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A team effort: five underrated guys who could be huge for TCU football this fall

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It’s going to take more than Duggan and Zach Evans for TCU to reach their ceiling this fall.

NCAA Football: Texas Tech at Texas Christian Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

This is our year…right?

A returning quarterback (who half of Fort Worth wishes would run for President), a star running back, a loaded offense, two of the nation’s top returning cornerbacks, a legendary and now musically-famous head coach, and more seem to add up to a memorable year for TCU Football.

Whether or not that will be true remains to be seen, but for now, all we can do is wait in anticipation for what is to come for the Horned Frogs.

Max Duggan, Zach Evans, Tre Tomlinson, and more have become regular names in the local and even national headlines, but here are five guys who are not mentioned as much (or at all) and could have major roles in TCU’s success this fall.

1. Taye Barber: wide receiver

During the latter part of last season, there were two TCU wide receivers in particular that seemed to garner the most attention—rookie stud Quentin Johnston and speedster Derius Davis.

Though Johnston has potential to be one of the nation’s best this season, and Davis should continue to be a deep ball threat; senior Taye Barber represents a piece that could help elevate the Frogs’ offense to new heights in 2021.

With underrated speed, sure hands, and mature route-running that comes with a four-year guy, Barber has real potential to be a security blanket for Duggan, especially in late down situations.

We’ve seen signs of this in the past, with Duggan going to Barber twice late over the top in TCU’s 37-27 win over Texas at home in 2019.

In 2020, Barber was far from the piece people thought he was going to be for the purple and white, finishing with just 318 yards and two scores, both of which fail under his career-highs.

On the other hand, it’s hard to judge a player based on his performance in a year when TCU had no real cognitive offense, and Duggan running for his life was, as college football analyst Parker Fleming would say, “the entire dinner instead of just icing on the cake.”

With Sonny Cumbie gone to Lubbock (God rest his soul) and a more-experienced offensive line, Barber could finally show Fort Worth what he is capable of and have a career year.

2. T.J. Carter: safety

No position on TCU’s roster saw more talent leave after the 2020 season than safety.

It’s never easy to replace the best player you’ve ever had at a position (Tre Moehrig), especially when the guy who played side-by-side with him (Ar’Darius Washington) heads for the NFL as well.

Nevertheless, the Frogs were able to fill at least a part of the hole left by Moehrig and Washington with Memphis-transfer T.J. Carter.

A four-year starter and two-time All-AAC player at Memphis, Carter enters his time at TCU with 37 total passes defended, 7 interceptions, and 3 forced fumbles.

To put it plainly, he’s a ball hawk, which is just what the Frogs need.

During the recent spring game, Carter made one of the few memorable plays of the day, as he stretched for a pass defense over the middle of the field to give fans a small taste of his game.

The fifth-year senior’s knack for attacking the ball and veteran status should make him an instant starter and add some season to a TCU defense in need of leaders.

3. Steve Avila: center

At the start of the 2020 season, it felt like the last position group on the TCU roster that deserved praise was the offensive line, as Max Duggan and Matthew Downing were sacked a combined 10 times in the first three games.

As the season went on, though, center Steve Avila (also played two games at right tackle and one at right guard) stood out as a reliable force on the front line and steady leader through the Frogs’ stretch of five wins in six games.

This certainly played a pivotal role in TCU’s success, as the Frogs only gave up 13 sacks in their final seven games played (granted, against generally weaker defensive lines)

Over the course of this offseason, head coach Gary Patterson has shouted out the entire offensive line group, specifically mentioning Avila and his improvement.

Not only will Avila’s improved play be important as the core of Duggan’s protection, but his leadership will also be key in getting guys like Memphis-transfer Obinna Eze acquainted with the purple and white.

“I always tell the coaches, wherever you need me at,” Avila said last season. “I can hand out water if you need me to. I don’t have a big deal doing anything.”

This whatever-it-takes mentality is one the Frogs will need to embody to reach their lofty goals this season, and upperclassmen like Avila will be pivotal in making it the culture in Fort Worth.

4. Kenny Turnier: defensive tackle

Listen, it’s no secret that TCU struggled to get to the quarterback last year.

Especially against the Big 12’s best, the Frogs produced basically no pass rush in 2020, finishing with just 17 sacks in the eight games they played against teams not named Kansas or Louisiana Tech.

Because of that, it was a massive pickup for TCU when they signed UCF-transfer Kenny Turnier to play defensive tackle in December.

The Miami native’s journey has been anything but normal, as he started his career at Oregon State as a tight end before playing defensive tackle at Ventura College during his redshirt freshman year.

Turnier then made his way back to Florida to play for UCF, where he played three years and showed off the talent that made him the No. 64 defensive end in the country out of high school.

Twenty-three tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks highlight Turnier’s three years as a Knight, as he follow an All-AAC Honorable Mention year in 2019 with a hot start to 2020 before he was removed from the team (read Melissa Triebwasser’s article on Turnier’s transfer for info on why that’s not a red flag).

Now, entering his 6th season as a college player, Turnier brings explosion and experience to a TCU defensive line that should be a much larger factor in 2021.

Like Carter, Turnier made some waves in TCU’s spring game last month, forcing backup quarterback Chandler Morris out of the pocket on more than one occasion.

Alongside the likes of Ochaun Mathis and Khari Coleman, expect Turnier to feast on teams’ weaker offensive linemen and give Big 12 quarterbacks a headache for four quarters on Saturdays.

5. Dee Winters: linebacker

Similar to safety, linebacker was another position at which TCU lost an all-time great this offseason, as Garrett Wallow was drafted by the Houston Texans in the fifth round.

The Frogs may have just added an exciting piece at the position, with A&M-transfer Shadrach Banks rumored to be moving from wideout to linebacker.

Regardless, the improvement junior Dee Winters has shown over his time as a Frog seems to a point to a breakout year in 2021 with him at the linebacking helm.

A guy who played offense and defense in high school, Winters showed signs of life during his freshman campaign with 28 tackles and 2 sacks in limited time.

The Brenham, Texas, native really made his presence felt in 2020, though, finishing with 65 tackles (9.5 for a loss), 2 sacks, and 2 passes defended.

His season was highlighted by 5 tackles, a sack, and a fumble-return touchdown in TCU’s win over Kansas in November.

Winters’ formula thus far has been simple: more played time has brought more high-level production from the linebacker.

What do I like most about the junior, though? He’s hungry to fill the void Wallow left.

Winters has been a guy Patterson has continually mentioned as a pivotal piece in the Frogs’ defense going forward, and I expect for him to be a well-known name in Fort Worth this fall.