In 2015 we were so thin at linebacker that we were moving players over from the safety position to be our starters. That was, of course, the result of Junior Sammy Douglas' season ending injury and Freshman
Victor Mike Freeze's decision to take a leave of absence from the team. Both of these things happened during, or immediately following, the opening game of of the 2015 season on the road at Minnesota.
By the end of the season, the linebacker group grew into their role and became a cohesive playmaking unit in some crucial games down the stretch. Ty Summers set the record for most tackles in a game during the Patterson era with 23 against Baylor. A game in which he also made the key tackle for loss to stop Baylor on fourth down in the 2nd OT and win the Monsoon Bowl in Fort Worth to finish the regular season. Travin Howard led the team with 105 tackles, earned an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection, and finished the season by being named the 2016 Valero Alamo Bowl Defensive MVP.
The growing pains that TCU experienced in early 2015 should pay dividends this Fall. The Frogs currently have 11 players on the roster listed as linebackers, and eight of them have significant in-game experience. TCU released a two-deep roster at the conclusion of Spring practices, and here's what it looked like:
The first and second team are as TCU listed them at the conclusion of Spring ball, and the third string shown above is simply a guess at this point. Tyree Horton was listed as the No. 1 JUCO linebacker when he signed with TCU in February. He chose TCU over programs like Alabama and Florida State, and although he wasn't able to be on campus this Spring, he still figures to be a big part of the linebacker corps this Fall- especially once he has time to get comfortable with the playbook.
Travin Howard and Montrell Wilson are set to return to the top of the depth chart after making 18 combined starts in 2015. Over the summer both of them have been able to pack on an extra 10-20 pounds according to the roster. That should make them more effective against the run, which was most coaches preferred way to attack the Frog’s defense last year. Ty Summers, who made five starts of his own last year, will add another experienced man in the rotation.
Sammy Douglas is one of the most gifted athletes at the position. He was expected to have a break out season last year before losing his season to injury after just one game. If he is fully back physically and mentally to start this season, he could end up challenging for starts as well.
Paul Whitmill has seen action in 25 games at TCU, and I expect him to start the season as the sixth man in the rotation. Another player to watch is redshirt freshman Semaj Thomas. He was a four star recruit out of high school, and at 6’2”, 230 lbs, he has the size to make immediate impact at the position.
Depth like this at linebacker is something we haven’t seen at TCU since the Rose Bowl days. Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallett were amazing back in 2014, but that team didn’t have the ability to rotate so many high caliber players with such little dropoff in their ability and performance, other than primary backup Jonathan Anderson. Its going to make for a unit that can stay fresh, play fast, and do so behind a defensive line that features arguably the best pass-rushing duo in the conference.
Alec Dunham, Davis Devereaux, George Cullen and Caleb Garrison will also be competing for playing time. With so many bodies to choose from it will allow TCU to utilize some of their best tacklers on special team, which as we all know Patterson is very keen on. It’s definitely an exciting group, and so much talent and depth on the defensive side this year, it’s easy to see why Patterson seems to have that twinkle in his eye going into fall camp.