March 29, 2013

A football nerd's guide to the UT spring game

The final public early viewing of the 2013 Texas Longhorns takes place on Saturday inside of DKR Stadium at 6:30 p.m. and I thought a primer for the event would do everyone some good.

We know that someone will return a kickoff or punt for a score within the first five minutes that will reassure everyone that greatness in the kicking game is only months away. We know that at one point everyone in attendance will find a little bit of boredom kicking in as the third-team offense and defense battle things out over three yards and a cloud of dust. More than anything, we know that enough skepticism in the fan base exists that trying to use the spring game as a tool to gauge how close this team is to achieving a successful 2013 season is a futile approach.

Therefore, we're not going big-picture at all in this preview of things to watch on Saturday. In fact, a lot of the discussion in this preview is pretty nerdy, so if the idea of counting reps at quarterback or focusing on a young tackle that might not even play a majority of snaps in the fall is your idea of watching paint dry, this preview might not be your bag, but if you want to know what I'll be looking for from the stands on Saturday evening, here's a map of exactly that.

1. Distribution of snaps at the quarterback position.

Everyone in the stadium has an idea of who and what David Ash and Case McCoy represent at the quarterback position, but the battle for positioning around them on the depth chart is a pretty important issue when you consider that the Longhorn staff would like to have better options in the event of an issue to Ash this season. Much of the discussion this spring has centered on the rise of true freshman Tyrone Swoopes for the No. 3 spot at the position in these first 14 practices and the idea of him not redshirting in 2013. Well, we'll get a chance to see Swoopes, Jalen Overstreet and Connor Brewer takes reps in the spring game and it'll be fascinating to see what the trio does in limited action. Does Swoopes come out last because he's a true freshman and younger than the others? Do the coaches show their hand and play him before Overstreet and Brewer? Who gets reps with the No. 2 offense? Who only gets reps with the No. 3 offense? Will any of them dare throw the ball outside of the hashes or down the seams? This is like one big game of Clue and we're looking to find out if Swoopes did it in the kitchen with a candlestick.

2. What does the pace of the offense look like in a scrimmage format with a play-clock running, assuming that an actual play-clock will run?

We've discussed all spring the presence of this new tempo with which the Longhorn offense is trying to function successfully, but this is a chance to see what all the fuss might look like in the fall. How comfortable is the offense with the tempo? If this is part of a new offensive identity, how much of that identity is solidified or still needs to be ironed out before the season starts?

3. Kendall Sanders, Marcus Johnson and Bryant Jackson

The injury to Jaxon Shipley and suspension of Cayleb Jones have opened a pretty wide door for these three to receive precious first-team reps throughout the last two weeks of spring camp. If one of these three can take a step forward on Saturday night and make a few plays, especially with David Ash on the field, it might go a long way towards projecting what the rotation might look like when the team goes to three- and four-receiver sets in the fall. It simply cannot be Mike Davis and Shipley all season long, so someone in this group needs to step forward and preferably more than one.

4. The tight end position …

On paper, the idea of a third-year M.J. McFarland, JUCO enrollee Geoff Swaim and junior blocker Greg Daniels looks pretty good on paper, but so does counterfeit money. I just want to see something … ANYTHING … to make me think it's okay to assume that this position might actually contribute in a truly positive way this season. Admit it, you've forgotten what it feels like.

5. Kennedy Estelle, Kennedy Estelle and more Kennedy Estelle.

There's not much of an offensive line left with projected important pieces Josh Cochran, Trey Hopkins, JUCO transfer Desmond Harrison and possibly Sedrick Flowers out over an assortment of injuries (and pending transfer). Therefore, I'm going to be watching sophomore Kennedy Estelle because in the two open practices that the public was able to watch this spring, I thought the kid oozed talent and upside at right tackle. If his development can be fast-forwarded because of the extra reps he's received this spring with Cochran out of the line-up, he has a chance to be a potential impact player sooner rather than later. Believe it or not, he might be No. 1 on my list to watch.

6. The young defensive linemen

I feel like I know who Ashton Dorsey, Chris Whaley and Desmond Jackson are inside and I feel like we know what Cedric Reed and Reggie Wilson look like outside, but what about Hassan Ridgeway, Shiro Davis and Bryce Cottrell? Heck, you can add Paul Boyette and Alex Norman to the list. How many of this group will flash enough to generate some buzz on Sunday morning. I've got money that says a few of these guys will do exactly that, especially Davis and Cottrell.

7. Linebacker

Do I even need to spell it out? Who plays with which group? Can they tackle? Can they get off blocks? Can they tackle? Can they be in position? Can they tackle?

8. Peter Jinkens

He's the it kid this spring on the defensive side of the ball. He's the guy that is supposed to be different than everyone else. He's the supposed difference maker that will be on the field at all times. Okay, let's see a little of it.

9. Safety

Do I even need to spell it out? Who plays with which group? Can they tackle? Can they make plays in coverage? Can they tackle? Can they be in the right position? Can they tackle?

10. Sheroid Evans and Duke Thomas

There's been a lot of conversation about Quandre Diggs playing in the slot this year when the team is in nickel, presumably because Duane Akina loves the progress that the speedy Evans and the uber-athletic Thomas are making at the cornerback position. If the Longhorns are truly four-deep with quality cornerbacks, the strength of the secondary might just be underrated a little coming into the season. When was the last time that happened?

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