Spring practices are beginning to wind down across the Big 12 and teams are sending their squads into summer workouts. As they move forward, we’ll provide some thoughts and observations on things we’ve learned after the past few weeks.
TCU began their football practices in early March and wrapped everything up this week. After making the Big 12 championship last season, the Horned Frogs will go into 2018 looking to bring home a trophy this time around.
They’ve recruited well in Fort Worth, regularly signing the kinds of athletes that could eventually have TCU eyeing some serious hardware. Will this season be a slight step back before they make a serious run or are the Horned Frogs already in position to win big? Below are some thoughts on the state of TCU football following their scrimmage Saturday.
1. OFFENSIVE LINE LOOKS TO BE THE TEAM’S BIGGEST WEAKNESS
Head coach Gary Patterson noted this spring that the offensive line is a “work in progress,” a reminder that developing the group might be the team’s most important offseason project.
Returner Lucas Niang looks to be an answer at one of the tackle spots, but the Horned Frogs appear to still be looking to solidify starters at the other four positions. That’s not a good sign for a team looking to replace four starters up front, but TCU has some talent to work with. At some point, this group will more than likely gel and could become a strength rather than a potential weakness.
When do they get to that point, though? Arguably, TCU might have more questions along the offensive line going into next fall than any other other team in the Big 12.
As things stand in early April, the Big 12 doesn’t seem loaded with elite teams. The Horned Frogs’ offensive line might be the one position group that prevents TCU from separating themselves from the pack.
2. THERE’S ROOM TO GROW AT QUARTERBACK
In TCU’s spring game, three different quarterbacks threw interceptions. That includes true sophomore Shawn Robinson, whom many have pencilled in as the expected starter come fall.
He has yet to clearly separate himself from Penn transfer Michael Collins, who also threw a pick on Saturday. Even though Robinson “has the edge,” Patterson admitted on Saturday that he still has plenty of room for growth between now and September.
After the graduation of senior Kenny Hill, who often had issues with decision making, the Horned Frogs are hoping that Robinson might develop into an elite talent. The sophomore signal caller, a former four star recruit, was forced to start late last season against Texas Tech and posted a 96.7 quarterback rating.
He’s of course made progress since then, but it’s hard to gauge that progress at this point. Robinson has the potential to be a top quarterback in the Big 12, but how much will he develop during the offseason?
3. THE DEFENSE WILL LIKELY BE SOLID AGAIN
Maybe the biggest victory for Patterson coming out of spring is that there were no major injuries for TCU. Some guys did not play in the spring game because they were banged up, like starter Ross Blacklock.
It’s good news, though, that there are plenty of healthy defenders ready to be stars in 2018. Horned Frogs like cornerback Jeff Gladney, defensive end Ben Banogu and linebacker Ty Summers are poised to have breakout, All-Big 12 type seasons.
TCU also appears to have found the next man up at spots where players were lost to graduation. L.J. Collier has stepped in as a potential answer at defensive end even though Patterson did note that he has to get ready to play more snaps per game. At linebacker, sophomore Garrett Wallow, who was out for the spring game due to illness, has received buzz throughout camp. Tony James seems most likely to replace cornerback Ranthony Texada, especially after grabbing a pick in the spring game.
4. EVERYTHING IS SET AT THE SKILL POSITIONS
Probably more than any other team in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs have more answers than questions at running back and wide receiver. Veteran running backs Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua both looked good, according to reports coming out of last Saturday’s scrimmage. If Anderson stays healthy, he could be one of the best at his position in the conference.
Jalen Reagor, last year’s Big 12 Co-Offensive Freshman Of The Year, will be back along with speedy senior KeVontae Turpin. Both of those guys have had a solid spring, from all reports. True freshman wide receiver Taye Barber received rave reviews throughout spring practices, a testament to the depth TCU has amassed at the skill positions.
In spite of the receivers the Horned Frogs lost to graduation, there’s still plenty of production coming back among the pass catchers.
There are enough pieces returning on this defense to believe that the Horned Frogs will once again have one of the best – if not the best – defensive units in the Big 12. Patterson has made his reputation on being able to develop guys who can play at a high level in his system and there’s not really any reason to think he won’t be able to do so once again. If they can stay healthy, TCU could have one of the best defensive lines in the country next season.
Offensively, though, there are enough questions to think that this team may not reach the double-digit win mark again. It’s not hard to see Sonny Cumbie developing Shawn Robinson into the best quarterback in the entire conference and a top talent at the college level. Asking him to do that in Robinson’s second year in the program without stability along the offensive line, however, seems like a tall task.
Whatever happens, you can be sure that Patterson and Cumbie will be hard at work this offseason as they prepare to put TCU in the best possible position to succeed next fall.
The Horned Frogs begin their season at home on September 1st against the Southern Jaguars.