It’s not a harbinger of doom to see the TCU offense struggle in a spring game - most of us remember the 2014 affair that saw nary a touchdown scored precluding the most successful offensive season in recent Horned Frog history. But after suffering through the woes of 2016, one can’t blame fans for being concerned after witnessing an impotent offensive performance once again, highlighted by accuracy issues among the QBs, drops by the wide receivers, and a kick bounced off the uprights on an extra point attempt.
All that being said, it is just a spring game, and I’m not all that worried - yet. This is what we observed in the last look at TCU Football before fall camp opens this summer.
KaVontae Turpin is back.
TCU’s explosive all-purpose weapon looks ready to be deployed in a myriad of ways once again 2017, after suffering through an injury-plagued 2016 and the academic issues that kept him off the field for most of spring ball. While cleaning up the classroom stuff is the most important thing, it seems the extra rest did Turp well, as he broke free on the opening kickoff of the game and flashed some of his moves in the open field throughout the game. While it was clear neither unit was going full-bore in the game, it was good to see Turp cutting on a dime and making receivers look silly. Getting the shifty RB/WR back isn’t just a boon for the TCU offense, it makes their special teams squad one of the best - and scariest - in the conference. Speaking of guys being back...
Hello, Shaun Nixon!
The leading receiver from the 2016 team missed all of last season with a knee injury, and as the wide receiving corp struggled with drops, his presence was sorely missed. Nixon is another versatile weapon for Sonny Cumbie’s offense, a guy who can line up at multiple positions, possesses excellent speed and some of the most reliable hands on the team. See Nixon suited up Saturday - though he didn’t rack up any crazy numbers on make any big plays - gives Frog fans reason to hope and believe that the wide receiving unit will be better, and more reliable, in 2017.
Defensive line concerns? What defensive line concerns?
After graduating Josh Carraway, Aaron Curry, and James McFarland, and their combined double-digit sacks, there was reason to be concerned about how the 2017 unit would shape up. But if there was an exceptionally bright spot Saturday, it was the pass-rushers, as a host of guys lived in the backfield and made things difficult for TCU QBs, helping to force five interceptions among them. Mat Boesen continued to terrorize passers, all speed and swirling hair, while newcomer Ben Banogu, a ULM transfer, made a couple of big plays. Ty Summers and Sammy Douglas, both being worked at defensive line and linebacker, looked comfortable - and fast - coming off the edge, and redshirt freshmen Isaiah Chambers and Ross Blacklock made their presence felt on multiple occasions. With big seasons expected from Boesen, Chris Bradley, and LJ Collier, plus the insertion into the lineup of Banogu, Chambers, Blacklock, and Brandon Bowen - who sat out Saturday with an injury - the defensive line group has a chance to be a deep and versatile group that can be deployed in multiple ways to terrorize opposing QBs. Add in the Summers and Douglas wrinkles, and Coach Patterson could have some fun this fall with blitz packages and coverage adjustments.
So, about the quarterbacks...
There wasn’t much to get excited about when it came to QB play in this year’s spring game, which isn’t much different than what we have seen the past couple of years. All five QBs that the offense trotted out struggled to move the offense and put the team in the end zone, something all too familiar to Frog fans. Presumed starter Kenny Hill and potential backup Shawn Robinson both struggled, throwing for a pair of interceptions a piece and combing to score just one touchdown. Neither QB completed even half their passes, and Robinson led the team with 90 yards passing on 22 attempts. Accuracy issues, the plague of 2016, carried over into the spring game, as each QB missed wide open receivers on multiple occasions. Of course, the drops didn’t help either.
The fact of the matter is, the Frogs will only go as far as their QBs take them. Shawn Robinson didn’t do anything Saturday to wrest the starting job away from Kenny Hill, as he had flashes of brilliance but seems a ways away from being a starting caliber performer. Robinson’s footwork was improved, and he did a nice job stepping up into the pocket when called upon, as well as breaking free when the rush was upon him. He obviously has immense talent, but players of his caliber need an adjustment period when they make the leap from high school ball - where natural ability far surpasses their peers - to big time college ball - where everyone was the best player on their team. With only 15 practices under his belt, no one should have expected Robinson to look like an All American. While he still has the summer and fall camp to continue to improve, it looks like we are in for one more year of Hill at the helm. The question now becomes, who backs him up? If Robinson redshirts, as appears likely, it will fall on Grayson Muehlstein, a junior who has yet to attempt a pass in game, or freshmen Brennan Wooten and Jordan Kitna, to fill the role of #2 QB. Wooten was the best of the group in a limited sample size Saturday afternoon, but Mule has been around the program for three years and has all kinds of physical gifts. It will be interesting to see how the battle plays out come September.
Speaking of Hill...
It was obvious that the senior QB is looking to take on more of a leadership role this year, as he was all over the field and the sideline before and during the game pumping guys up, leading stretches, giving a high five or a pat on the back to everyone he came in contact with. He was in Robinson’s ear from warmups to the final whistle, coaching, correcting, and applauding. Kenny knows this is his final chance to prove he can play on Sundays - the arm talent and mobility are there to make him a late-round pick, but issues with inconsistency and the lack of the leadership qualities that separate the truly great signal callers have haunted him in his first two years as a collegiate starter. The Frogs as a whole suffered from a leadership void a season ago; in a big time program, you generally need your best players, or at least the ones with the ball in their hands the most, to be the loudest voices in the locker room. It was Hill and running back Kyle Hicks who were those guys on Saturday, and if that continues through the season, it could solve a lot of the problems that kept TCU from reaching their potential in 2016.
Were you at the game Saturday? Do you have thoughts? Let us know what you saw, or what you didn’t, in the comments!