Year Two of Gary Pattersons unofficial two-year football indoctrination into the Big 12 began Friday at TCU, and the coach was disarmingly chipper.Best practice since the Rose Bowl, he even called it.So whats with the optimism, a reporter asked?Well, Patterson confessed, as a general rule I dont have much optimism.But for me, compared to the last three years, everything thats gone on here its probably been the best since the Rose Bowl as far as how I feel about us being older, people knowing what theyre doing and having a senior quarterback. There are not as many unknowns.A year ago, in advance of the Horned Frogs entry into the new conference, Patterson was embracing the theory that it would take two years to grow accustomed to its new Big 12 surroundings.Two years a home game against each conference foe and one game away. Two years to get accustomed to the Big 12 road and all its nuances, as he put it.But Patterson wasnt expecting to navigate those first-year nuances without his star quarterback.Left unsaid in Pattersons post-practice optimism last weekend was the storm that February 2012 brought upon the Frogs. A campus drug bust made national headlines, and four TCU players were involved.Then, four games into the season, quarterback Casey Pachall was suspended from the team after a DWI arrest. Pachall ended up leaving school to seek substance abuse counseling.He is back this spring, however, as is most of the young cast that took its Big 12 lumps. The Frogs played 16 true freshmen last season. No team in the nation played more.I just think were older now, Patterson said Sunday, reiterating his belief that theres a different vibe.They understand what were trying to do.He meant the football stuff. But Patterson knows that last years team also learned the hard way what was expected of them off the playing field.The Frogs were 4-0 when Pachall left the team. Freshman Trevone Boykin made notable strides as Pachalls replacement, but TCU won only three of its final nine games.How much better can the Frogs be with Pachall returning? With Pachall back and star running back Waymon James returning from a season-ending injury, TCU figures to get a lot of attention in Big 12 preseason polls.Pattersons two-year plan could blossom 12 months early.Last Friday, after he gushed about his speedy new receiving corps, Pachall, Boykin and tailback B.J. Catalon, the head coach finally tapped the brakes but only barely as the subject shifted to the offensive line.Weve still got to get better at the center and guard positions, Patterson said. Thats where we really lost two guys we needed.If we can replace those two [Blaize Foltz and James Fry] and get some guys who can snap, it gives us a chance.To help, Patterson will have 350-pound guard Michael Thompson returning in the fall as well as 320-pound Lloyd Tunstill, a junior college transfer from Santa Clarita, Calif.We get people back and we just have to grow up the guys we have, Patterson said.They wont be wide-eyed freshmen anymore. They know the coaches. They know what the head coach expects of them.Patterson claimed he could feel that the first day.Its nice to have guys who know what theyre doing, he repeated.Last years stormy prelude to spring drills hasnt even been mentioned, Patterson said.Bring on the nuances.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton