AUSTIN, Texas - It was nothing more than a play in practice, one of tens of thousands of repetitions similar to what any football team goes through.
In a passing drill during Texas’ first practice Monday, quarterback David Ash fired a quick out to a well-covered Kendall Sanders. The sophomore wide receiver had to plant hard, turn and stretch out. The ball smacked into his hands and went no further. Completion.
Ash, who was replaced in the drill by another quarterback, made his way from the middle of the field to the side where Sanders had returned to the line. The quarterback fist bumped his receiver, then patted him on the back and the helmet.
The Longhorns’ junior quarterback is the team’s quarterback and offensive leader. After two seasons of a muddled QB situation that saw Ash and senior Case McCoy sharing the position, UT entered preseason camp with no doubt as to its starting quarterback.
“He’s stayed on track and gone through the process, we’ve seen him turn into a man,” UT offensive lineman Mason Walters said. “He’s gone through the progress, the maturing that’s happened at a lot of positions on this team.”
While there are positions with question marks – the run-blocking power in the offensive line, play makers on the defensive line and linebacker – no position makes a difference like quarterback. Vince Young led the team to the national championship in 2005 and four years latr Colt McCoy led Texas to the title game.
"We're a quarterback-driven league, and if you just look at the last ten years, this league has been known for the best quarterbacks in the country and the best passers and the best offenses,” UT coach Mack Brown said. “So the fact that we've struggled at quarterback for two years on and off is a true fact that we've struggled as a team some because he touches it every time.
“So when you think about the importance of that player at all levels of our game, it is really, really key, and that's why we're so excited to have David with experience, with maturity, with confidence not only in himself but in his team. He's leading the team much better, and they believe in him right now."
At Big 12 media days last month, Ash appeared comfortable and confident. He led the team to a come-from-behind victory in the Alamo Bowl, an outcome that helped erase some of the disappointments of 2012.
“When you're a freshman you know about 30 percent of what you should know and you are faking the other 70 percent,” Ash said. “When you are a sophomore it is about 50/50. Now I'm on the other side of that and I know what I'm doing and my team has to understand that I know and believe in me.”
Ash finished his sophomore season ranked 15th nationally in completion percentage (67.3) and 21st in passing efficiency. He was impressive in victories over Ole Miss on the road and against Oklahoma State but struggled against Oklahoma and at Kansas.
Ash’s confidence and experience will be crucial to the Longhorns’ plans to play at a faster tempo. UT used a no huddle attack to spark the rally against Oregon State in the bowl game. Only Kansas State in the Big 12 ran fewer offensive plays than Texas last season.
“The kids are in a good place. They know nine (wins) is not enough for Austin,” Brown said. “They know nine is not enough for Texas, it’s not enough for them and it’s not enough for me. It’s not that the fans don’t like nine – the players don’t like nine. They’ve talked about it. We’ve played very poorly and not represented Texas well.”
* Texas coach Mack Brown might be carrying a heavy load of pressure going into this season, but he’s also carrying around less weight. Thanks to diet and exercise, Brown has lost 25 pounds.
* Position updates: Brown said that Jalen Overstreet has moved from quarterback to running back and will also work as a slot receiver. Duke Thomas will start practice as a defensive back but could see time at wide receiver. Chevoski Collins will be at receiver but could also work some in the secondary.
* Deep snapper Nate Boyer graduated and June and then spent nearly two months with the Special Forces in Afghanistan. He’s back in Austin and pursuing a graduate degree. Boyer served as a Green Beret before walking on at Texas in 2010. Boyer had no football experience, but became the long snapper last year and earned a scholarship.
Offensive lineman Mason Walters:
"I really think we had such a great summer. As leaders we sat down and defined our goals and what we want as a team. We're an older team, so we have a lot of guys that have been here and know what we want."
Quarterback David Ash on the first day of practice:
"I felt great. I was excited about what we were doing and I have been excited all summer to go out there and finally kick it off. We've been waiting for this all summer and it's here. It's a one-time opportunity. Look forward to making most of it."
Coach Mack Brown:
“I am more confident this will be the best team we’ve had in three years. Now we've gotta shut up and do it. … I like fixing things. I don't like messing them up, and obviously I was involved in messing it up for whatever reason.”