TCU Football began spring practice this past Friday, and for the first time this season, reporters were given the chance to speak with Head Coach Gary Patterson. After speaking at length on the Listenbee lawsuit, GP turned to what he really wanted to talk about, his football team.
And, spoiler alert, he likes ‘em.
You can tell a lot about an impending TCU football season by reading between the Gary Patterson lines, and in the 21 years he has been here, we have figured out a lot of his clues. Generally, the number of times he says “knuckleheads” in an interview correlates with the number of games they might lose the coming year, and if he’s trying to slow the hype train early, it’s for good reason.
A season ago, GP told us all that he thought he might have something special brewing in Fort Worth, and we doubted him - we all doubted him - coming off a 6-7 campaign. Lo and behold, that group won 11 games, played for a Big 12 Championship, and pulled off another come from behind victory in the Alamo Bowl. This spring, with new faces littering the roster and the depth chart, there are plenty of questions to be asked and answered. But the talent level on the field is higher than it’s ever been at TCU, and that gives GP reason for hope.
He seems to have it.
Patterson addressed the media for the first time Sunday afternoon, and after dealing with the questions he had to answer, he got to the ones he wanted to. And he had plenty to say.
On his team’s inexperience:
“We lost 21 seniors, and another 14 walk-ons who played quite a bit... we had 35 seniors in our class. And we have, probably, another 14-15 guys in red shirts who aren’t going through spring. Our number two defense has ten redshirt freshmen starting on it. We’re deep in alligators.”
On the QB Competition:
“We’re probably spinning it better the first two days of the spring than we have in probably two years. Shawn Robinson, Justin, and to be honest with you, Mike Collins, all three have done a great job our first two practices. They’re all mobile, that’s exciting for us.”
Shawn Robinson is expected to be the starter on opening day this fall, but it appears he won’t have the QB1 job handed to him. Early-enrollee freshman Justin Rogers, who is coming off of a devastating knee injury, is participating in throwing drills, and while he isn’t at 100% (and quite possibly won’t be by fall, leading to a likely redshirt year) he is flashing plenty of that potential that made him the highest-rated recruit ever to sign with the Horned Frogs.
The wild card in the QB competition is transfer Michael Collins, the 6’5” former Penn QB who has been impressive since arriving on campus. Collins appears to be pushing redshirt senior Grayson Muehlstein for the backup job, and has the veteran presence that GP craves behind center.
Patterson is nowhere near ready to name a starter, or a backup, of course, not this early. “The first five days are just installation. I don’t judge any of them the first five days. Everything I’ve seen, Sonny has done a great job with them so far.
On the wide receivers:
“We look more explosive in these first two days at the wide receiver position than we have in years. More explosive at the quarterback position throwing the ball, especially the deep ball. Taye Barber has had an unbelievable two practices because he’s not really a freshman anymore, he’s already walked through things a couple times. Des White was a good player. But Taye’s faster.”
At this point, Jaelen Austin and Jalen Reagor appear to have locked up the outside receiver positions, at X and Z respectively. Jarrison Stewart will compete with a handful of guys at the Y, and KaVontae Turpin and early-enrollee freshman Taye Barber will share reps at H. Patterson seems to be especially fond of Barber, a swiss army knife like player out of Houston that has a lot of Turp’s on-field qualities, with fewer of his off-the-field struggles. “Our off-season didn’t bother him at all. The learning process hasn’t bothered him at all. Going to school hasn’t bothered him at all. He’s one of those guys, you just smile when you talk to him, because he’s been a perfect child.”
On the running backs:
“Darius Anderson isn’t doing much, he’s in a green shirt, but he’s taking handoffs, he’s doing things. Snell is practicing at tailback this spring because of lack of tailbacks. But that will help us when we get to the fall.”
TCU will be counting on incoming freshman Fabian Franklin to make a day one impact, as the Frogs don’t have much in the name of running back depth.
On the offensive line/tight ends:
“We are going to have to grow up, grow up on the offensive line. Pro Wells is going to have a chance, the new JC tight end, to go with our guys. The new rules allows you now to have walk throughs two times a week, so we are a little bit ahead. Right now, we have a good one group. Our second group, they have a lot of work to do, to be honest with you.”
Anthony McKinney is a big part of the big picture for this unit, as the highly touted juco product appears to have the tools to be a day one starter for an o-line that lost four starters to graduation (and four future pros, if you listen to GP.) Patterson had a great quip on center Patrick Morris, who he said “he might have broke the record on the Wunderlich test... as far as intelligence, he might be too smart for the whole thing.”
Is McKinney ready to step into those shoes? Patterson isn’t sure yet. “I’m not worried about 15 practices, our biggest thing is to get them where they understand what’s going on. Our biggest thing... you know, that 2014 offense didn’t even score in the spring. This offense here is far advanced from what we were that 2014 spring. That gives me hope, because as long as they keep playing better on the outside, they don’t have to be as good up front. Because they go quick, they know what they’re doing, they keep things simple... two practices, here, I’ve been really excited about what’s going on.”
On the defense:
“You’ve got Ty Summers, who is just 65 tackles away from breaking Travin’s record, he just move to Travin’s position. Then you have Rico, and hopefully we get Montrel back. Then you have Alec Dunham and two freshmen coming in the fall. We moved Garrett Wallow to linebacker, and to be honest with you, he’s really helped us. It’s only his second day, so everything is really new, but just like when we moved Travin, he’s got a chance. He’s really smart.”
The Frogs lose their best pass-rusher from 2017 with the graduation of Mat Boesen, but won a huge battle when redshirt junior Ben Banogu made the decision to return for his senior season. Now we know one reason why he did so, to be a blind-side pass-rusher, as a further way of developing his skill set next to his next-level athleticism and instinct.
He also sought the advice of several former Frogs who have played/are playing in the NFL, and it appears the advice they gave him was to make sure he was ready for the league on all fronts. “I had pro guys call him. Same thing with Jason Verrett, Jerry Hughes... here’s the way I’ve looked at coming back or staying. All I do is tell guy what the plus and minuses are. Then I have guys like Gil Brant, pro guys, my pro guys talk to them, and I just say ‘here’s the pluses and minuses if you leave, here’s the pluses and minuses if you stay.’ Because you never want it to be your fault. What I told him was, he only had a 14 game resume. When Hughes was a senior, he had over a 50 game resume, you have 64 picks to be the top two rounds, so how do you get enough thinks on tape to show you deserve to be one of those first two round picks?”
What do we take from this?
It’s early, but there is reason for optimism in 2018 for a group that will replace a lot, but brings in more raw talent and athleticism than we have likely ever seen at TCU. Patterson seems legitimately fired up about the offensive potential, and even with the question marks on D, he’s thinks he might have the pieces to be really good again.
The hardest part will be waiting until the fall when it all comes together for real.
TCU will have one more practice prior to spring break as they lead up to their April 7th spring scrimmage. They will have one practice after that, before calling it until fall camp.