Football

Monday Mornings with Sean: UT’s future at QB

Charlie Strong. Will Gallagher/IT
Charlie Strong. Will Gallagher/IT

Only one thing gives me pause.

After one full regular season, I won’t lie; I like Charlie Strong, his staff and his program.

I like his core values. I like his discipline. I like his methods of motivation. I like his simple but fundamentally sound defense that plays very hard. I like his security in his talent evaluation in recruiting. I feel good about his ability to run a program that develops young men, especially those young men that need the most when they arrive on campus.

I feel really good about just about everything in this University of Texas program.

I only pause one place.

Unfortunately it is the most important place on the field. I pause at quarterback. Charlie Strong’s management of the quarterback position will be the most interesting story over the next 18 months.

Strong seems to be trying to do what Will Muschamp could not get done at Florida and what Gary Patterson finally gave up on at TCU after two mediocre seasons in the Big 12. It seems like they are/were coaches that like traditional football and offenses and did not want to adopt the spread regardless of the fact that the spread has permeated the nations high schools and prep level football.

It is the one place where Strong and Mack Brown are alike. They both want to be strong defensively, run a pro style, sometimes conservative, play-action passing offense.

Brown’s four biggest seasons (2004, 2005, 2008, and 2009) all came with a strong, zone-read quarterback running and spread concept but it always felt like he didn’t like it and wanted to get away from it.

Here’s the problem – The majority of high schools and even JUCO’s where Texas might recruit are running a version of the spread offense.

It has become a matter of teaching and familiarity. The reason why true freshmen quarterbacks at Texas Tech in 2013 and Arizona in 2014 have had large levels of success is because they are playing a collegiate version of the spread that they ran in high school.

Defensive head coaches seem to dislike the spread and tempo offenses because they believe practicing with ‘finesse’ offenses will make their defense soft and they cannot risk that.

Tyrone Swoopes is learning Shawn Watson’s fairly complex offense. Jerrod Heard, who ran the spread in high school, is trying to learn the same offense. Zach Gentry, who ran the spread this year in high school ball in New Mexico, is going to have to come in and learn it.

There is a learning curve that is much steeper in Watson’s offense than running a version of the spread that stacks on top of what they already know.

Here’s problem # 2 – This system might work if you have a veteran quarterback on your roster that the younger guys can learn from. Texas needs a quarterback now. Who reading this piece right now feels great about Swoopes being the answer going forward?

Obviously Nick Saban and Alabama were able to take a quarterback who ran the spread and won a Texas state championship at Southlake Carroll and turned him into a national champion quarterback in Greg McElroy. We have seen it work.

Understanding the skillsets and experience of Swoopes, Heard, and Gentry, it seems that the only elite level QB skillset of the three is Heard’s feet.

While in my mind it seems the plan should be to take Heard right now and design an offense based off the spread he ran in high school and maximize his elite skillset (his feet). Input the elements you need for your team concept and use the 15 bowl practices, spring practices, and fall camp to get him ready to be the quarterback September 5th in South Bend when Texas plays Notre Dame BUT maybe I’m simplifying it too much.

The bottom line – Strong is almost leaving himself no margin for error at the quarterback spot because the Texas offense is not plug and play like a Baylor seems to be – again, another spread based offense.

I repeat, Texas needs a quarterback NOW! Can they comb the JUCO ranks? Sure. Can they put out feelers for graduate transfers? Definitely.

Can those quarterbacks come to Austin in June and be ready to go by September 5th with this offense?

That’s the $10,000,000 question.

It is a story that I can’t wait to see unfold. Strong has gotten a pass for 2014 and the 6 – 6 record because of the injuries and program cleanup. If 2015 rolls around and the quarterback position is the roller coaster ride it was this season, fortunes will not be so kind and passes will be revoked.

I can’t wait.