TCU is trying to find a quarterback, but also a quarterback’s best friend — a running game.
That might take a while.
Shaun Nixon, Kyle Hicks and Aaron Green emerged in the first week of practice. But there is also the leading rusher from the past two seasons, B.J. Catalon, and Trevorris Johnson to consider. Any one of those names is a candidate to better the modest 569 yards that led the team a year ago.
“I feel like our running backs are probably the strongest position we have,” co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Sonny Cumbie said at the start of fall practice. “There’s five guys there that are really good players in the backfield and also out of the backfield.”
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It could take the Horned Frogs past the first game to settle on one runner. If they even have to.
“Every year I’ve said we have a lot, we’ve ended up with the third-team guy starting,” coach Gary Patterson said. “It usually means your 1 and 2 guy are down. We’ve got to be careful with how we use them. There are some people who have some abilities. They’re all just so young.”
Catalon rushed for 569 yards last year and 582 yards the year before. But those are the lowest and third-lowest totals for a rushing leader at TCU since 1981, the year before the start of the Kenneth Davis era
Can the new up-tempo offense produce a 1,000-yard rusher, which the Horned Frogs have lacked for three seasons (and eight of the past nine)?
It won’t be because of lack of opportunity. Co-offensive coordinator Doug Meacham promises that if the defense “clears the box” to defend against the pass, TCU will hand off plenty.
“A lot of our run game has screens and quick routes attached to it, so there are a lot of times I’ll call a 50-50 game, but it ends up being 60-40 because there were too many guys in the box, or they were loading up the box,” he said.
The Frogs have high hopes for Hicks, who hurt his knee as a high school senior at Arlington Martin and redshirted last year. But he was a four-star recruit whom TCU pried from Texas, a victory that energized the recruiting department. Now they are eager to see him full speed.
Nixon, a true freshman from Lake Travis, is 15 pounds heavier than when he arrived on campus, Patterson said, and looks faster.
Johnson and Green are the biggest backs in the group, each 5-foot-11 and more than 200 pounds.
“We have some guys that are so explosive,” Meacham said. “Those guys have really good ball skills, have that make-you-miss ability, have speed and power. They’re really good players. We have a really good stable of backs.”
Catalon may get extra duty as a kickoff returner, so if the Frogs opt to take some of the beating off of him, it will open up snaps for the others.
And if the passing game develops behind whoever wins the quarterback competition, it could help the running game just as well.
“If that’s our strength, then guess what? They’re giving us the run game — we’ll run it,” Meacham said. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be a throwfest.”
TCU might hang in there in a runfest, too.