Garrett Gilbert proved he deserved to be Colt McCoy’s replacement with his performance in Texas' title-game loss, rebounding from a disastrous first half to toss two touchdown passes and get the Longhorns to within three of Alabama late in the fourth quarter.
But Gilbert’s just beginning the real work.
“Garrett has picked up and is really doing a good job,” offensive coordinator Greg Davis told reporters on Monday. “He is making good decisions with the football. We have a battle going on for the second-team quarterback position.”
But against Alabama, nine of Gilbert’s 15 completions were to NFL-bound Jordan Shipley. Whoever develops a connection with Gilbert first could earn the beneficial status of “Young Quarterback Safety Blanket.”
“It is a work in progress, but I see things with Garrett and Malcolm (Williams), Garrett and (James) Kirkendoll that are really encouraging in terms of putting the ball on the back shoulder and stopping a guy on a route because of the coverage,” Davis said. “I see all of that developing, but that synergy between Colt and Jordan was developed over a long period of time, so to say that we are at that spot, we are not. That is the stop that we want to work towards.”
This spring Davis is preparing his offense for a departure from the spread -- that accentuated McCoy’s accuracy and mobility -- to an offense that operates from under center more often.
Gilbert's progress could be accelerated by valuable scrimmage time against a defense that ranked No. 3 nationally in total defense last season.
“We're going to call the game. He's going to see it in the first game against Rice and down the line,” defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said, when asked if he’d help “ease” Gilbert into a starting role.
“There’s nothing worse than going out and losing your kids because they’re not prepared for something. We’re very well tied together as far as our installation is concerned, but we’re throwing everything we’ve got.”
But for all the experience he’ll get, he won’t be able to duplicate what he saw in the title game against the Crimson Tide, or the circumstances that surround it. The spring is just step one for Gilbert and the Longhorns to reach their long-term goal: getting back to the title game.
“He has been on that stage, and I think that what he did in the second half showed us what kind of quarterback he can be,” Davis said.