Shawn Watson

Sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes looks to recover from an inconsistent season and fight to remain the starter.
Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones kick-started his college career by lighting up the scoreboard against some of the best competition in the nation and winning a national championship in his first three games. The offensive outburst by the redshirt sophomore prompted an outpouring of praise for Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and his ability to recruit and coach a roster with three All-American caliber quarterbacks.

Back on the 40 Acres, the mood was a little more gloomy. Jones’ downfield rockets and Meyer’s bold and creative play calling stood in stark contrast to the Longhorns’ dismal performance at the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, where the burnt orange and white accumulated only 59 yards of total offense.

If the Longhorns want to rejoin Ohio State as college football royalty, they will need to find a quarterback and coaching duo to lead the way. The options at quarterback look promising, as Texas will likely burn freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard’s redshirt next season, and sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes will have the off season to develop. Kyler Murray, five-star quarterback recruit and Texas A&M commit, even stopped by the University of Texas campus for a visit Wednesday.

The tutelage of Shawn Watson, Texas’ assistant head coach for offense and quarterbacks, who coached current Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater at Louisville, is set to launch one of the Longhorn quarterbacks into All-American consideration. At this point, however, it is hard to tell if Watson is the right man to coach Heard, Swoopes or any other quarterback on the roster.

Watson was a member of head coach Charlie Strong’s staff at Louisville when the Vikings drafted Bridgewater, but it is still unclear at the moment whether it was Watson who bolstered Bridgewater to prominence or the other way around.

When at Louisville, Bridgewater was a mobile quarterback who could still thrive when sitting back and embracing his role as a pocket passer. Watson tried to run a similar offense in his first year of play-calling duties at Texas, but to no avail.

Swoopes showed he is not Bridgewater, as he often looked uncomfortable dropping back and scanning the defense — a requirement for a pocket passer. When the offense went downhill in the Kansas State game, Watson and the rest of the staff seemed to make little effort to change the game plan in order to attempt to use Swoopes’ powerful legs to their advantage.

Heard is the clear next-in-line if the “Tyrone Swoopes experiment” does not work out, but his blazing speed appears to be better suited for an offense that avoids under-center sets and embraces the option. It has yet been determined whether Heard can achieve success when sitting back and reading a defense. If he cannot do so, the Longhorns will have to spend springtime courting pocket passers or start making serious changes to the offense.

Watson showed moments of brilliance as a play caller, even with a patchwork offensive line. But if Watson’s young quarterbacks prove incapable of being pocket passers during spring practice, he will have to put Louisville’s formula for success behind him and tweak the offense in a way that better incorporates his quarterbacks’ skill sets.

Photo Credit: Jenna VonHofe | Daily Texan Staff

In the multi-faceted world of Texas football training, coaches hold an all-freshmen practice each preseason to identify young talent. Watching as the newcomers run a series of drills, the coaching staff looks to nail down where each freshman will best contribute to the team.

This year, one drill stood out — the cross-field catch drill, which players also run at the NFL combine.  

“You’ll fire about six balls at them, and they have to rapid-fire catch them,” said Shawn Watson, assistant head coach for offense/quarterbacks. “They have to move because they’re flying across the field.”

Though the drill generally caters to receivers and other offensive players primed to catch, Andrew Beck, who was recruited to play linebacker, excelled beyond the coaches’ expectations. As Beck showed “the best hand-eye coordination of the whole group,” according to Watson, the coaching staff began to reevaluate.

“I started politicking right away,” Watson said. “I ran up to [head coach] Charlie [Strong] and said, ‘Hey, 47 has got unbelievable hands, and he can run.’”

It was no secret that Texas’ offensive line was weak. With building suspensions and, later, the season-ending injury of senior center Dominic Espinosa, the offensive line needed far more help than the defensive line did. As the coaches began to piece together their strengths and weaknesses, they decided that Beck would best contribute as a tight end. As his relevance on the team skyrocketed, so did the breadth of his responsibilities.

With a new and learning offensive line, senior running back Malcolm Brown said he and the running backs rely on Beck and senior tight end Geoff Swaim to open the field.

“Those guys — they’re running routes; they’re pass-blocking; they’re run-blocking. … They’re getting in the backfield with us sometimes,” Brown said Nov. 4. “They’re doing so many things with this offense; and they’re so important to this offense; and they know that; and they’ve been doing a great job handling it.”

Beck didn’t enter the tight end position completely blindsided. He played some tight end his senior year at Plant High School in Tampa, Florida, but his success at linebacker garnered him attention. ESPN ranked Beck the No. 46 outside linebacker in the country, and 247 Sports deemed him the No. 66 player in Florida.

Even so, Beck has adapted to his position, making his first start on offense against West Virginia. Statistics don’t tell the story of Beck’s contributions, since his quality of play enhances others’ games rather than helping just himself.

“The Texas Tech game was where he got his most time — that’s the first time we felt like [he] had an intimate knowledge of what we were trying to do,” Watson said. “You could see him executing it during the week on film. He’s been really good since. His confidence level has skyrocketed since that game.”           

As sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes continues to develop and Texas’ running game offers greater certainty, the Longhorns are likely to look for production on the ground. The running backs can’t produce without solid blocking, but Brown feels confident the tight ends will do their part. He knows the skill their role requires.

“Those guys have been grinding it out,” Brown said. “They have a tough job. Those coaches expect a lot out of them, just like the rest of us.”

Joe Wickline, Texas’ offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, thought he was done dealing with Oklahoma State administrators in January when he left Stillwater, Oklahoma, to work for Texas. 

But throughout the last eight months, Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder has reminded Wickline that the Cowboys aren’t as far away as he thought. 

On Oct. 17, the Oklahoma State System sued Wickline, claiming that he does not actually hold the play-calling responsibilities he claims he does. The suit reiterates complaints dating back to March 24, when Holder wrote Wickline a letter saying Wickline violated his previous Oklahoma State contract.

“Regrettably, it has come to our attention that neither of those statements [about your responsibilities] is apparently accurate,” Holder’s letter said. “In reality, it appears you unilaterally and voluntarily terminated the contract to make a lateral move.”

According to Oklahoma State’s lawsuit this month, Wickline “recognized that the loss of his services to OSU … would cause an inherent loss to OSU incapable of estimation with certainty, fairness or adequate compensation through monetary damages.” 

In their 2009 contract, Oklahoma State said that for Wickline to avoid triggering the obligation to pay liquidated damages — in this case, $593,478 — he must work as an NFL assistant coach or a Division I offensive coordinator, with play-calling duties. In the lawsuit filed last week, Oklahoma State claimed Wickline violated the terms that he must “accept employment as a Head Football Coach or as an Offensive Coordinator with play calling duties.”

The latter clause, “with play calling duties,” is the source of disagreement between Oklahoma State and Wickline. Alhough head coach Charlie Strong said Wickline would call plays at the time of his hire in January, many speculate that Shawn Watson, assistant head coach for offense and quarterbacks coach, instead fulfills these responsibilities.

Speculations have stirred ever since Strong’s comments in March, noting that, according to ESPN, “the one final voice will be Shawn.” Interviews with Strong, Watson and players suggest that Watson calls at least the majority of plays while Wickline supervises the run game. This week specifically, Watson discussed scripting plays for the team.

“I’ll only go anywhere from 15 to 25 [plays],” Watson said Tuesday. “Basically, for me, it’s a hot list. This past week, I only used the first 21, and we were on task with what we were doing.”

Watson did not mention Wickline’s role in developing the plays.

Wickline is set to face Oklahoma State in court in Stillwater on Nov. 15, at which time the court will need to determine whether Wickline calls enough plays for his position to qualify as more than just a lateral move. According to the Austin American-Statesman, UT law graduate David Beck, who donates to the University, will represent Wickline.

For the first time in program history, the Longhorns have three losses on their record heading into their annual rivalry game with Oklahoma.

At 2-3, Texas has been historically bad this season, and, like anytime a team struggles, much of the blame for its struggles has fallen on the starting quarterback.

With David Ash retiring from football after just one start in 2014, Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes became that guy for the Longhorns. And, while the 6’4”, 243-pound gunslinger has shown promise at times, his 1-3 record as a starter is certainly cause for concern at this point.

Given Swoopes’ rocky start to the season, some have questioned why the Texas coaching staff has yet to even consider giving highly touted freshman Jerrod Heard some reps. But, almost half-way through a season that has been defined by uncertainty for the Longhorns, one thing is for sure: Swoopes is the starter, and that won’t change anytime soon.

“I know exactly where Jerrod [Heard] is at and where [Swoopes] is,” said Shawn Watson, assistant head coach for offense and quarterbacks, after Saturday’s blowout loss to Baylor. “And Ty [Swoopes] is our starting quarterback.”

It even appears as though the coaching staff would prefer to use third-stringer sophomore Logan Vinklarek, a preferred walk-on, if possible. Watson said, if Swoopes were to have to miss a few plays, Vinklarek, who transferred to Texas after serving as the backup at Blinn College last season, would be called upon in his place.

While it’s understandable that Heard’s coaches want to protect his redshirt if possible, the way in which the staff talks about his progress suggests that saving his eligibility isn’t only reason to keep him on the sidelines.

In August, Watson described the playbook as somewhat of a foreign tongue to Heard, who enrolled at Texas in early June.

“Jerrod [Heard] is in China right now,” Watson said at the time “He’s still learning the language.”

Heard has obviously developed in the couple months since Watson made that statement, but, based on what head coach Charlie Strong said this week, it appears he sill isn’t on the coaches’ radar at this point.

“I don’t know if it’s fair to throw [Heard] in there right now,” Strong said. “We just haven’t had a chance yet to even talk about even putting him in the picture yet.”

As a true freshman, Heard obviously hasn’t had a chance to prove himself at the college level, but, considering his high school dominance, it’s hard to believe he isn’t at least worth a look.

At Guyer High School in Denton, the 6-foot-2, 199-pound dual-threat quarterback accumulated more than 6,500 passing yards and 67 passing touchdowns while rushing for nearly 5,000 yards and 67 more scores in three years as the starter. More importantly, Heard led his Wildcats to back-to-back Class 4A Division 1 State Championships in 2012 and 2013.

Those numbers and Heard’s winning pedigree are what have so many confused by the coaches’ comments about his progress.

It is well known that the move from the comforts of high school to the bright lights of college, especially at a pressure cooker like Texas, can be a difficult — see Garrett Gilbert.

Perhaps Heard is struggling with that transition, or maybe he just hasn’t been able to learn the new playbook. No matter the reason, it appears Tyrone Swoopes isn’t the only thing keeping Heard from trading in his headset for a helmet on Saturdays. As a result, anxious fans are forced to play the waiting game; a game they’d better get used to.

The backup quarterback is usually everyone’s favorite player, and for the past two seasons, sophomore signal caller Tyrone Swoopes has played that role. 

Now finding himself thrust into the starting role following another head injury to redshirt junior quarterback David Ash, Swoopes is ready to take over as starter for the foreseeable future.

“He’s been the cool, calm customer he is,” quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson said. “I think he is a very well-liked player on this football team and a very well-respected player for his work ethic and his character and the person he is and what he puts in and what he’s working to accomplish here. So he has a lot of team respect, and the guys will rally behind him because of that.”

That poise has helped Swoopes earn the respect of his teammates, who see him continuing to work to improve as a player and a leader. 

“The thing with Tyrone is that he’s a leader,” senior wide receiver Jaxon Shipley said. “And a lot of guys don’t see that because you don’t see him on the field. But in the locker room, all of the guys love him. He’s all one of our good friends, pretty much everyone on the team. And we have a lot of respect for him. He’s an extremely hard worker.” 

At 6 feet 4 inches and 240 pounds, Swoopes is nearly identical to Vince Young in size and stature, but those expecting similarities in their styles of play will be thoroughly disappointed. Young was elusive and nimble with his feet and used his legs primarily to open up throwing lanes, whereas Swoopes is more physical — running over guys with the ball and using his elite arm strength to break defenses deep.

“He can make some really big throws in tight windows,” redshirt senior receiver John Harris said. “Tyrone is a guy [who] has a really strong arm, as you can see when he played against Oregon, throwing the deep ball to Mike [Davis].” 

Some people who saw Swoopes play last season have already wrote him off at quarterback. But those snaps were sporadic and often un-meaningful, and the Texas players have confidence that all it will take for Swoopes to excel is the opportunity to get

“Once he gets a couple of good plays in, he’ll start finding a little rhythm and just start doing what he does,” senior running back Malcolm Brown said. “Once he gets a couple throws in and gets in a rhythm, he’ll do fine.”

But the most important thing for Swoopes’ success is an understanding of how he can contribute to the Texas offense by utilizing the talent around him.

“Basically, his first transition he develops is he’s got to be a part of why we win,” Watson said. “I said a part — he’s got to understand what he’s got at his disposal. He’s got two great tailbacks, he’s got a really gifted corps of receivers, he’s got really good tight ends, [and] he’s got a really good offensive line, so he’s got to let those people help him. He does not need to put an ‘S’ on his chest and a cape on his back and try to do it all by himself. It won’t work that way.“

Swoopes is no longer the backup and will now faces a major test on national
television. With only 13 pass attempts under his belt, one shouldn’t be too quick to write off Swoopes if he struggles against BYU. For now, it is the responsibility of the rest of the team to play flawlessly and put Swoopes in position to help them win games.

Between a handful of injuries and two handfuls of suspended players over the past few years, the Texas football staff has learned to rely on more than just veteran players alone. 

As Shawn Watson, assistant head coach for offense, said, success doesn’t just require “work with ones,” but, instead, in the era of head coach Charlie Strong, the Longhorns look to “develop the team.” With this philosophy, the staff expects to reward freshman standouts who have already proven themselves in the offseason.

“We play with what we have, and we’re always looking to develop younger players so that they’re in place to play,” Watson said. “We always have that philosophy. During training camp, we work with ones, twos and threes so that we can bring the younger players along and increase our depth. It always works out in a formula for a season.”

Among the freshmen rumored to run the offense Saturday are wide receivers Armanti Foreman and Lorenzo Joe. Foreman, the No. 15 wide receiver in the class of 2014, according to ESPN, was a four-time district honoree at Texas City High School, recording 32 touchdowns throughout his high school career before he and his brother, freshman running back D’Onta Foreman, signed with Texas. Joe, an Abilene Cooper High School graduate, arrives in Austin with three all-district honors behind him, including the District 2-5A Offensive Most Valuable Player his senior year as quarterback. Behind center, he passed for 1,864 yards with a 58.3 percent completion rate and also rushed for 1,657 yards, averaging 8.1 yards per carry.

However, his high school performance only got him a spot on the roster. With Strong’s motto for earning privileges, Joe also needs to earn his spot on the playing field. Now, Watson believes Joe’s summer showing has proven that.

“Lorenzo Joe is going to be a factor in our season somewhere down the road,” Watson said. “When? It’s probably going to be when the opportunity presents itself, but he’s been prepared.”

Though he’ll no longer jog out to center, Joe has worked closely with junior starting quarterback David Ash throughout training. Ash said Foreman and Joe showed a “tremendous amount of dedication” that will translate to execution on the field.

“It was a hard camp,” Ash said. “It was a grind, and those guys came out every day, and they improved each and every day. They learned more and more, [showing that], beyond the shadow of a doubt, they have the capability and the ability to play football at this level. It won’t be long before they’re a huge part of what we do.”

Defensively, Strong anticipates freshman defensive back Jason Hall will also see playing time. According to Strong, ESPN’s No. 87 safety in the nation has positioned himself to contribute. The All-State 5A honorable mention tallied 57 tackles, six interceptions and six pass breakups his senior year of high school, claiming the compliments of Texas’ leading defensive back Quandre Diggs.

“He’s a guy that will come up and hit you,” Diggs said. “He’s rangy. He’s like 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3, and he’s smart. He’s instinctive. He’s a freshman who came in and worked his tail off. He’s always had a hunger for the game.”

Freshman running back Donald Catalon has also garnered recognition, although Watson anticipates giving him a little more time to develop before he hits the field.

Photo Credit: Cody Bubenik | Daily Texan Staff

Gone are the days of seeing head coach Mack Brown standing on the sidelines of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in his usual pose — with his hands on his knees, nervously awaiting Texas’ next play. 

There is a new regime in town, led by head coach Charlie Strong, who is more likely to be found pacing the sidelines, pumping his fist or even chest bumping his players as they come off the field.

Strong assembled a staff of his own too, filled with some of the best coaches from all over the country. Tight ends coach Bruce Chambers, entering his 17th season at Texas, is the only holdover from Brown’s squad. Here is a quick look at the new team.

Charlie Strong — HC

From what’s been seen so far, the new boss is the polar opposite of Brown. Strong takes a very hands-on approach, often running drills with his players and trying to keep up with them in the weight room. He’s also demonstrated a penchant for discipline, having already removed seven players from the program since he was hired and suspending three more. His track record is impressive, and there has been plenty of talk about what he is capable of, but none of that will matter if he can’t win in Austin. He’ll get his first chance to prove himself this weekend.

Shawn Watson — Asst. HC, QB

Watson is one of several coaches Strong brought with him from Louisville. He served as Strong’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Cardinals, working with current Minnesota Viking quarterback Teddy Bridgewater over the past few seasons. Watson will be tasked with play-calling duties this season and will also be responsible for developing Texas’ young quarterbacks, sophomore Tyrone Swoopes and true freshman Jerrod Heard. Given David Ash’s injury issues, the young guns may see the field sooner than expected.

Joe Wickline — OC, OL

Wickline was likely Strong’s most high-profile hire, as he snatched him away from conference foe Oklahoma State. With the Cowboys, Wickline developed a reputation as one of the top offensive line coaches in the nation, often turning unproven high school talent into NFL stars. He’ll have his work cut out for him this season with a relatively inexperienced group of linemen, but he will be able to rely on four-year starter center Dominic Espinosa as the leader of the group.

Tommie Robinson — RB

Robinson comes to Texas from USC, having served as the Trojans’ running backs coach and passing game coordinator last season. Robinson has a wealth of experience working with running backs, having coached the position at five different universities and in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals. He inherits Texas’ strongest position group, with junior Johnathan Gray and senior Malcolm Brown making up one of the best running back combinations in the country.

Les Koenning — WR

A former Longhorn himself, Koenning comes to Texas with a great understanding of the pressure that comes with wearing a burnt orange uniform. He has coached twelve different teams over the course of his 33-year coaching career. Koenning has the difficult task of getting the most out of his inexperienced receivers immediately. The departure of Mike Davis and dismissals of Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander have left the Longhorns very thin at the receiver position. If Koenning isn’t able to quickly fill those holes, the Texas passing game will struggle mightily.

Vance Bedford — DC, Secondary

Bedford is a former Longhorn defensive back and another coach that Strong brought from Louisville. He is perhaps best known for being the defensive backs coach at Michigan in 1997 when they won the national championship, and Wolverine defensive back Charles Woodson became the first and only primarily defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy. Bedford takes over a defense that returns eight players and a secondary that includes star defensive back Quandre Diggs. The talent is there; it’s just a question of what he can do with it.

Chris Vaughn — DB, ST

One of the younger coaches on staff, Vaughn comes to Texas from Memphis, but spent the majority of his coaching career at Arkansas. Vaughn drastically improved the Tigers’ secondary while at Memphis last season, moving their pass defense up 42 spots in the national rankings. He will also be tasked with coaching up Texas’ rookie kickers and improving the Longhorns’ return game.

Chris Rumph — DL, Asst. HC for Defense

Rumph is another young coach on staff, but has plenty of valuable experience, having won two championships as the defensive line coach at Alabama over the past three seasons. Rumph played an important role in developing the Crimson Tide defense into one of the best in the country and will be tasked with getting the most out of senior Cedric Reed, junior Malcom Brown and the rest of Texas’ talented defensive linemen this year.

Brian Jean-Mary — LB, Recruiting

Jean-Mary followed Strong to Texas from Louisville, where he became known for transforming an underwhelming group of linebackers. The linebacking corps at Texas has shown flashes of brilliance over the past few seasons, but clearly has plenty of improving to do. Jean-Mary will look to get his guys up to speed in a hurry, as strong linebacker play could make the Longhorn front seven the best in the league in 2014. He is also responsible for heading up Texas’ recruiting efforts.

Pat Moorer — Strength & Conditioning

Certainly the most intimidating man on Strong’s staff, Moorer has already developed a reputation as a fan favorite in Austin. He formerly served as Emmitt Smith’s personal trainer and has long been known for his intense workout regimen. So far, Moorer has made headlines for his famous “pit” workouts, used as punishment for players who violate team rules or are unable to practice due to minor injury.