Spring is usually the most laid back time of year, if there were such a time, for a college football team.
It's a time to "get back to basics," as UT coach Tim Beckman said yesterday, and take steps toward improvement that will pay dividends in the fall, when the pressure cooker really starts to heat up.
For the Rockets, who kicked off their spring workouts on a sun-drenched afternoon at the Glass Bowl, four players have a little bit more to prove.
The line next to "starting quarterback" on the UT depth chart sits vacant, and a position battle for that spot will continue to be a story line into fall.
Sophomore Austin Dantin, who started three games in place of an injured Aaron Opelt, will get the first look, Beckman said, followed by senior Alex Pettee, sophomore David Pasquale and redshirt freshman Terrance Owens.
"That's how it will start, and we'll see how it finishes," Beckman said.
With so much experience gained last season, Dantin appears to be the early favorite, unless he falters or another candidate wows the coaching staff.
Dantin completed 79 of 119 attempts (66.4 percent) for 962 yards in seven contests during his rookie campaign and had four touchdowns and four interceptions.
"My expectation this spring is really to progress as a quarterback, progress as a leader, really take over the leadership role on this team and to go into the summer confident about what we're doing," Dantin said. "Obviously, I'm going to have to perform well and take over the leadership role, like I said. That's going to be a big part of it."
Dantin said he hasn't felt any pressure or nervousness about winning the job.
"I'm just extremely excited to get out here and play," Dantin said. "I'm happy that the winter workouts are over, and now we're able to get back on the field, which is where I feel most comfortable."
If anything, the concept of a position battle has only energized Dantin more.
"Whoever gives this team the best opportunity to win will win the job," he said. "Bottom line, I know what I can do and being able to showcase it on the field is one thing that I'm really excited about."
That doesn't mean the rest of the candidates will just roll over and hand Dantin the job.
For Pettee, this is his last chance to become the signal-caller.
"These 15 spring practices and five weeks that we're out here is going to determine, really, who's in the lead for the starting job," Pettee said. "I want to be the guy, so I'm going to be working hard in everything I do every day, go out like it's a game situation. That's how everyone has to play.
- Zach Silka