We had a chance to hear from Gary Patterson and a handful of players and coaches Thursday, as TCU Football kicked off the season on report day. We will have much more in the coming days, but here are a few quick thoughts as the Frogs prepare for their first practice of the 2019 season.
- Twenty-two years into his coaching career, Gary Patterson still seems as excited as he was year one. Patterson talked about the excitement of the new season, how great the off-season was for his team, and said his personal level of enthusiasm was “awesome”. Patterson went on to say that he still loves his job because he does it for “the kids. That’s why I still coach ball. Being a CEO of a corporation isn’t much fun because you’re dealing with problems, but practices, games, recruiting, meeting families - that’s what it’s all about.”
- While the Frogs were a young group a season ago, they’re still a young group headed into 2019. TCU returns 12 starters, including five on defense, but more than half of the defensive depth chart is filled with redshirt or true freshmen. They are as focused and hard-working as any group he has had though, and he claimed the off-season work was as good or better than anything he’s seen in his 22 years. “It’s a more mature group, but to be honest with you, we’re still pretty young. You go through something like you went through last year, everybody learns how to put us in a position to not have to go through that again.”
- Patterson has made some coaching changes this season, moving a few guys around and taking advantage of the analysts and GA positions afforded him. A few years ago, when DeMontie Cross left for Missouri, GP didn’t replace him with another linebackers coach, choosing to fill the role instead. He went away from that last season, and said it made him a much better head coach. Though he’s not paying more attention to the offense this season, he’s back to watching more film and asking more questions.
- Speaking of offense, Sonny Cumbie has big plans for Jalen Reagor this fall. Though they will be mindful of his usage rate, the plan is to “give him the ball a lot, however we need to do it, - whether he’s at quarterback, running back, or wide receiver. He’s a really strong kid physically, so he can handle it, and he’s a really smart kid, too, and that factors into it.” Though Reagor will get his touches, “here’s definitely thought though that we have to be smart in how we handle him, not run him into the ground.”
- Reagor won’t have to do it on his own, though, as pretty much every coach and player in the room talked up Taye Barber. The sophomore made an impression from his first days on campus as an early-enrollee a year ago, and continues to get better each day. John Stephens, Jr is another guy that jumps off the page though, as Cumbie said “he’s one, if you come out and watch a practice, you’ll be asking ‘who is that guy?’.
- Curtis Luper says that Darius Anderson has been as unlucky as anyone when it comes to injuries, but that the senior running back is in “the best shape of his life”. The plan a year ago was for Anderson and Sewo Olonilua to be on the field together a lot, but Anderson went down during the first padded practice of fall camp and again in both the Texas and Baylor games - the latter ending his season. What we saw in the opening series of that Baylor game (with Anderson in the backfield and Olonilua at inside receiver) is what Loop hopes to do a lot this fall. And don’t be surprised if true freshmen Darwin Barlow and Damairqua Foster find themselves earning snaps as well; Foster was said to have “an NFL lower body” and both certainly look physically game ready already.
- As far as Olonilua’s status with the team goes after an off-season arrest for possession, the running back will be practicing this fall with consequences pending. Patterson said “there’s always a price one way or another that you have to pay”, but would not elaborate further at this point, deferring to allowing the judicial system to run it’s course before he makes his decision. You can expect there to be a lot of bleachers in Sewo’s future, but it’s obvious that Patterson cares about the young man - though that doesn’t mean he won’t be holding him accountable. “The kid graduated in four years, he screwed up and he knows he screwed up. He’s been a good Frog up to this point, so I will do what I need to do once I see everything that comes out.”
- You can tell Patterson spent a lot of time studying how the new four game redshirt rule can best be exploited for success. Last year, just about every freshman it seems took snaps in the Southern game, one that the Frogs won 69-40. Don’t expect the same thing to happen against Arkansas-Pine Bluff though. “One of the things we did learn last year - you want to play your young guys, want to get them in the games, but you don’t want to waste it when you’ve only got four.” He used the example of Ochaun Mathis, who played in non-conference games against Southern and SMU, using up half of his “free” ones. He came in against Iowa State and was forced into action in the fourth quarter of the Baylor game as players were dropping like flies. That meant the Frogs had to either burn his redshirt or hold him out down the stretch - and Patterson and co did just that. “I think the approach to a Pine Bluff game is different, because you want to have your young guys available later on. I think you work with your twos and threes if you can get to that.” Patterson was quick to remind folks that Southern gave the Frogs all they could handle early, lest you fear he’s looking past Pine Bluff, and also that he isn’t thinking so much about the redshirt rule that he’s forgotten the bigger goal. “The key is winning. That’s the bottom line to it - winning. You don’t want somebody else to be coaching them in five years.”
Of course, every reporter in the room seemed to ask every coach and player in the room who was going to be the starting quarterback when the Frogs take the field against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on August 31st. The answer is what you think - not given. Patterson spoke of the first goal being to narrow things down. “You’re going to have to cut down pretty quick, it’s just hard. You can’t get enough guys reps to play at a high level if you try to get six guys ready.” He had good things to say about all six guys, as did Sonny Cumbie. Max Duggan has made an impressive early impression, with Patterson saying “I have been really impressed with Max” and Cumbie adding “I have been really excited about how he’s handled himself. There hasn’t really been a moment that has been too big for him up to this point.” Collins has “a calm confidence”, going into the season according to Cumbie, while Patterson adds that he’s “a high achiever”. Rogers is further along than he’s ever been, according to Coach P, and has been spending the off-season learning to avoid the rush as this past spring was the first time he’s been able to go 11 on 11 since arriving in Fort Worth. We now know that Matthew Baldwin’s appeal was denied, so he’s not in contention (barring a successful appeal) and Matthew Downing will get a shot, but is probably a long shot to make the top three at this point.
That brings us to the final contender, Kansas State transfer Alex Delton. While not many fans were all that excited about the former Cat when he announced his transfer to TCU, he’s made the opposite impression on the TCU Football team and coaches since arriving. Delton is described as mature, focused, a great teammate... name an intangible and he possesses it. Patterson paid the fifth year grad transfer a high compliment, saying “I’ve been very impressed - I knew it was already going to be a win for us, no matter how he played on the field.” Sonny Cumbie was surprised by how good a ball he throws, “e throws the ball down the field better than I probably anticipated - throws the deep ball well.” And of course TCU’s OC raved about who he was off the field, too. “Everything everyone told me about the kind of person he is, the impression you get when you first meet him - he’s a phenomenal human being. A great leader, very smart, prepares very very well, he’s a great teammate.” Though we have no real idea who is going to lineup behind center (who we also don’t know, yet), Patterson seems to be a good spot with where his team is. “The competition level and all that, I am a lot more comfortable right now than I have felt in probably two years. So we will see how that turns out. But they are all really good friends, they compete at a high level, and the way they’ve done, this spring and this summer, the way they’ve come in watched film on their own, the way they’ve been professional, I have been impressed.”
We will have much more on the first media availability of fall camp and a practice report next week, but for now... FOOTBALL IS BACK.