AUSTIN, Texas -- Tyrone Swoopes has never seen players this good.
In his tiny hometown of Whitewright, Texas, he played with only one other Division I football player on his Class 2A team, a three-star tight end who signed with TCU. Swoopes’ go-to receiver the past two years was 5-foot-6 and 150 pounds.
These days, the Texas freshman quarterback finds himself surrounded by receivers bigger, backs faster and linemen tougher than any he’s played with. His career at Whitewright couldn’t have prepared him for these luxuries.
That’s just one aspect of why projecting the dynamic dual-threat quarterback’s role for Texas this fall is still difficult. We just don’t know how good he can be.
Swoopes never had a true quarterbacks coach before he got to Texas. He’d never dedicated a full year to football, either, and 7-on-7 ball wasn’t as big a deal at Whitewright as it is everywhere else in the state.
Despite all those disadvantages in his development, the education of Swoopes that began in January is seemingly off to a solid start. He spent most of last week working with Texas’ third-team offense in practice, and the reviews were optimistic, if not cautiously so.
But Swoopes recorded more carries (118) than pass completions (81) in his senior year. He knows he needs to become well-rounded as a passer, and new quarterbacks coach Major Applewhite is seeing progress.
Yes, the freshman can throw a pretty ball on one rep and then miss badly on the next. Freshmen make those kinds of mistakes. But Applewhite says accuracy is not Swoopes’ issue.
“He’s throwing routes that he hasn’t thrown all the time,” Applewhite said. “Sometimes some of these things that we’re putting in are brand new coming into fall camp. But overall he is an accurate passer for a true freshman. The kid has a natural ability to throw the football. If you can’t see that, then you can’t see it.”
Redshirting might be the ideal move for his long-term future, especially with second-year quarterback Jalen Overstreet capable of taking over the No. 3 role behind Case McCoy. There are two reasons why that might not happen, though.
Swoopes can run. In the one real glimpse of game action he’s seen, a single drive in the Texas spring game, he demonstrated elusiveness in the pocket and proved that, at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, he’s difficult to tackle when he dashes downfield.
So why is it unreasonable to think he could find a role not unlike what Blake Bell did in his first two years at Oklahoma, or Tim Tebow as a freshman at Florida? Texas has lots of short-yardage options, including power back Joe Bergeron and a Johnathan Gray-led Wild formation. Still, there could be a place in Texas’ offense for Swoopes this fall.
We’ll know more on that question after this week, as Applewhite devotes more time to coming up with packages and personnel groupings on offense.
“Now it’s time to say, ‘All right, we’re going to take this play but it’s third and 3. We take this play but it’s in two-minute,’” Applewhite said. “Now we’re into situational football. At the same time we’re trying to get all that installed, we’re saying, ‘Take this out, this features a player that can’t make a play. Let’s put this in.’
“I don’t think it’s a difficult thing. I think it’s a fun thing. That’s what you enjoy as an offensive coordinator, each and every year, is how am I going get from A to B with these pieces.”
Another alternative, if Swoopes doesn’t emerge as a key piece: mop-up duty. If he takes the field in the fourth quarter against New Mexico State on Aug. 31, we’ll know that’s the blueprint. It might be for the best, considering Swoopes would be in line to back up David Ash in 2014.
All this sounds good in theory, but Applewhite and the staff aren’t ready to tip their hand yet. It’s still too early. Swoopes still has a lot to learn.
“Come on, man,” Applewhite said. “We’re at day 10.”