Paul Dawson ain't walking through that door. Neither is Chris Hackett, Sam Carter, and Marcus Mallet. You won't see Kenny Iloka in purple/white/gray/etc this season, or Sammy Douglas, and likely not Mike Freeze, either. Instead, it's a bunch on young guns and no names that Gary Patterson will be relying on to cover some of the biggest and fastest receivers in the county, and shut down some of the premiere running backs. With just one week to go until the first Big 12 Showdown of the season - and an Air Raid team to get the kinks out against - let's meet the guys that hope to give the Frogs a chance to full fill their destiny and take them all the way.
#11 Ranthony Texada: A true sophomore who's improvement was dramatic to say the least a year ago, the 5'10 corner started all 13 games for the Frogs, posting seven PBUs and a pick on his way to an All-American season. With so much movement on the other side of the field, expect Big 12 QBs to avoid throwing to his side as much as possible, but he should have the opportunity to show out against some of the elite receivers in the conference. And if 2014 is any indication, he will win a lot of his one on one battles.
#26 Derrick Kindred: The lone senior in the secondary, "Peanut" is the most experienced starter in the back end, starting all 13 games in 2014 and having seen action in 39 contests heading in to Saturday night. Though he has been playing dinged up in 2015, the free safety has yet to miss a meaningful snap, and may see time at weak safety going forward, where his play making ability can be showcased on an even bigger scale.
#2 Corry O'Meally: The 6' senior has yet to quite breakthrough at TCU, having been given several chances to lock down a starting job, but not quite seizing the opportunity when it has been prevented. After being roasted at Baylor - along with most of the secondary - O'Meally quietly returned to form in the second half of the season, mostly as a special teams player. With injuries decimating that unit, he could take a lead role on kick coverage teams, and shine in that role.
#16 Michael Downing: When the sophomore out of Georgia stepped on to the field after Iloka's injury, most fans were thankful for the free programs TCU provided for the game, because they had no idea who the kid wearing a quarterback's number was, and why he was lined up on D. After he was on the wrong end of a long bomb that just slipped through the receiver's fingertips, people were back to the programs finding out who else was left on the roster. But Downing acquitted himself well, picking off a pass on fourth down to end an SFA drive. The former walk-on, who was the practice squad player of the year last season, received praise for Patterson after the game, and the coach said while he may not start this week, he will be an important part of the rotation.
#18 Nick Orr: A near physical clone to Texada, Orr is another true sophomore who might not be the biggest guy on the field, but plays larger than his size when it matters most. A high school corner, Orr signed with the Frogs as a safety, and was successful in that role in 2014, appearing in 12 games and recording an interception against SMU. With a physical skill set that doesn't limit him to any one position, Orr moved back to corner in the spring, and started opposite Texada the first two games. But with Iloka out for the season, Patterson has made it clear Orr is a candidate for the weak safety spot, and likes the tools he brings to one of the most crucial positions in the 4-2-5.
#30 Denzel Johnson: If you didn't know, now you know. The junior safety out of Gainesville, Texas introduced himself to Frog fans in a big way last Saturday, returning his first career interception to the house for a pick six. With an exceptional combination of size and speed, Johnson spent two years learning under two of the smartest safeties to come through Fort Worth in Sam Carter and Derrick Kindred, and with their tutelage, and his incredible physical gifts, he has a chance to be special. A former high school quarterback, Johnson has played in all 31 games he has been on campus for, and his development might be the most important cog for a TCU D in flux.
#42 Ty Summers: After coming in for Sammy Douglas when he went out injured against Minnesota, Summers lost his starting spot to the Howard/Wilson combo in week two. Whether he gets the first snaps against SMU or not, the former QB/safety will be an important part of the rotation and likely a key contributor on special teams.
#44 Paul Whitmill: After seeing action in 12 games a season ago, the sophomore linebacker practiced on the offensive side of the ball early in fall camp. But with Douglas' injury and Freeze's departure, he has gone back to his original spot. Having excelled against SMU last year, he may see significant snaps this week and beyond.
Same Name, New Position:
#20 Montrel Wilson: Former safety Montrel Wilson is a natural at linebacker, according to Coach P. After moving from safety early in fall camp - only to move back when the injury train hit the back end hard - Wilson made his debut in the middle against SFA and it appears will never look back. Earning high praise from the head man, Montrel led the team in tackles and made quite an impression on his coaches and teammates.
#32 Travin Howard: Another former safety, Howard impressed Saturday against SFA, co-leading the team in tackles in his first career start at linebacker. Patterson has already seemingly moved him in to the starting role long term, saying he "did some things even better than the guys from the week before", and telling the media how impressed he was with his ability to read, diagnose, and react to plays in the media.
The Great Unknowns:
Niko Small #4 and #7 Arico Evans: The two true freshmen safeties were both likely redshirt candidates before the season, but may well be pressed in to duty as the injuries mount and the depth dwindles. Both exceptional athletes with solid ball skills, they have the size and speed to match up with the top quality receivers in the Big 12.
#17 DeShawn Raymond: The highly ranked recruit enrolled early, hoping to use spring ball as a springboard to a starting job in the fall. But after being limited by an injury last spring, the freshman has yet to find his way on to the field this fall. While certainly possessing the talent and the speed to be an impact player at the corner position, the former four star recruit is still a big question mark when it comes to what he can do at this level.
The philosophy of 'Next Man Up' has certainly been put to the test in 2015, but with the non-conference slate coming to a close and the mission to win a conference championship - and possibly more - still on the horizon, it will be up to the young, the untested, and maybe the unknown, to step up and step in.