Steve Sarkisian is playing the quarterback position close to the chest. After all, it is the most important role on the field.
Texas will be looking for a new signal-caller for the first time since 2017. Shane Buechele began the year with Tom Herman, but it was Sam Ehlinger who took over.
From there, the Austin native would lead the Longhorns in the race for the Big 12. He now is with the Indianapolis Colts and the job will either be taken by Casey Thompson or Hudson Card.
Sarkisian, who enters his first season on the Forty Acres, can see both quarterbacks seeing reps against Louisiana in the season opener. Throughout spring ball, Thompson and Card each worked with the first-team offense.
The race is tight, perhaps the tightest among Power 5 schools looking for a new leader on offense. In the month Sarkisian had with players, it wasn't enough to give the edge to one name or another.
“I just didn’t feel like 15 practices was enough to name a guy a starter in a brand new system, a brand new scheme with brand new coaches,” Sarkisian said Thursday afternoon during Big 12 media days. “I will say it’s a little bit of a luxury for me to have two quality quarterbacks like this."
Ideally, a team would like to have its starter for the season. In the Big 12, that could matter once conference play begins. Oklahoma will be running it back with Spencer Rattler. Oklahoma State has Spencer Sanders getting another year, and Kansas State will trust Skylar Thompson.
Iowa State, the surprise team of 2020, will return Brock Purdy as the leading man once more. TCU feels comfortable as well trotting out Max Duggan after his stellar campaign in Fort Worth.
If going off veteranship, Thompson has the advantage of entering August.
“Casey Thompson is a guy who has been in the program a little bit longer," Sarkisian said. "Everybody remembers what he did in the Alamo Bowl with four touchdown passes in the second half. Very athletic guy. Very driven, very focused. High football IQ. Great leader."
Thompson was one of the two heroes in San Antonio last December against Colorado. Eghlinger left at halftime with a shoulder injury and the Oklahoma City native got his chance.
He didn't disappoint, going 8-of-10 with 160 passing yards and four touchdowns. It propelled the Horns to a 55-23 finish.
Don't sleep on Card just yet. The Austin-bred quarterback is perhaps the mobile of the two, grading out as a top-five dual-threat option in the 2020 class.
"Hudson Card, tremendous passing ability, great instincts of passing the football," Sarkisian said. "So we’re in a good position.”
In roughly the hour between podium and breakout rooms, Sarkisian answered questions on what to expect from the team overall. The main question everyone wanted to be answered was about the heir apparent to Ehlinger.
There's no answer right now for the Longhorns. Sarkisian admitted that one day, each player looks promising. That alone “make it so hard” for him to name a starter for Week 1 or beyond.
“I never say never,” Sarkisian said. “I don’t think there’s any science behind it. I think there’s a gut feeling that you’re gonna have to go with.”
Neither quarterback has made enough of a leap in spring to lead to a decision now. This past April, Thompson threw for 242 yards and a touchdown with the first-team offense in the Orange-White game.
Card, who worked with the second-team offense, threw for 168 yards and one score. Both players also made multiple mistakes, including a 92-yard interception return for a touchdown as time expired by D'Shawn Jamison off a pass from Thompson.
"He's earned the respect," Texas running back Bijan Robinson said of Thompson. "He's been there long enough for him to get respect from players and you know, I feel that he comes with a lot of enthusiasm and intensity."
Robinson, a Heisman favorite, also credited Card for his grit and work ethic.
"Hudson will just put his head down and work hard and lead by example," Robinson said. "He doesn't have to say much for you to know that he's a leader."
Maybe Sarkisian names Thompson the starter Week 1 against Louisiana. Perhaps its Card Week 2 against Arkansas. This is the first real battle for Texas since 2018, and it could go deep into August.
Then again, who says that's a bad thing to have two starters in case of an emergency?
"I name one guy the starter doesn’t mean we don’t need the other one because the other guy’s a play away," Sarkisian said. "In this day and age of college football to think you’ll go 13, 14 games throughout a season with one quarterback probably isn’t realistic. We have to develop both of them. But they both have huge upside. And I think we’re in good hands at that position.”
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