Culpepper: Spring Football in Austin

Tyrone Swoopes. (Will Gallagher/IT)
Tyrone Swoopes. (Will Gallagher/IT)

It was on a recruiting trip to Lubbock trying to persuade talented Gregg Lott to become a Texas Longhorn that Coach Darrell Royal began to talk about selecting a QB in his system of football. I was a young inexperienced assistant, and to my credit, kept my mouth shut and listened.

As best I remembered the following: “Not only does a QB have to be smart but tough. That’s why I let them get hit in the spring. I want to know how they will react, as does the rest of his teammates.”

​So the Longhorn QB’s of the 60’s were lead blockers for the Longhorn’s pitch sweep, which was a base play in the Wing-T. Later the Texas QB’s ran the wishbone and took plenty of hard knocks in the Spring.

Whistles blow from all directions now in modern day spring drills when defenders get near the QB.​

​I ask a simple question, “How can a coach find a QB in a game that features contact if he never gets knocked around by a pass rush or tackled when he tries to run the football”?

​Tyrone Swoopes became a college football player when the Longhorns put him in a short yardage package and he began to take pride in his ability to give out as much punishment as he was taking.

​Jerrod Heard uses his speed to evade the big hits but wasn’t able to hold up in the late stages of the 2015 season. He remains a threat and is a work in progress.

​Shane Buechele by all reports has an accurate, live arm but durability because of his size is a real question. He won’t get hit this spring so the new Texas OC Sterlin Gilbert will have to rely on the Arlington Lamar real game experience to judge Shane’s game toughness.

​One real good feature for Longhorn football is whoever emerges as the starting QB and I am betting on the one who beat Baylor -Tyrone Swoopes – is that before anybody can tee off on the Texas QB they better get its defense set to stop one of the best running back tandems in College Football. The Dallas Cowboys defense couldn’t match up with the Chris Warren – D’Onta Foreman combination.

Running lots of plays at a rapid pace is fine if that means plenty of first downs. Three plays and punt is a killer and wears down your defense.

​Of course you know I’m old fashioned and would love to see Swoopes getting the spread snap with Warren on one side and Foreman on the other. Talk about an all day job trying to defend that setup.

The biggest change to this football team will come when they go out in full pads in August and those five defensive Lineman, a group of solid HS linebackers and perhaps the most talented DBs that were recruited in the nation begin to find their place on the Longhorn defense.

Most certainly in the “Briles” spread attack the wide receivers have to stretch the field to be really good deep threats.

Coach Charlie Strong came in with an assistant that had developed a top QB at Louisville and tried to make Swoopes such a player – it didn’t work. The youngster was a reaction athlete – he didn’t know how to use his size as an advantage. Getting hit in 2015 and running over opponents in the 18-wheeler package turned him loose and finally on one leg held the Texas offense together long enough to beat a Baylor squad playing for a Sugar Bowl berth at its home stadium.

To be sure, Notre Dame tore up this Texas defense in South Bend and the fact that the Irish graduated many of their key players on that side of the football should make for a much closer game. If Buechele emerges as the best at running Gilbert’s offense, so be it. Let’s hope if that is the case, that Swoopes and Heard can both have packages of offense in which they can take pressure off a true freshman.

True freshman center Zach Shackelford will be part of new OL coach Matt Mattox’s initial efforts and our prayers will be with him – however that is what spring practice is all about – toughness and hitting for everybody except the QB position.

I wish coach Strong would let the Texas defense tee-off on his new offense in the Spring Game and find out who can stand up under the real pressure of the game of football before the Irish come to DKR.

Buechele-Swoopes-Heard will have their chances. Of course Texas fans would love to see those high number of points on the scoreboard like Baylor puts up. Perhaps that will happen – Tulsa had much less talent than the Longhorns and Gilbert’s offense put up significant numbers.

It’s worth a try and the stakes are high. Coach Strong got what he wanted – a wide opened attack like TCU’s and Baylor’s. I’m just not sure we will see who can be the engineer that makes the offense work until the Fighting Irish sack him.

Believe me, Darrell Royal would find out but the new way, and it’s true for most all college coaches, to “protect” their QB’s in the Spring.

Let’s hope for the best – but my bet would be on Swoopes.



Pat Culpepper played for The University of Texas from 1960-62 and graduated from UT with a B.A. degree with honors in history. He coached college football for 12 years as an assistant at Texas, Colorado, Tulane, Baylor, and Memphis State and was head coach at Northern Illinois from 1976-79. He also spent 16 years as a high school coach in Texas at Midland, Lufkin, Galveston Ball, Westfield and his hometown of Cleburne. He was selected to the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1991. His commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at