for their respective abilities to outnumber defenses at the point of attack. There are free yards to be had.
Swoopes ran each of these plays as a part of his package in 2013 and showed the ability to make the right reads and some nice moves in each. In fact, OSU had clearly taken the time to prepare some different defensive looks for him and showed him a few different responses to Zarc which henavigates competently.
It’s easy to get caught up in his tremendous size and quickness, but Swoopes’ truly valuable tool for the QB position is his arm. He has elite arm strength.
Link to Davis Drop
That’s a frozen rope thrown 65 yards that hits the receiver in the hands while in stride. I’m not sure if there’s another QB currently in the B12 that can make that throw.
Arm strength isn’t everything, and it typically doesn’t differentiate the elite QB’s from the average or poor ones…but it certainly doesn’t hurt a player on the field. Observe the value of his cannon arm on this next throw:
Link to quick out:
Swoopes throws slightly off-balance here but nails the quick out to the receiver in stride, allowing them to turn up field for additional yardage.
Link to Y-stick
That’s Swoopes throwing Y-stick to Jaxon Shipley, a likely staple of the 2014 Texas offense. He reads the Mike linebacker, who’s not terribly positioned, and then beats him with the throw. Trent Dilfer was in love with Swoopes’ ability to make the perfect throw that would beat any coverage, even if he made the wrong read.
When “Roney” gets his feet set, he can make that Platonic throw. If it wasn’t plainly obvious from his high school tape, what he’s already shown in college reveals that Swoopes has some really special physical tools.
Part 2: Current stage of development
Tyrone Swoopes is clearly a quick learner and a hard worker. What little we’ve heard about him from the new regime says he’s a workout warrior who responds well to coaching. For that reason, it’ll be important to nail down exactly what he offers to Texas so that he can be developed in that role quickly and we don’t waste his exceptional gifts.
If we like him as a QB, then let Watson get to work in taking him from where he was in the Oregon game to where he needs to be to be “the man” at the University of Texas. If we don’t like him as a QB, let’s get numbers at the position and get him that needed redshirt so we can figure out where his talent and size might take him. Tight end? Left tackle?
Major Applewhite got Swoopes started at about Level 1 on the QB difficulty scale: read 1 guy, make a play. These days, many kids enter college already at about Level 3: Read the coverage, choose a target.
Link to scramble as 2nd read
Besides his package of run plays, Texas would give Swoopes exceptionally simple reads to make. In this play, he has Y-stick as his main concept. He reads the Mike linebacker, who’s widened out to defend the stick route, so Roney takes off.
Major would also set him up with choices on the backside to the X receiver. If X has a big cushion, throw the hitch route and take the easy money. If not, proceed to reading the Mike backer after the snap and either throw or run. Another example would be the rollout play-action play we saw Swoopes run early in the season before Texas unveiled more of his package. Very simple reads for Swoopes: rollout, throw to the main receiver if open, if not take off.
This is all too simple to build an entire gameplan around because you run the risk of allowing the defense to build a variety of complicated responses to your simple concepts, confuse Swoopes, and create negative plays and turnovers. Additionally, it doesn’t make good use of the full arsenal on the roster.
Major slowly integrated more options and reads into Swoopes’ package over the course of the season, but he finished the year still well short of a playbook’s worth of material. Swoopes very rarely went from a first passing read to a second after the snap, which is essential to playing QB at a B12 level.
Part 3: The future
Quarterbacks tend to fall into some of the following ranges:
Tier 1: The limited QB who has enough tools and skills to unlock only part of a system.
Examples: Case McCoy, Blake Bell
Tier 2: The QB who has the tools and skills to utilize multiple facets of a system.
Examples: Leach’s parade of Tech QB’s, Nick Florence
Tier 3: The QB with the tools and skills to master and dominate with multiple facets of a system.
Examples: Jameis Winston, Sam Bradford
Tier 4: The QB who is good within a system, but who can create offense outside of the system’s blueprints.
Examples: RG3 with his “Am I scrambling or throwing deep?” routine, Vince Young, Johnny Football.
Obviously Tier 3 QB’s can be equal to or better than Tier 4 cats. Winston’s ability to make reads and drill elite receivers in the hands is virtually unstoppable even if his ability to improvise and run is a tad overrated. Ditto Bradford.
Currently Swoopes is at Tier 1. His raw tools include some elite traits but what he lacks is keeping him from reaching Tier 2 or demonstrating whether Tiers 3 or 4 are possibilities.
What does he lack besides the ability to make and process reads quickly? Footwork.
It’s common for fans to think of the ability to make progressions as being a matter of vision and processing speed. Those matter, but equally essential is the QB’s footwork. Accuracy and velocity depend on footwork, even for someone with a cannon like Swoopes. The trick in being able to scan through progressions, utilize normal passing concepts, and make full use of a playbook is in being able to reset the feet from one progression to the next.
Swoopes needs to be able to make hitch steps, plant, and then rifle one of his beautiful passes to the 2nd or 3rd receiver in the progression in at least a few concepts before he can graduate to Tier 2 and be a good back-up and fall back plan in the event of an Ash injury.
Here is attempting to make progressions against Oregon:
Link to clip:
He’s not too terribly far away, but he’s not there yet. The Shawn Watson passing game has plenty of throws you can make off pre-snap reads such as the quick hitch, but these still thrive when the QB can fix his eyes on defenders rather than targets, and then turn, plant, and fire. The large section of Watson’s West-Coast playbook that relies on post-snap reads require even more of these skills.
Because he’s a coordinated athlete and a hard worker, it’s likely that Swoopes can use this offseason to successfully add the footwork and understanding of some main concepts to make that graduation. But what’s the ceiling?
Can he read a defense quickly and accurately enough to threaten multiple parts of the field rather than select, pre-determined areas of perceived weakness? Will his footwork lead him to be accurate in the quick, intermediate, and deep game?
Ultimately, can he create off-schedule plays? What happens when things break down or the defense blitzes? Will he understand the D well enough to murder a blitz with a deep bomb or perfectly timed slant? Can he escape the pocket, keep his eyes downfield and use his feet to make a play with his arm?
This is where Swoopes’ obvious skills point to an excitingly high ceiling. We don’t know how he’ll read D’s or respond to pressure, but we know he has the feet and the arm strength to do unspeakable damage on the run. We also know his arm strength and accuracy could allow him to regularly beat good coverage if he masters basic progressions. It’ll be up to Watson and co. to look sharply for signs that Roney’s visual processing skills and instincts show that potential to uncage that monster while teaching him college quarterbacking 101.
If there’s no key to that monster’s cage, then Texas would be well-served to get Swoopes to Tier 2 for the fall, find other solutions at QB, then redshirt him for his Junior year and find out what else his awesome athleticism and work ethic might allow him to do on a football field.
The Eyes of Texas are upon you, Swoopes.