Niang wants to be the first tackle off the board. He’s got a shot.
“I had the option to come back or go. It was kind of a no-brainer to come back this upcoming year. I came back with a fire; I guess what I’ve been doing in the past wasn’t enough because they didn’t have me up there,” he said. “I’ve got to work and get better and be more dominant. I still have plenty to prove.”
A native of Connecticut, Niang chose TCU over several offers from all over the nation. He felt his ability was best suited for the Big 12 and although he was given a “go back to school” grade earlier this year, he’s now considered to be one of the top linemen prospects for the 2020 draft.
Former Dallas Cowboys scout Gil Brandt even ranked Niang as the second best senior tackle in the nation.
“It definitely excited me; it let me know that I’m up there,” Niang said of Brandt’s ranking. “I think I’m good but I don’t think I’m great yet. It opened my eyes that I’m doing the right things and I need to stay on this path.”
It’s not untrue.
Now Delton has decided upon a fresh start at TCU and that has Patterson excited.
“We didn’t really seek out Alex,” Patterson said. “He sought us out. There was also a question earlier that Coach (Bill) Snyder called me — he didn’t call me. Alex had asked him when he was looking around at places and he said TCU would probably be a place because our programs were both very similar. We got him on campus. He grew up 15 minutes away from my hometown. He’s from Hays and I grew up around Larned.
“I knew about him coming out of high school and was very impressed with him when he came on to practice, the way he handled himself, and he went home, and he decided to come to our place.”
Gaines is a difference maker for the Horned Frogs, and a guy who elevates a very good defense to an elite one.
“It’s probably one of the most talented teams I’ve ever played on. We should have a great year I feel like,” Gaines said. “I’m really excited for this upcoming season. My longest off-season yet due to injury, so I feel like I’m mentally and physically ready. I feel 110 percent, best I’ve felt since high school honestly. I can’t wait to let it all show.”
As a sophomore, Gaines played all 14 contests and started two, including TCU’s win over Stanford in the 2017 Alamo Bowl, setting the stage for what likely would have been an outstanding junior year were it not for his injury.
“It (being injured) was tough on my mental game,” he admitted. “I had to refocus myself, learn more about myself, learn how to get physically healthy, mentally healthy and learn how to be a leader off the field more than on the field. I learned a lot of new things about myself.”
That five week stretch... hoo-boy.
Outlook: The middle of the schedule could once again determine whether TCU can compete for a Big 12 championship during the 2019 season. Kansas is expected to improve under Les Miles. Consecutive road contests against Iowa State and Kansas State are no easy task and a home game against Texas will dictate how the Horned Frogs finish the campaign.
Finding an answer at quarterback will go a long way, too.
Blackshear isn’t a guy that a lot of people are talking about, but under Patterson? He has a chance to change that.
Patterson and the coaching staff has been pleased by what they’ve seen from Blackshear so far.
With the losses of Collier and Banogu, it’s nice to have a veteran with SEC experience coming in such as Blackshear. He’s already made a positive impact on the room, much like Kansas State grad transfer Alex Delton has to the quarterbacks.
“[Blackshear] gives you a fifth-year guy that’s not a 235-pound freshman, he’s a 270-pound guy,” Patterson said. “Watching him run in the summer has truly been incredible. He can get up and run and do things. We’ll see if we can do a good job of coaching him and putting him in a position where he can be successful.
“I think all he can do is make us better. I think we would be at a loss without him.”