- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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AUSTIN, Texas -- It’s hard to tell whether Jalen Overstreet should be labeled a running back or a quarterback these days. So let’s just go a more fitting title: Wild card.
The Texas redshirt freshman has embraced his new do-anything role during fall practices, even if that role remains relatively undefined. With each explosive run out of the backfield -- and he’s had a few -- Overstreet is making a compelling case for why he could be a unique weapon in the Longhorns offense
“He’s so fast,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “We’re enjoying what we’re seeing, and I think we’re seeing more out of Jalen right now because he’s got more confidence, because he’s actually playing a lot more than being some redshirted quarterback. We’ve been impressed so far with what we’ve seen.”
He arrived on campus a relatively unknown talent from East Texas with perhaps the strongest arm of any quarterback in the program. Right now, Overstreet is happy to play “athlete” if it’ll mean a little playing time. All along, he’s only wanted to do what’s best for the team.
He agreed to commit to Texas in the fall of 2011 knowing full well that the Longhorns already had their future star quarterback on board in the much-hyped Elite 11 finalist Connor Brewer. But Texas needed a second QB, and Overstreet was happy to oblige.
When he arrived in Austin last summer, he knew he was at the bottom of the totem pole among UT’s quarterbacks. He just wanted to compete.
He was No. 4 on the depth chart throughout the year but didn’t flinch or look to transfer. And in a strange twist, his moment nearly came at the Alamo Bowl in December.
Case McCoy was suspended. If Oregon State knocked David Ash out of the game, new offensive coordinator Major Applewhite planned to insert Overstreet. He spent two hours in a hotel conference room in San Antonio preparing the rookie as quickly as he could for that nuclear option.
Playing in the game would’ve meant burning Overstreet’s redshirt, effectively costing him one year of eligibility. But he was fully on board with the emergency plan.
“He was great, his parents were great,” Brown said. “They said we'll do whatever we need to do to win the game. But it's totally unfair for him if he goes in that game.”
Fast forward to today and Brewer is gone after transferring to Arizona this summer. The next big-time recruit, Tyrone Swoopes, is making progress and likely won’t redshirt.
And Overstreet, well, he’s just doing whatever he can to contribute. Same as always.
Texas’ running backs respect that. They see his quickness, the way he runs surprisingly hard through holes, and his versatility. All valuable traits, and he brings some intangibles to the role, too.
“With Jalen, it is different. With quarterbacks, it is different,” junior back Joe Bergeron said. “As a quarterback, he knows what the offensive line and every other position should do on the field. For him to come in as running back, that is a vital piece for us because he can help us with other things that we may not know. He can tell us to notice rotations and other things. I love it.”
Overstreet still occasionally gets reps as the No. 3 quarterback in fall camp, and he’s capable of playing slot receiver. The challenge for Texas’ staff is finding a few plays or a package in the playbook that highlights his unusual gifts.
An obvious solution would be taking direct snaps in the Wild formation. Brown has said it would take quite a talent to bump Johnathan Gray out of that role after how effective he was in 2012. But Overstreet has a shot.
“We’re looking at he and Johnathan at that position, and he gives you the ability to throw better than John,” Brown said. “So as good as Johnathan was in it last year, if Jalen continues to progress, that would give him something to do.”
And at the end of the day, that’s all Overstreet is really looking for.