Texas needs Gilbert to step up

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Most Important Longhorn

(Daily Texan file photo)

Photo Credit: Corey Leamon | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: The Daily Texan’s series of the 10 most important Longhorn football players wraps up with No. 1, Garrett Gilbert.

Garrett Gilbert wasn’t the most impressive quarterback in this year’s spring game. Gilbert wasn’t at the top of the depth chart after Texas’ first scrimmage. But after a great second scrimmage and having a solid fall camp, he finally earned the starting quarterback job.

Quarterback play is so crucial in college football nowadays — it decides the outcome of most games. A strong offensive line, a veteran group of linebackers and a freakishly athletic defensive line can only take you so far. That’s why Gilbert, arguably the Longhorns’ most polarizing player, is also their most important player.

“At the quarterback position, you get way too much credit, and you get way too much blame,” said Bryan Harsin, co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Coming into the offseason, head coach Mack Brown claimed every spot was open, including the one at quarterback. In the end, the decision of who would fill that spot was mostly Harsin’s, and the reasoning for picking Gilbert was mostly rooted in his experience, which makes it seem as if the former Gatorade Player of the Year won the job by default. Either way, the 12 starts Gilbert made last year and the playing time he got against Alabama in the national title game two seasons ago will serve him well.

“Gilbert, because he’s got more experience, came out ahead as of today in that battle,” Brown said on Monday. “He’s been through a full season. That’s an advantage.”

The key phrase there may be “as of today,” because if the four-way battle for the starting quarterback job was so close, the leash on Gilbert should be a short one.

After this week’s contest against Rice, there aren’t many cupcakes on the Longhorns’ schedule. If Gilbert doesn’t improve on the way he performed last season and produce results right away, backup sophomore Case McCoy should — but may not — get a chance at being the starter.

“[Gilbert]’s the starting quarterback at Texas, and if he moves the ball and scores, he’ll keep it,” Brown said. “He wouldn’t be our starting quarterback unless we had great faith in Garrett.”

Then again, the fact that the Texas coaching staff didn’t officially make Gilbert the starting quarterback until the week of the season opener could wake Gilbert up and possibly motivate him. It begs the question: If Gilbert can come out on top in such a tightly contested quarterback competition, can he help Texas come out on top in more than five games this season? His commitment to becoming a more commanding presence in the huddle may help answer that.

“Being a leader, sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone,” Gilbert said. “I think I’ve grown comfortable being vocal. If something needs to be said, I’ve got to force myself to say it.”

Teammates have taken notice of Gilbert’s effort to become a better leader. Senior running back Fozzy Whittaker mentioned that he has “become more vocal and authoritative,” an encouraging sign for someone who didn’t display those characteristics much last year.

“I think the thing I was most impressed about with Garrett was how he carried himself throughout camp and how people responded to him,” said senior safety Blake Gideon. “Garrett does have a little more experience than the other guys, and he knows how to get that response out of his teammates.”

It’s comforting that Texas would open the quarterback spot up to a competition yet concerning that it took coaches so long to name Gilbert the winner of that competition, considering how much more experience he has than the other three quarterbacks. The Lake Travis product must now prove that the coaches made the right choice because the Longhorns will only go as far as Gilbert will take them.

Printed on Friday, September 2, 2011 as: Gilbert's play critical to Longhorns' success.