Call it a quarterback controversy or a competition. Whatever it is, the Texas Longhorns remain unsettled at the position heading into the 2012 season.
The Longhorns reported to training camp Sunday with David Ash and Case McCoy still fighting to take control of the offense after a rocky 2011 in which both started several games in an 8-5 season.
Texas could have the best defense in the Big 12 and has a stable of potentially punishing running backs. If they produce a legitimate passing game, the Longhorns could be back in contention for a conference title — and maybe more.
Ash would seem the likely frontrunner after leading Texas to a Holiday Bowl win over California, a solid performance that earned him the games’ most valuable player honors. But coach Mack Brown has so far refused to name Ash the starter for the Sept. 1 season opener against Wyoming and insists there’s a spirited competition for the position.
So what’s holding Ash back?
“You’re asking the wrong guy,” Ash said Sunday. He and McCoy sat about 20 feet apart and each was surrounded by reporters asking about the competition, their summer workouts and how they’ve tried to improve their play.
Ash, who was 3-3 as a starter last season as a freshman, said he’s been reading and studying how to be a better leader, yet struggled Sunday to define what it means to be one.
“What is leadership? I don’t know. People say it’s a lot of different things. When you come down to it, it’s a real abstract term that has a different meaning to a lot of people.”
McCoy, who was 3-2 as a starter, said he’s more confident after putting on an extra 15 pounds to get up to 200 and bulking up in the weight room. McCoy said not playing in the Holiday Bowl was motivation to challenge Ash for the job this season.
Both players struggled badly at times last season as the Texas passing game floundered to eighth in the Big 12. Ash appeared to be a calm and steady personality but he struggled to grasp a complex college offense as a true freshman. McCoy, the younger brother of former Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, showed flashes of his brother’s playmaking brilliance, but his swashbuckling approach also led to some critical errors. McCoy’s fourth-quarter scramble set up the game-winning field goal against Texas A&M and a week later he had five turnovers in a loss at Baylor.
McCoy, who will be a junior this season, admits he’s got to cut out the mistakes if he hopes to play.
“I’ve matured. David’s matured. That’s going to show,” McCoy said. “I’m a whole lot more confident.”
McCoy’s mistakes came in bunches, but Ash had his share with eight interceptions compared to just four touchdowns.
Brown said Sunday he expects both players will be better this season. After a summer of player-led workouts, Brown said who starts will be determined over the next couple of weeks in practices closed to the media and public.
Brown said he’s in no hurry to declare a starter.
“When they make the decision for us, then we’ll make it,” Brown said. “I’m not panicked when it’s done. The worst thing you can do is make a decision when it’s not ready.”
Brown is no stranger to quarterback controversies in his 15th season at Texas.
In 2000 and 2001, the Longhorn fan based was divided over his decision to start Chris Simms over Major Applewhite. In 2003-2004, Chance Mock was still battling Vince Young until Young took over the role for good and led the Longhorns to the2005 national title.
After Young left, most assumed talented recruit Jevan Snead would take over but Colt McCoy emerged as the starter as a redshirt freshman and won 45 games over the next four seasons.
But in each of those cases, the Longhorns still won a lot of games because the battles were between players with elite talent. Since Colt McCoy left, Texas is just 13-12 over the last two seasons with two straight losing seasons in the Big 12.
“Everybody needs to help us get that position back,” Brown said.