TCU football coach Gary Patterson surveyed the front six of his defense Monday and noticed something that would give most coaches the chills.
True freshmen filled most of the spots on the line and at linebacker for the first and second units.
Patterson is choosing to look at the positive side of the situation, and after Tuesday's practice in Amon G. Carter Stadium, which was open to the media, he explained that his more intense than usual practice demeanor was not a sign of doom.
"Different than it may look like, I'm really excited about what's going on here," Patterson said after a typically heated practice. "But they have to keep pushing. When you come into Amon Carter, you have to play different. That's why [we] came in here today."
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The intensity on the field also might spring from a rash of August injuries that have kept players such as linebackers Joel Hasley and Danny Heiss out of practice. Defensive end Ross Forrest didn't practice Tuesday because of an injury. Tight end Stephen Bryant also did not practice after an injury in the Saturday scrimmage. Patterson said he didn't know when the players would be available.
Patterson turned the occasion into a celebration of his freshman class, which has crept prominently into the depth chart at nearly every position.
"You have to put the best people on the field; we've lost almost 34 players," Patterson said, including those to graduation, off-the-field issues, academics and injuries. "We've had to clean house. Everybody is getting on Coach P because I'm not doing anything. We're doing a lot and we're going to play freshmen."
Patterson said offensive tackles Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Aviante Collins could be starters by the Sept. 8 opener against Grambling State. So could safety Derrick Kindred and cornerback Deanté Gray.
"It's not that there aren't other guys who are talented, but their whole attitude has been different," Patterson said of the incoming class. "They had an unbelievable summer in the classroom and football-wise as far as lifting. Now, we're not ready for gameday, but I'm really excited. Nobody wants to play freshmen. We're not saying they're all-Americans. All we're saying is if they're [practicing] in a starting role, then they're better than the guys we had here before. Every day is an evaluation.
"I think this will be the youngest two-deep that I've put out on the field since I've been here (15 years)," he said. "This will be the youngest team I've ever had. We have 31/2 weeks to be the kind of team we need to be. I'm excited about playing because there's a whole bunch of these young guys that want to be good. So we just have to keep pushing. Right now, we're tired."