The Purple Wimple preview of TCU, part one: the quarterbacks, receivers, and tight ends (o-line to be previewed with the running game, in the next post).
off the number one, leaving a single numeral four; add a couple inches, replace about a dozen pounds with tattoos; darken the hair and the facial expression, and there emerges from the shadow of Andy Dalton the visage of the heir apparent, redshirt sophomore Casey Pachall. That's Pah-hall, writes TCU's sports information director, recognizing that, to date, few have paid a lick of attention to 2011's gunslinging quarterback since his recruitment the 2008 season. The Brownwood star drew offers from Notre Dame, Florida, Oklahoma (and, truthfully, Texas, but the shorthorns conveniently forgot about it when Pachall committed to TCU, of all places). Pachall enrolled early at TCU, and quietly slipped off most radar screens.
"Right now he’s the next guy," Patterson said of Pachall. "Really, I haven’t noticed him, which is good. If I’m noticing them that’s [not] a good thing... [Dalton] had 42 wins and this guy has one: he beat New Mexico."
That doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, but the fact is, the jury remains out on the lanky sophomore, and it will be until (and unless) he begins tallying Ws at something like the rate of the redhead he's replacing. Casey Pachall played in the garbage minutes of seven games, and played the majority of the New Mexico game, which, arguably, contained only garbage minutes. All told, the then-redshirt freshman has taken 107 snaps, only nine of them passes. That's about a game and a half of final series handoffs to Aundre Dean and Jercell Fort. In short, it is easy to make too much of Pachall's game experience—he has very little, and none with anything like a potential loss as a remotely plausible possibility.
But Pachall has steadily improved. In the spring of 2009 he was out of his depth running a college offense into the teeth of the nation's fastest defense. "That first spring was a little little tough... because I came in early," Pachall said. "Being what you'd consider a high school kid coming in and competing against all these athletes it was a little overwhelming at first, but eventually I started getting ahold of things... Being around Andy on a day-to-day basis helped a whole lot because I'd see the decisions he'd make."
A year later practice watchers remarked that he had improved, but still had a long way to go. Last fall he again showed improvement, and by this spring the idea that Casey Pachall would be starting in Waco in a few months began to feel... pretty good. "He is really spinning the ball and today he connected on some deep throws," wrote one of the Frogs' regular practice watchers. "He's not quite where Andy was running the offense but he is making strides... if he masters the zone read like Andy did, it could really be trouble for opposing defenses." Again, that comparison to number 14, the second-winningest quarterback ever to don a college jersey. It's unfair, but unavoidable. Who knew, when Pachall inked with the Frogs that he'd be left holding the reins after the departure of TCU's best quarterback since Davey O'Brien?
By this spring's first scrimmage, Pachall was clearly as comfortable at the helm as one can be, given the intensity of the defense he must play into. After an interception by Greg McCoy, Pachall settled down and managed the offense and had a good practice overall. "He was trying to be too perfect with the long ball in the first four practices and he was early [today]," reported the coach. "But as it went on, I thought he got better at getting the ball out there. ... Besides the one play, I think he did a really good job of managing, which I knew he would. ... He’s been through this offense a bunch. It won’t count much until we get to December. But the bottom line, he’s not going to see much faster than what he sees right out here." By the spring game, in which Pachall racked up over 20 completions, Patterson said, "I thought Casey Pachall played pretty dang good. In our timing passing game,
running the football, running the offense, he didn’t turn the ball over," Patterson said Monday after viewing video of the spring game twice. Taking a page from Dalton's press playbook, the young quarterback deflected praise about his performance, "There were several throws and reads I didn't make and I felt like I should have. As an offense, we were a little slow. Little mistakes cost us each drive."
Many practice watchers have noted Pachall's unearthly arm strength—a trait Pachall brought with him from high school (watch the highlight films; they're very impressive). One reported, "Casey Pachall has an absolute bazooka for an arm." Observers all noted the tell-tale thump of a hard-thrown ball hitting its target. After one reception during the spring game, Aundre Dean said something after catching the pass that nearly knocked him over.
Pachall's accuracy is impressive, especially when his first or second read is open. Some say his ball placement is better than Dalton's. When they're not, he holds on to the ball longer than needful—like many young quarterbacks do. Said one observer, "The only knock on him was he doesn't seem to have a clock in his head like most quarterbacks have." Likely game experience will provide it.
So who's the backup for the... (backup? Nay; he's the starter, now.) for the starter? That would be Matt Brown, the speedy redshirt freshman from Allen and the only other quarterback on scholarship. There's not even a walk-on at the position currently, now that Rick Settle has moved to safety. Brown looked best this spring when running the ball; he made a few bad decisions to throw the ball when getting pressured right up the middle. He's not very big (6-1, under 200 pounds) and was very streaky this spring. He pressed in the spring game, and threw multiple interceptions.
Until the freshmen arrive, that's the whole bevy of quarterbacks. "Those guys are getting all the throws, they're also working with the 3's so it's all about the reps everytime so that's a good thing for us... We still have to manage the game. From a leadership standpoint we've got to keep growing up, we've got to tackle better on defense and we've got to communicate better on both sides of the ball. They both run better [than Andy Dalton]."
Who's Pachall going to throw to, with Kerley, Young, Johnson, and Clay graduated? Clearly the first choice is going to be sophomore Josh Boyce. By all accounts, Boyce lit up TCU's spring. "He’s got to be our guy that makes plays, he’s got to be our leader and a guy that makes plays," Patterson said of him. "He’s going to have to block more just because we lost five receivers. But Josh is a pretty physical player. We’ll always take more physical." To help be more physical, Boyce has gained almost 10 pounds. He hopes the added muscle will help him have more physical presence on the outside with better blocking. "I want to be more physical on the edge, blocking," Boyce said. "It was just natural. I get bigger every spring when we lift a lot." Jimmy Young is impressed with Boyce. "I think he has his head on right and will do the things to keep the receiving unit strong," Young said.
Two more receivers who played in 2010 but did not seize a starring role appear to be doing so: Antoine Hicks and Skye Dawson. Oddly, Hicks was a star in 2009 before drifting into the background last season. He has been front and center this spring. "He’s had a really good spring," Patterson said of Hicks. "For him, Boyce, Skye and Ethan, they’re going to have to be guys that have to step up and make plays for us until the freshman come over... Josh and Hicks have got to be guys that can go and make plays along with those other two guys. If one makes plays and the other one isn’t having a good year, then they’re going to double the one. It’s very important for us to have balance on both sides." Hicks was off for the spring game, however. He dropped a sure long TD catch in the end zone and had a fumble on the day. But he recovered for the practices following the spring game, including making a one handed catch on a deep ball during 1-on-1 drills.
Skye Dawson is elusive. One observer said Dawson had one of the best 15 yard out patterns he’d ever seen, creating about 5 yards of separation for an easy catch. He and Pachall have shown chemistry in third and long situations. "Skye Dawson, you’re not going to see anyone as fast as he is. He beat [Marquis Goodwin] at Texas (video of Dawson's 10.45 100m race in his senior year, with a post-victory interview; curiously, Dawson says he'll be attending Harding University; recall he was a surprise signing months after signing day). If we can cover him vertical we can cover about anyone else vertical," Patterson said. "We had three guys leave at the "H" position and Skye doesn’t just want to be a good player, he wants to be a great "H". That means he knows he’s got to get bigger, and stay big and be able to run and he’s done some of those things. In the last scrimmage last Saturday it was really important to him to be successful. We get a lot more Skye Dawson’s by the time we get to September we’ll have an opportunity to win a lot of football games." Is Dawson is the fastest player Patterson ever has coached? "We’ve had some guys that were fast but not football players... I think a lot of times when you take a track guy you find out very quickly are they just fast or are they going to be tough. I’d say usually it’s about 50/50. He’s one of those guys that’s on [the tough] side of it."
Another returner who's stepping up in this new receiving corps is Jonathan Jones, the big senior. He's shown well in man coverage, and is running sharp routes.
The Frogs moved redshirt freshman runningback Ethan Grant to receiver for the spring, and he has thrived. He and Matt Brown played well together. "We need Ethan Grant to really come along, we need two H’s before those young guys come in," Patterson said. "There’s not anyone as fast as Skye, he’s fast, he’s got a bigger body. His body is more closer to what a Kerley is, he’s 185-190 pounds. Ethan is one of those guys that’s a running back playing wide out."
So will it be Boyce, Hicks, Dawson, Jones, and Grant when the Frogs go five wide in the fall? The coaches are not planning on it. "We’re also going to have to count on the five receivers coming in." Which of them will play in '11 will be one of the top questions this fall; but for now, it looks like there will be little need to start any of them. But there is no room for error—or injury—among the five returning receivers.
Pachall and Brown have not been shy about passing to their tight ends, also. Veterans Logan Brock and Robert Deck got most of the reps this spring. But Patterson has noted the younger players, Corey Fuller and Stephen Bryant. "You have Corey Fuller, Stephen Bryant and Dominic Merka coming in the fall. Besides the two other guys we’re just young there. I really like them [Fuller and Bryant], they’re probably the more athletic of the group," Patterson said. "They’re not as good of blockers like Brock and Deck are, but they can run vertical and catch balls a lot better in the open space." Patterson didn't mention that Logan Brock has been hauling in deep passes from Pachall during the spring. Brock Pachall's first college pass, in fact, last season. Bryant occasionally subbed with Luke Shivers at fullback, showing excellent flexibility. Shivers went deep as a receiver occasionally, as well. Walker Dille had a bone crushing block during a middle drill.
Wide receiver Sam Shutt has left the team.