Gary Patterson met with the media Monday to discuss the Horned Frogs’ first week of spring ball — or really, the first three practices.
His evaluation to this (very early) point: “interesting.”
It was a refrain he repeated often over the 30 minute zoom call, as he listed off a litany of injuries, especially on the defensive side of the ball, and introduced reporters to a host of guys that we had never heard of — walk-ons that had been pressed into starting duty as scholarship player after scholarship player found themselves sidelined or in a red jersey. “We haven’t been this thin in spring ball [before], where you go from 1s to 3s and 4s. But the depth situation will help [in the long run].” It has certainly been impactful at linebacker, where Thomas Armstrong, a former defensive line recruit, and Hilton Harris, a walk-on tight end out of Grapevine Faith, have made favorable impressions since sliding into the starting linebacker roles. Though Dee Winters is the unquestioned starter on one side, the competition could be heated on the other, with juco transfer Jamoi Hodge, Dylan Jordan, and Wyatt Harris all fighting for snaps — and all out due to injuries currently.
The defensive line has also suffered, with Corey Bethley, Jaquaze Sorrells, George Ellis, and Soni Misi all sidelined. That’s been a good thing for USF transfer Kenny Turnier, who is getting plenty of snaps as he looks to transition to a new system and learn a new playbook. All of the transfers and the early-enrollees have been “deep in the alligators”, according to Patterson, who said even the guys who have come from bigger programs are saying that they’ve “never practiced this fast.”
A big concern for TCU fans is the defensive backfield; with Noah Daniels and Tre Tomlinson both missing the spring, and Kee’yon Stewart and Keontae Jenkins recently having season-ending surgery, depth is once again at a premium at one of the game’s most important positions. Safety-wise, you lose two future pros in Trevon Meohrig and Ar’Darius Washington, and have DeShawn McCuin just coming back from injury and LaKendrick Van Zandt missing time. Patterson has liked what he’s seen from Memphis transfer TJ Carter — “he’s got a chance” — and Michael Onyemaobi, who has slid out to corner after missing all but one game the last two seasons due to injury. By fall practice, depth should be good, and as Patterson said multiple times, getting guys that you didn’t expect to get into the rotation this experience could ultimately prove valuable when it comes to in-season depth later.
If it seems like a lot of guys on the two deep are out defensively this spring, it’s because they are. “The offense looks like we have an army on the field, the defense looks like the Red Cross,” Patterson said. But on the other side of the ball, players are healthy and competing. Patterson was quick with praise for veteran receivers Taye Barber and Derius Davis — “[they have] have stood out. They’re really running well, been a handful to cover vertically.” He talked about JD Spielman’s return and what it does for the passing game and the punt return unit, as well as how much stronger Quentin Johnston has gotten and the improvement he has seen in Savion Williams, a breakout candidate for 2021. The tight end position, one that suffered greatly due to injuries in 2020, has also improved dramatically, as DJ Rogers, a Cal transfer, and walk-on players that were “just a big body” a year ago have put in the work to potentially be contributors come fall.
When it comes to the guy getting those targets the ball, Patterson made no bones about who would be the starting quarterback when asked about Max Duggan’s status this spring: “he’s our guy.” He also broke the news that Oklahoma has yet to release Chandler Morris, meaning that there are still questions around whether the Sooners’ transfer will be eligible for the Frogs. As he has done often over the last year, Patterson reminded folks that Max didn’t get a spring or a fall last year, and there’s no reason to write him off. “Max didn’t go through a spring [last year], didn’t go through a fall. Lot easier for the run game to be further along than the pass game [because of that]. Everybody told me that Trevone Boykin wasn’t very good. And that was through his sophomore year. Max is in his third year, but he’s still a sophomore with the extra year of eligibility. I think he squatted 630 the other day — that’s not bad for a quarterback.” I think we’ve got a chance.”
He will get plenty of help from a running back unit that returns every player that got a carry in 2020, and one that has benefitted greatly from an additional year of experience. Though Daimarqua Foster is still out due to an injury suffered during the Baylor game, but the position goes four deep with four starting caliber backs. “We are keeping ourselves busy. Outside of popular belief, there’s no such thing as having too many good running backs. The key is that they’re still young, they need to keep moving forward, become complete players so that they can stay on the field. You don’t want to take them out on third down because they don’t know pass protection, you want to see if they can catch the ball so you can split them out wide. We want their game to be more diversified.” For fans that are worried that one of them may leave because of playing time, Patterson reminded folks that this is a group that “they all get along with each other”, and that he’s had two third string backs rush for 1,000 yards seasons due to injuries to the guys ahead. He is also giving them opportunities on special teams, something that he thinks “makes us a lot better.”
As far as his expectations going forward? “You judge your program on whether it’s competitive, and I think we’re competitive. You do what you have with the people that you have — then you become good at it. We need to get better, but we have a lot to build on.”