It’s a part of the story every year in every college football program across the nation - injuries.
TCU is no different in 2018, losing two player during preseason camp, both injured on non-contact drills that will cost them their season. Both defensive tackle Ross Blacklock and safety Atanza Vongor were injured indoors, doing innocuous things - out of harm’s way, one would think. It’s indicative of the game of football - the confluence of unbelievable size and incredible speed in a not-completely developed body. But, it also may be a part of the change in the way practice is conducted and regulated, something that coach Gary Patterson noted when addressing his team’s state last weekend. “We’re tired. We got a lot of snaps. They changed up the rules with how many practices - you can’t get as much rest. So, we’re pretty banged up - two weeks to get people healthy and we will go from there.”
‘Pretty banged up’ may well have been the understatement of the year, when you consider just how many players have missed time over the first two weeks of practice. It seemed every other player reporters asked about was in a green shirt, a red shirt, or off the field altogether. Consider the defense for starters. “LJ’s (Collier) been down, Innis (Gaines) has been down, of the major guys. (Garrett) Wallow was [out] early, he’s back. Rico (Evans) has been down the last couple days. It’s just camp.”
It’s just camp. That was the theme of Patterson’s presser, as he waxed poetically on the process of growing young players up and teaching both young and old players how to come back. He needs his guys on the field, because he knows they need the snaps. “You don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. You put guys in the ball game who haven’t practiced much, the first thing you’re saying is that coaching’s not important, the second thing you’re putting in guys where their level of training is very low. So he’s going to make mistakes because he hasn’t practiced enough to do it at a high level. Some of these guys, when you have younger teams, they have to learn how to do that process.” It seems the young Frogs are learning, though, and one of the pleasant surprises has been how some of the freshmen and redshirt freshmen have embraced their opportunities with the older, experienced guys sidelined. “You can’t worry about the things you don’t have control of - get the next guy ready. What we’ve done is we’ve grown up our whole football team. Tre Moehrig is now a better player because he took all the reps. Kendrick Van Zandt has been taking all the reps - first and second team a couple times. (DeMauryon) Holmes has gotten better, Ar’Darius (Washington) has gotten better at safety, Kerry (Johnson) got better, Vernon (Scott) got better - all these guys got better because guys were out.”
It’s certainly encouraging to see young players step up to the plate, but if TCU is going to live up to their #16 preseason ranking and make a push to make it back to the Big XII Championship game, the big names are going to need to play. And that includes the running backs, who currently resemble mash unit, not the formidable group we all expect to see starting September 1st. “In our scrimmage Wednesday, it was all walk-ons. Jet’s (Darius Anderson) been out for two weeks, Sewo (Olonilua) is in a green shirt, Emari’s (Demercado) been out for the last week. And (Kenedy) Snell’s been out. Jet’s was a freak thing, helmet hit him. Sewo’s been upper body, Emari was upper body, Snell was lower body - it’s camp. Last year, we did a 100 play scrimmage on this day. If I only get kicking game, that’s telling you that we need to get healthier.”
The good news is, Patterson expects all of the non-season-ending injuries to be healed up by opening weekend. The bad news is, he might not see many of those guys on the practice field until then. And, unlike Allen Iverson, GP does want to talk about practice, and the value in it. “Even LT (LaDainian Tomlinson) wasn’t good enough that he didn’t need to practice. You’ve got to practice to get where you need to be, or sometimes you come back and you’re not fast enough and you hurt something else.”
How good can the Horned Frogs be in 2018? As is true every year, TCU will be as good as their depth and as good as their health.
“If I was really unhappy, you guys would know I am really unhappy. I would just tell you ‘we suck’. So, we have got to get guys back. We get everybody back that I saw the first three or four days of practice, then we’ve got a chance to be pretty good. If we don’t get them back, then we probably won’t be as good. Bottom line is, here in two weeks, we’ve got to grow up, we’ve got to get guys to where they need to get to.”
Let’s hope for a full squad on September 1st.