There are few questions for TCU on the offensive side of the ball; when you return just about every important guy from an offense that scored 46.5 points per game, you go in to the season feeling pretty good about yourself. Factor in another off-season learning the Cumbie/Meacham offense, further development from an angry Trevone Boykin (who will certainly be gunning for NYC), and a lot of fun new pieces on the outside to throw to - complementing what was already one of the top five receiving cores in the country - and most fans and pundits agree: somehow, this group might be even better in 2015.
And while the fortunes of TCU will fall squarely on the shoulders of the man behind center, he won't have to do it alone. As the coaches and fans saw the last two months of the season, TB will have a lot of help from one of the best running backs in the country, senior Aaron Green. Green, a former five-star recruit out of San Antonio who started out at Nebraska, came to TCU in 2012 with three years of eligibility remaining (after sitting out the mandatory redshirt season due to transfer rules), and seemed destined to languish as a backup, with the TCU backfield looking loaded for the forseeable future. After getting limited opportunities in his first season with the Frogs, Green showed flashes of brilliance backing up B.J. Catalon to open 2014, and then absolutely shined once he became the lead back, when Catalon was lost to injury.
Green has a real shot to be TCU's first thousand-yard rusher since Ed Wesley in 2010, but only if he is given the carries. With three guys behind him that will all vie for touches, that might be the biggest obstacle in his way. With his exceptional mix of speed, balance, and power, he is a special player; capable of breaking tackles as well as breaking free towards the open field.
The Frogs are loaded at running back once again; in addition to Green, Meacham and Cumbie will be tasked with getting the ball in the hands of three other capable runners: sophomores Trevorris Johnson and Kyle Hicks, and redshirt freshman Shaun Nixon, who lost 2014 to a injury suffered in fall camp. Nixon might be the most intriguing on the group; committed to A&M for months, he flipped his decision the week of signing day, and became the highest rated recruit in the 2014 class. While we haven't seen him at the collegiate level, he was last seen doing things like this:
... so it's ok to be excited about seeing this guy on the field for sure.
But let's talk a little more about the "known" commodities, and what we can expect from them in the fall. Once BJ went down in October, the door was open for either Hicks or Johnson to grab a hold of the backup running back job. But neither seemed to fully take ownership of it - Hicks did a little too much dancing in the backfield instead of hitting the hole and getting downfield, and TJ seemed to find himself in GP's doghouse as often as he found himself on the field.
(Nixon rushed for 1,741 yards and 24 TDs as a high school senior)
On the post spring depth chart, Patterson listed Green, Hicks, and Johnson as co #1s, with Shaun Nixon as the backup. This looks to be a three headed monster type attack - Green will clearly be the guy, but Cumbie/Meach will be able to mix and match as the situation determines. Hicks having a good spring bodes well for the Frogs, as he is a highly talented player with 4.4 speed who was a consensus four star recruit out of Arlington Martin when he flipped from Texas to the Frogs in 2013. He also can do things like this:
Hicks isn't a big guy, both he and Nixon stand at just 5'10" and check in around 200 pounds, and as he made the adjustment to playing at the Division I level, it was clear he needed to be a little stronger, and a lot more decisive. These are certainly things that can be worked on, and from the looks of the post spring depth chart, he has improved his footwork and pass blocking enough to have earned GP's trust. Trevorris Johnson on the other hand, is less of a "I'm going to run by you" and more of a "I'm going to run you over" kind of player, which helps him excel in short yardage and goal line packages. At 5'11" and 221, he is the big back to complement the small speeders he shares the field with. While he had a couple grievous fumbles, he earned the fans love and respect by refusing to get tackled and taking on defenders with aplomb. He has a real nose for the end zone, and I would expect we will see a lot more of these type of plays from him in the fall:
None of this takes in to account the guy that might be the best runner of the group - QB Trevone Boykin. While his rushing attempts have diminished as his quarterback acumen has improved, there will still be a handful of designed runs incorporated in to the playbook, along with those 3-5 times a game TB makes some magic when the called play breaks down, and takes off downfield.
While he makes his run at the Heisman, he may not run quite as much, but it's his legs that make him special, even as his arm makes him a household name.
Also of note: the Frogs did not sign a single running back in the class of 2015, but did ink a couple of "athletes" that could eventually earn carries. Kaontae Turpin is a name to watch as a guy that could work his way on the field as a true freshman, certainly on special teams, but also possibly in a Desmon White/Deante' Gray type role.
TCU will have a lot of options in the backfield, and running behind a line that replaces only one guy up front should mean a lot of open running lanes. Though the Air Raid is generally thought of as a primarily passing offense, the Frogs willingness to use their backs, and use them often, will open up opportunities for the receivers to make big plays through the air. TCU has been a run first team in the Patterson era, and despite their willingness to chuck it more, with the stable of studs in the backfield, there's no need, or desire, to abandon the ground game.