Everyone’s excited about Shawn Robinson and his bevy of receivers, and rightly so. And Darius Anderson, Sewo Olonilua and Kennedy Snell can create havoc out of the backfield.
But the TCU Horned Frogs won’t be doing anything on offense if the line doesn’t measure up to par, and with only one returning full-time starter, the unit will face an uphill climb.
Gone are Patrick Morris and Austin Schlottman, both stalwarts in their time at TCU who could play multiple positions. Gone too are Matt Pryor and Joseph Noteboom, who also held down starting spots for the Frogs. All four managed to latch on with an NFL team after graduation, including Noteboom, who was taken by the Los Angeles Rams with the No. 89 pick in the 2018 draft.
Now, the Horned Frogs are left to rebuild an offensive line using nothing but tackle Lucas Niang and guard Cordel Iwuagwu — the lone returning players with 2017 starts— and a heap of unproven players.
TCU’s offensive scheme is predicated around mixing in the run with the pass. The Frogs ran the ball 55 percent of the time last year. That versatility isn’t possible without an offensive line that can run block as well as it pass blocks.
If the line can’t run block, the pressure will be on Robinson (or whoever starts at quarterback) to make up the difference. That’s not a good situation for a quarterback in his first season as the designated starter. Ohio State’s Nick Bosa, one of the nation’s best defensive linemen, will be a formidable challenge for this new offensive line in only the third game of the season. If he wreaks havoc in the backfield all throughout that game, Big 12 defensive linemen will be licking their chops when they see TCU on the schedule. (It’s a good thing Ben Banogu plays for TCU, is all we’re saying.)
Here’s a guess as to how the Frogs will stack up on the offensive line this season:
Projected TCU Offensive Line
|C||Wes Harris||6'4"||295||RS Fr.|
|RG||Chris Gaynor||6'5"||295||Sr. (JUCO)|
|RT||Anthony McKinney||6'7"||314||Jr. (JUCO)|
Projecting who will start at left and right tackles for the Horned Frogs in 2018 is a lot like projecting the last four NBA Finals: you know who’s going to be there, it’s just a matter of where they wind up.
Anthony McKinney and Lucas Niang are the heavy favorites to hold down the ends of the line. Niang spent the last eight games of the 2017 season as the starter at right tackle. McKinney was the No. 3 JUCO lineman in 2017, and for good reason. TCU had to beat out teams like Oregon, Oklahoma and Georgia for his services, and he has size that you just can’t teach.
There’s a chance McKinney plugs straight in to the left tackle spot and protects the blindside for TCU. In that scenario, Niang can remain comfortable at his previous spot on the right side of the line.
But there’s also a chance that the TCU staff moves Niang over to left tackle and starts McKinney at right tackle in order to work him into the offense more smoothly. The FBS level is a step up from the JUCO level, and despite McKinney’s obvious talent and size, it will take some time to adjust.
Our bet is that Gary Patterson, Sonny Cumbie and offensive line coach Chris Thomsen would rather him do that adjusting in the right tackle spot, a slightly less pressure-packed position. That’s why we’ve projected Niang at left tackle.
Lower down the depth chart, sophomore Austin Meyers and junior David Bolisomi are the only other players listed on the roster at offensive tackle. At 6’6” and 322 pounds, Bolisomi could see spot duty and just be an immovable object for the Frogs.
Plain and simple: if Cordel Iwuagwu isn’t starting on Day One, something has gone terribly wrong. Iwuagwu started all 14 games at left guard for the Horned Frogs in 2017 and should serve as the leader on the line as a result.
Backing up Iwuagwu will most likely be Trey Elliott. Elliott, a 6’4” 297-pound senior, started two games as a sophomore and appeared in six of the last seven games in 2017.
As much of a guessing game as this TCU line will be in 2017, left guard is the one position Frog fans should be content with heading into the season.
Wes Harris redshirted in 2017, but the Aledo High School graduate came into TCU as a 4-star prospect. He’ll be the youngest player on the line if he starts, and will play one of the most important positions, but the truth of the matter is that the Frogs don’t have many other options. In fact, the only listed center on the roster is Wes’ brother Hunter, a sophomore who transferred in from Kansas after not seeing the playing field there.
Wes Harris could play a multitude of positions on the line. But our bet is that the coaching staff takes a chance on the highly-touted redshirt freshman and puts him in at center to start the year.
This position is probably the biggest unknown for TCU. Elliott could start here, for instance, as could massive redshirt freshman Quazzel White. Gaynor didn’t see playing time last year, which could hurt him in the race for the starting position.
But there is talent there — Gaynor came into TCU from Dodge City Community College as the No. 10 JUCO offensive tackle in the nation, and White was the No. 1 guard in his home state of Washington in 2017.
This one’s a toss-up, and don’t be surprised if both Gaynor and White, as well as Elliott, see time at right guard. If we could’ve put the ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ emoji in the depth chart, we would have.
Like we said above, either Niang or McKinney will hold down this spot. We’re projecting McKinney here, simply due to the experience factor with Niang.
This will be TCU’s weakest position group as a whole, even if Iwuagwu and Niang have proven they deserve starting spots. The worry for TCU fans is that Robinson might not reach his full potential in his first year as the (projected) starting QB if the line doesn’t hold up. The good news is that plenty of young players should get experience on the line, which will pay off dividends in the future.
Nobody likes a rebuilding year, and it’d be wrong to say that’s what this is for TCU as a whole. But on the line, there’s much more rebuilding than reloading.