Quarterbacks vie for role of starter

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After a 5-7 season, Mack Brown really has no other choice than to shake things up.

After finishing up his offseason staff shuffle, Mack has said that all position battles are “wide open;” last year’s starters will have to prove themselves to an entirely new group of coaches if they want their old jobs back.

But should we really believe that the quarterback competition is truly up for grabs? No.

Obviously, this discussion would not be necessary if last season wasn’t such a debacle. But it was and, like it or not, you can’t finish No. 74 in the nation in total offense and not put most of the blame on the quarterback.

Garrett Gilbert struggled in his first year as the starter, throwing just 10 touchdowns to 17 interceptions. Poor ball control was an issue and, at times, it looked like

Gilbert was in over his head out there. Granted, he wasn’t blessed with a healthy group of talented skill players or linemen like Texas has had in the past, but a lot of people expected much more from the former high school Gatorade National Football Player of the Year.

And so now we’re here. It’s April, and your Longhorns still don’t have a quarterback. Brown says he and new offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin will find their favorite out of four contestants, who all stand on supposedly equal ground: the incumbent Gilbert, Case McCoy, Connor Wood and David Ash.

But this quarterback race still looks like it is Gilbert’s to lose, despite what the coaches say and regardless of his past troubles. Gilbert was placed in a position to be successful in the spring game: All of his possessions were with the first-team offense against the defense’s second unit, and he even had the wind at his back.

He didn’t fare very well. Gilbert went 8-15 for 76 yards, including an interception so poorly thrown — way short of the intended receiver — that those in attendance must have thought it was 2010 all over again.

McCoy had better numbers, 9-11 for 124 yards and a touchdown. But what was impressive on paper wasn’t as pretty on film, as McCoy showed some mechanical flaws, throwing off his back foot on more than half of his passing attempts. Final results are always most important and McCoy found a way to move the ball down the field, leading the second-unit offense — made up of a few walk-ons — to a touchdown against the starting defense.

The real mystery of this quarterback quandary is Wood. After redshirting last year, he still has four years of eligibility left and drew positive reviews during spring practice from those close to the program. Wood went 8-14 and, while he struggled with his accuracy, flashed some mobility and featured what may be the strongest arm of the bunch. However, he didn’t get the opportunities Gilbert and McCoy did (fewer snaps, fewer passing plays, most of the time against the first-team defense), which is confusing given Wood’s athleticism and potential and what we heard out of spring practice.
Ash, the early enrollee from Belton, throws the best spiral, is accurate and tore up the competition in high school with 48 total touchdowns and 3,400 passing yards, but don’t count on him to be considered a realistic candidate for the job, given his inexperience.

Brown continues to repeat that the starting job is fair and wide open, but that’s hard to completely believe after the spring game, where it looked like Gilbert was given far and away the best chance to succeed and still came up short. If Brown really wants to put his worst season at Texas behind him, he might be better off seriously considering handing Wood or McCoy the reins. This isn’t a knock on Gilbert, who has the physical tools to be the guy, just a fight for true equality at a position that should require nothing less.

What’s the worst that can happen? 5-7?