After the Texas Longhorns' first spring practice, coach Steve Sarkisian said on Monday that all positions are up for grabs, including quarterback, where sophomore Quinn Ewers and freshman Arch Manning will compete for the starting job.
"I'm not worried about who's going to be on the cover of what magazine next week," Sarkisian said. "I'm more focused on is, is each guy focusing on what they need to do to develop to be the best player that they can be? Quinn has an entire year of a head start, but I don't want to hold Arch back. I want to see how far he can take this thing and what it can look like."
Both were highly coveted recruits, with Ewers ranked as the No. 2 player in the 2021 ESPN 300 and Manning -- one of the most high-profile recruits in history -- at No. 5 in the 2023 edition.
Ewers arrived last season as a transfer from Ohio State; started 10 games, throwing for 2,177 yards and 15 touchdowns with six interceptions; and was named the Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year. He struggled in stretches of the season but closed strong, going 31-of-47 for 369 yards and a TD against Washington in the Alamo Bowl, and he finished the season with 116 straight passes without an interception.
Still, Sarkisian said the passing game has to improve this season, and he's aware of the huge spotlight on his QB derby. Sarkisian noted the reaction on social media when Ewers cut his trademark mullet this offseason, saying the two had spoken about how sometimes your appearance creates a perception about you.
"All of a sudden, now the guy gets a haircut and cleans his beard up a little bit and everyone thinks Quinn's real serious right now," Sarkisian said. "But that's human nature. It's never been a question of him taking this serious. He wants to be really good. He wants to be a leader on this team. He wants to win a championship with these guys. And that doesn't change what he does day to day, but appearance is what it is. And so I do think him recognizing that shows some maturity."
Sarkisian said that Ewers has become a more vocal presence this offseason.
"I think what he's done, he's serving for Arch and, 'Hey, this is what it looks like,'" Sarkisian said. "'And this is how to go about your business.'"
Sarkisian mentioned, similarly, the attention Manning got earlier this year when he twice lost his student ID and other students shared it on social media, and cautioned that it's a reminder that Manning is a freshman who still should technically be in high school, despite the excitement around his signing and his name.
"For Arch today, Day 1, there's some plays for sure that he would love to have back," Sarkisian said. "There's some other plays that he made where I think everybody was like, 'Wow, that was a heck of a play.' But he brings a worker's mentality and he wants to be really good at this game."
Sarkisian also revealed that wide receiver Xavier Worthy, who had a bit of a disappointing sophomore season with 760 yards and nine touchdowns (58.8 yards per game) after a breakout freshman year in which he had 981 yards and 12 TDs, played with a broken hand for about half the season last year.
"Anytime you're a receiver and you're playing with a broken hand, that's a pretty important aspect of your game, and that guy never wanted to sit out, not play," Sarkisian said, noting that he didn't reveal it so opponents didn't know. "He came to work. He fought through it. There were days in practice where we purposely didn't throw him balls just to take some of the pressure off of it. But I think we're going to see a version of Xavier Worthy that's going to be dramatically different now that he's healthy."
Monday also brought a new look in the backfield, with Texas seeking replacements for running backs Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson, fixtures for the Longhorns the past few years.
On Monday, Jaydon Blue took first-team reps and freshman Cedric Baxter Jr. also was in the rotation. Sarkisian said running backs Jonathon Brooks (offseason hernia surgery) and Keilan Robinson (muscle strain) were both held out while they recover.