Post Spring Football then and now: Quarterbacks

Shane Buechele (Will Gallagher/IT)

Shane Buechele (Eric Nahlin/IT)

Post-Spring – Defensive Backs

Post-Spring – Linebackers

Post-Spring – Running Backs

Discussing quarterback “controversies” is the literally Hitler of football message boards. It’s not as bad as Hitler, because nothing is, so ‘literally’ isn’t apropos, but it still sucks quite a bit and requires a concerted effort from the Aligned Forces to thwart. Maybe literally Il Duce works better.

Now that we have Godwin’s Law out of the way nice and early I hope to diffuse the quarterback “controversy” some seem to feel this board is having before it re-erupts like Shuttlesworth’s post-workout bacne.

There is no controversy. What Texas has is a depth chart – sort of – and quarterback competition not unlike competition at most other positions. That’s a good thing fans should be celebrating.

Real controversies usually happen when a quality, known commodity at the position, gets hurt and the player behind him plays exceedingly well in his absence. This would be Joe Montana and Steve Young to my youth, and Tony Romo and Dak Prescott of more recent vintage. Those played out in predictable, literal ageism fashion. The Niners and the Cowboys went with the guy who provided them the opportunity to be good for the distant future — in other words, the younger guy.

Maybe if Sam Ehlinger was up against Scott Bakula he’d be the leader in the clubhouse, but he’s not. The still youthful yet promising Shane Buechele isn’t going to come back to Ehlinger, Sam is going to have to go out and catch him.

My personal stance on quarterback controversies, both real and imagined, is I don’t give a damn who plays, as long as it’s the winner of a fair competition. And since that’s the only type of competition Tom Herman knows, the rest is wasted bandwidth.

SO QB Shane Buechele

Then: I was high on Buechele from the start (after his sophomore year) and even at a young age I could see he was going to have the mental acuity to play early in college. When Texas targeted him (we had him to UT when others had him to OU) I did even more homework on him, and that led me to my go-to in-state quarterback evaluator stating, “he’s quick in everything he does, thinking, release, and feet.” This was also evident on tape to me, but it was also great to hear this guy had him as his #1 quarterback in-state.

Further thoughts were: he was a functional, coordinated athlete, the type who picks up golf clubs every six months and breaks 90 or goes out and bowls 240 while jacking around with friends. I hated these guys in high school but was glad they were leading our team. What really made him my guy in the class of 2016 was the easy read from far-out that Texas needed a high floor quarterback after taking two quarterbacks in 2015 who had the longest of long developmental curves at the position.

Recall I wanted Quinten Dormady in 2015 because of his ability to play early. Once Texas went with two projects in that class, it had to land a guy like Buechele. The previous cycle affects the next cycle in more ways than just numbers. The staff screwed up in 2015, but did its best to remedy that with Shane in 2016.

Now: Well, he was ready to play early, and while some might take umbrage to the “quick thinking” line above, I’ll remind you that every freshman quarterback’s head is going to swim. Perhaps the smartest quarterback in the history of the sport, Peyton Manning, once backed up a first baseman at the same stage as Shane. I mean, all first baseman do is stand around, pat opposing players on the ass and blow bubbles all day, and Peyton was behind him. Mouth-breathing Eli I’d understand, but Peyton?

While Shane’s head may have been swimming at times, he also demonstrated incredible poise, the ability to make downfield throws (at least to the boundary), solid accuracy, a quick, middle-infielder’s release, and toughness. Probably the biggest negative I saw last year was lack of improvisation. That’s a trait lacking so far that I thought he had. That could change with maturity, however. I was very impressed with Shane’s patience in the spring game and his understanding of when and where his receivers were going to be.

This is easier to accomplish running 1s vs 2s and when you’re in a non-contact jersey, but I still think I saw some real development on his part. Originally I thought Ehlinger would catch Shane in-season, now I’d rate that unlikely, barring injury.

FR QB Sam Ehlinger

Sam Ehlinger at the Spring game. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Sam Ehlinger at the Spring game. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Then: Similar to Buechele, I liked Ehlinger early on based on sophomore tape but didn’t truly fall in love with his ability until the first game of his junior season. That tilt was versus perennial power Southlake Carroll where Ehlinger led Westlake to a white-knuckle victory despite SLC having much better talent top to bottom. The win had me so excited for his future I went to Cain and Abel’s immediately afterwards to write about it.

The main point was he could beat you four ways: with his arm, legs, head, and heart. His feel in the pocket was incredible, only matched by his ability to make off-schedule plays whether passing or running. He’d go on to lead Westlake to an improbable state finals run, a game in which Westlake should have won despite being yet again out-talented, this time by North Shore.

I definitely had some questions about his ability to make tough, intermediate throws, but my biggest concern going into his senior year was his build. He was getting big and looking more like a bulky weight lifter than quarterback.

You need to stay flexible as a quarterback and that includes your upper-half. There’s a reason boxers don’t go crazy on the weights. Now my greatest concern is Sam’s ability to stay healthy, with his linebacker disposition doing him no favors. Despite an injury plagued senior season, he still helped Westlake defeat Katy, with the game winner being yet another improvisational throw while running for his life. Sam’s awareness and field vision are two of the many traits I was bullish on would translate to the college game.

Now: Despite his poor stat line in the spring game, when adjusted for context (he was running 2s vs 1s), he actually looked pretty good and made a couple of throws I wasn’t sure he could make. All too often he had no time to make a play, but on the few occasions when he had time he looked like a viable passing threat. The scrimmage, like summer camp settings, doesn’t reward his ability as a runner, but he looked like he’d be able to tuck and run for yardage on the few early whistle carries he had.

It’s interesting to note, that while these two may have some differing physical attributes, they’re very similar mentally. Each is hyper-competitive, tough, and intelligent.

I do see them different in play-style, with a point guard in basketball being a solid metaphor: Shane is more of the distributor who will feed your weapons in the right place at the right time. He’ll hit your post (Collin Johnson) near the basket (goal line) to exploit a physical or positional mismatch, or hit a cutting two guard (Devin Duvernay) with a clear path to the rack in stride. Sam is more of the point guard you build the offense around. He’s going to get to the rack himself like a young Baron Davis, but he can also pass.

I’m every bit as excited about Ehlinger as I’ve ever been, but probably more so for Buechele than I was at the end of last year (and it’s not like I was down on him then). While I still think Ehlinger has a bit more physical/athletic upside, this competition will be won between the ears and time spent studying the playbook away from the meeting room.

I’ll happily sit back and watch the competition unfold, and because Buechele has the ability to be a solid, above average college quarterback, Texas will really have something if Ehlinger eventually wins out.

Advantage Texas; advantage Texas fans.