- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Editor's note: This week we're taking a closer look at five key takeaways from Texas' spring practices and what they mean for the summer and beyond.
AUSTIN, Texas -- If not for that foot, this might not be a discussion.
We don't know when or how the injury occurred, and David Ash might not either. If it pained him greatly, he'd been hiding it well. But that injury nagged the junior enough to eventually lead to a visit to the trainers. They quickly recognized surgery would come next.
Since Ash was shut down on April 11, to recover from surgery for a Jones fracture in his left foot, the Longhorns have been living in a world of uncertainty at the quarterback position.
Here's where things stand with the four most likely candidates to start Texas' Aug. 30 season opener against North Texas.
The incumbent: David Ash
Résumé: 28 career games, 21 starts (record: 15-7), 4,538 passing yards, 63.2 percent passer, 30 passing TDs, 18 INTs, 7.8 career YPA, 396 rushing yards, 4 rushing TDs.
Pros: Ash enters his fourth year in the program with two remaining years of eligibility and was a statistically underrated performer as a full-time starter in 2012. Threw for 2,699 yards and 19 TDs with eight INTs in 12 games as a true sophomore that year. Had great road performances in 2012 wins over Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Ole Miss. Brings experience, ideal size, a strong arm, mobility in the pocket, and he throws a pretty ball. Offers a sneaky rushing component with rushing TDs of 55 and 49 yards on his résumé.
Concerns: Bad luck with injuries: Broken ribs in 2012, concussions in 2013 and the foot fracture in 2014. Expected to become a leader of the team last fall before going down, and was still developing as a leader in 2012. Two bad performances against Oklahoma, several other inconsistent starts.
Questions: Can he stay healthy, or is he one hit away from being done? Charlie Strong expects to have him back by mid-July, but if the recovery time extends into August, Ash will be put in a tough spot. Can he shake off the rust again and master a new offense?
The free agent: Max Wittek
Résumé: 10 career games at USC, 2 starts (record: 0-2), 600 career passing yards, 52.6% passer, 3 passing TDs, 6 INTs, 6.3 career YPA, -46 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD.
Pros: Wittek will leave USC as a graduate transfer with two remaining years of eligibility. If he chooses Texas, he comes to Austin possessing an undeniable amount of untapped potential. Prototypical size at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, with a reputation for having a rifle arm and an ability to make all the throws. Isn't afraid to attack defenses deep. Nation's No. 3 QB prospect out of high school. Great first name.
Concerns: Struggled in his only two starts with the Trojans, going a combined 28-for-60 for 293 yards, two TDs and five INTs against Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. Failed out beat out Cody Kessler for starting job in 2013. Did not play in nine games last season. Despite having all the tools, decision-making was considered his issue.
Questions: Wittek has yet to officially commit to Texas despite three visits to Austin this spring. Could he show up in May or June and still do enough to catch up and give Ash a real competition? Is he a real solution to Texas' quarterback problem in 2014 or is this fools' gold?
The wild card: Tyrone Swoopes
Résumé: Five career games, 0 starts, 5 for 13 passing, 26 yards, 0 passing TDs, 0 INTs, 20 rushes, 79 yards, 1 rushing TD.
Pros: Swoopes demonstrated his potential to the new staff in the final week of spring practice, and Strong believed he was two close misses on touchdown throws away from having a strong day in the spring game. Same size as Wittek and a capable runner. Still learning how to use his big arm. Praised for how he's learning the offense. A different player when he's confident and comfortable. Only a true sophomore.
Concerns: He's raw. Should've redshirted in 2013 and might benefit greatly from doing so in 2014. Passing mechanics need work. Still has much to learn about throwing against college defenses. Looked nervous, erratic in extended time vs. Oregon. Could develop into the full package in time but needs lots of time and patience.
Question: Will Texas need Swoopes this fall? He'll study and prepare with every intent of playing, but again, wouldn't a redshirt be preferential? Will Swoopes be ready to go if he's called upon? How far away is he from being a starting-caliber passer?
The future: Jerrod Heard
Résumé: Won two state championships and 36 games at Denton (Texas) Guyer, with 6,524 passing yards, 4,960 rushing yards, 134 total TDs in three seasons.
Pros: The true freshman arrives in June and brings impressive talent and pedigree. A true dual-threat who's elusive and quick in the open field. Good arm, good mechanics, great in play action. A winner who received a thorough education in playing QB from coaches who've trained several BCS passers. Lots of confidence.
Concerns: Didn't enroll early and has two months to learn scheme before fall camp. Great decision-maker in high school, but this is a new level. Continues to work on his accuracy. Somewhat undersized at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds.
Question: Is a redshirt the best approach here? Heard just might have enough talent to win this job at some point in the season, but would Strong and the staff prefer to give him the year off to learn?