If there's one thing Texas fans must know, it's that Steve Sarkisian understands the quarterback position better than most. During the past two seasons as the Alabama offensive coordinator, Sark had the pleasure of working with Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones.
Combined, the duo lost two games in two years during SEC play. Tagovailoa landed as a top-five pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. In two weeks, Jones could go as high as No. 3.
Nine practices into spring football and Sarkisian has not given a clue at who Texas will start at QB in 2021. The battle between Casey Thompson and Hudson Card continues to rage on with neither showing their hands or folding in defeat.
For Sarkisian, his mind could be made up. However, he'll hold his own pair of cards and wait to call all-in on the showdown.
Timing is everything, including when choosing a starter.
"I didn’t come in with expectations. I came in with a clean slate," Sarkisian said Tuesday. "So I don't know. I don't think they've surprised me in anything, because anything that they've done well, I've accepted them for doing it. Any areas where maybe they've struggled some, I just felt like OK, this is an area for us to work on."
It's a fresh start for Texas overall with a two-sided coin ready to be flipped. Tom Herman was given his choice between Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger. Charlie Strong chose between David Ash and Tyrone Swoopes.
Both coaches leaned with the veteran but turned to the young gun before the season's end. Will Sarkisian do the same?
Unlike Herman or Strong, Sarkisian must go off high school tape more than anything at this point. Thompson started the second half of the Alamo Bowl, going 8-for-10 with four touchdowns throws.
Prior to that? Twenty-nine total passing attempts for 309 yards and six touchdowns.
Card, who joined the team as an All-American passer from Lake Travis, has thrown for five yards.
Sarkisian isn't sold on just "one trait" for a quarterback's instincts. Some coaches enjoy deep passers while others love the mobility factor. For the former Alabama coach, it's about the receiver more than the thrower.
“Basically the one thing I look for in a quarterback early on is, does he throw a catchable ball,” Sarkisian said. “Because the idea when you call pass plays is to complete them. And to complete passes, most likely, you have to put it in an area with the right velocity and/or touch to allow the receiver to catch the ball and advance the football.
“I think there are some things fundamentally we can work on to enhance their accuracy, but I think some people have a knack for throwing an accurate ball, a catchable ball. And some people don’t, no matter how talented they are.”
The good news is the next QB will have a quality supporting cast. Freshman running back Bijan Robinson is a dark horse for the Heisman and is coming off a 703-yard season. Roschon Johnson was dynamic as the No.2 option as well.
Texas hopes to improve its receiving corp with names that need a new staff. According to Sarkisian, Joshua Moore, Marcus Washington, and Kelvontay Dixon all have impressed thus far in camp.
Fellow receivers Jake Smith and Troy Omeire are expected to be factors next season after missing training camp due to lingering injuries.
Whichever pass-catchers are consistent will see the field first.
Said Sarkisian: “I think we get in trouble at receiver right now, we’re starting to think a little bit too much. It’s because we’re uncertain of what to do. And like I just got done talking to the players, if you don’t know what to do in our offense, it’s hard to play.”
All that's fine, but nothing else matters if the man under center isn't the correct call.
When Week 1 began last fall, fans in the southeast were ready for No. 1 QB recruit Bryce Young to be the face of Alabama Football. Nick Saban and Sark went for the "game manager" option in Jones.
He won them a national title by 28 points over Ohio State last January.
The player who can do that will win the pot come Week 1 in September
“Our quarterback last year (at Alabama) got labeled a game manager and threw almost 50 touchdowns and led us to a national championship,” Sarkisian said. “So I guess he was a pretty good game manager.
“I think a quarterback’s responsibility is to manage the game, to control the tempo of the offense, to direct the action.”
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