Devonte Fields is listed atop the team’s updated depth chart, but TCU coach Gary Patterson won’t say whether his suspended defensive star will play Saturday against Southeastern Louisiana.
Fields, a defensive end from Arlington Martin, was suspended for two games in May for breaking unspecified team rules. Patterson reconfirmed Tuesday during his media luncheon that the two-game punishment assigned to Fields was his call.
Fields did not play in the Horned Frogs’ season-opening loss to LSU but was on the sidelines in uniform.
Patterson said the school’s student Campus Life organization voted that Fields’ suspension be lifted before the LSU game, but that he chose not to play him.
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But there seems to be a chance that Fields will play Saturday when TCU plays host to the Lions at 11 a.m. at Amon G. Carter Stadium, not necessarily because TCU needs his talent against Southeastern Louisiana, but for concerns about his health the following game against Texas Tech. It’s the Frogs’ Big 12 opener and comes just five days later on Sept. 12 in Lubbock. For Patterson, that’s a recipe for an injury to a player going in cold for a conference showdown.
“It’s hard to play if you don’t play a ballgame [before] and go play a game like Texas Tech. You have an opportunity of getting hurt,” he said.
Patterson said he still needs to get the approval of TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini on whether Fields should be allowed to play.
“If he can play, he’ll play, if can’t play, he won’t play,” Patterson said, before reiterating that Fields will serve a two-game suspension.
“He’s not playing in this ballgame until that conversation occurs,” Patterson said.
So what’s probably going to happen? Fields could sit out the first half but play some in the second half against Southeastern Louisiana to help him get acclimated before playing the Red Raiders.
Perhaps he sits out the first half at Texas Tech. If the suspension question lasts any longer than the third game there’s a risk it could become an even bigger sideshow than it already has.
Besides, the team’s best defensive player already missed a nationally televised game against LSU. Furthermore, Patterson seems convinced that Fields has learned his lesson. The two-game suspension, whether it’s warranted or not, was an arbitrary number decided by Patterson.
“He served 135 hours of community service,” Patterson said, while also recalling three suspended players in 2008 who never served any community service. “He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. Just like all of our kids, he went through all the random drug testing and all the things they go through.
“Just like Casey [Pachall], he’s been doing things as long as Casey did; three months of trying to change his life and get back before we started two-a-days. The guy did 135 hours. Find another person who got in trouble out there and see how many community service hours they did.”
Patterson, it seems, thinks Fields has been sufficiently changed by the three months of “public humiliation.”
“It’s also about why do you have punishment?” he said. “Why do you do the things you do? Do you think that he changed? Do you feel like that you’ve done what you needed to do to put them in the situations where they could be somebody where you made a difference?”
Patterson knows he could take a public relations hit if Fields plays this weekend. But, either way, he said, criticism is coming. He mentioned complaints about the team’s lack of pass rush against LSU without Fields, who led the Big 12 with 18 1/2 tackles for a loss and had 10 sacks as a freshman. Fields earned multiple postseason honors last year including the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year and the Associated Press’ Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
“As far as all the blast I get about not getting a pass rush, nobody said Devonte Fields was gone,” he said, although most reporters pointed out Fields’ absence. “They just said we didn’t have a pass rush. No matter which way you look at it, you still get hammered. As a football coach, you get hammered one way or the other, it doesn’t make any difference.”
Near the end of his luncheon Patterson offered perhaps his most compelling reasoning for using Fields earlier than expected. He saw Fields after the 37-27 loss to LSU.
“I think he was physically hurt that he was in that situation and he couldn’t help,” he said. “Usually actions tell you more than words ever do about a kid. Just watching him after that ballgame and it wasn’t because he didn’t play. It was more about ‘I could have helped, but I couldn’t.’”
Playing him earlier than expected, Patterson seems to be saying, could help Fields more than it could help TCU win.
Against Southeastern Louisiana that’s probably true.