“I don’t walk by a sanitizing machine without using it.”
Things are different in 2020 — that much we all know. And that’s no different for Gary Patterson and TCU Football, as we cross the less-than-two-weeks-until-game-day threshold and get even closer to watching the Frogs take the field for the first time in almost ten months.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same, and after listening to Patterson speak for 16 minutes or so Monday, many of our favorite old refrains were still present:
“We’ve got to grow guys up.”
“You know how I judge quarterbacks — we will see what he looks like on Saturdays.”
“When you have guys out, it’s just the next guy in. That’s what we’ve always taught.”
It’s like a greatest hits CD.
But there were some new ones, too, From his new routine and personal concerns, “I’ve never missed work in almost 39 years, now there’s possibility of waking up and having a fever and maybe not being able to go to work.” to the frustration over having to stop contact portions of practice and vacate meeting rooms every 15 minutes to sanitize, Coach P and his crew are adjusting to the new normal, something that gets easier each day. “But the more you go on, the more normal those habits have come.”
Patterson spoke on how well things have been handled by the university itself, from online classes to team doctors, from the chancellor to the players themselves, “it’s taken an army to do things the way we want to do them.” While the adults have put in the extra work, GP was quick to give credit to the kids, saying “hats off to our kids. Because up to a couple weeks ago, we didn’t know whether we were going to play or not. So you’re out there practicing, in the Texas heat, doing what we were doing, and you don’t even know if you’re even actually going to play. I am really happy for them because they’ve put in a lot of work. They’ve done an awesome job.”
As far as on the field, there is still quite a bit of work to do, as the young wide receivers are just now returning to full strength and the young offensive line needs to fill some holes when it comes to depth. Asked specifically about Blair Conwright, Patterson said “Blair’s had a great camp, to be honest with you. He’s a guy that’s probably caught more balls than anybody else has.” He went on to say “we are finally back to full strength at the wide receiver position. If we can get everybody back, from Mikel Barkley to Blair to all the young wide receivers... Taye Barber, you know he had an injury to a ham, those kind of things. We’re now two weeks away and we’ve got everybody on the field, which is a good thing.” Along the line, GP has been very impressed with center Esteban Avila, a true sophomore who is competing with veteran Coy McMillon for the starting job. “Avila’s got a chance to be a really good center — him and Coy have been holding that position down.”
On defense, the biggest battle of camp may well be at the cornerback position, where Noah Daniels and Tre Tomlinson seem to be on the verge of locking down the starting roles. But rarely are two good corners enough in the Big 12, something the head coach is well aware of. “Noah (Daniels) and Tre Tomlinson are both probably the starters. Finding backups — between Kee’yon Stewart, Tony Wallace, and [Hidari] Cesar — you better have five or six guys ready to go. So we have really pushed guys. The SMU game, they have a very high-level receiving group so we’ve got to make sure that we are as ready to go as possible. Because they can play.”
And the quarterback play? It seems Matthew Downing is well in the lead to be QB1 on September 12th (or, if the rumors are to be believed, the 11th), as Patterson continues to talk him up. When asked if the playbook had been pared down for the former walk-on, he quipped “I mean, he’s not an eighth grader. He’s a college quarterback. You have a competitor, you have a really smart kid. You know how I judge quarterbacks — we will see what he looks like on Saturdays. We’ve got two weeks left to get ourselves where we need to get to and what we need to do.” But for those hoping that Stephon Brown might see the field, you’re in luck too. “Stephon, he will have a package as he keeps learning the offense. He will have a package as he keeps doing things. He’s a very physical quarterback, size-wise, all those things. Obviously he brings a different dimension to the quarterback run game.”
But with the game one countdown nearing single-digits, there are still plenty of questions at key positions, and that has the ol’ ball coach feeling a certain type of way. “About the same way I feel about the team every year — I still have a lot of work to do.”