It has been a month since TCU learned there will be no Devonte Fields this year.
That is not that much time to make a backup plan.
But maybe the Horned Frogs have one. Or four.
Sophomore Josh Carraway and junior Mike Tuaua used the August practices to beat out the defensive end starters from the spring, James McFarland and Terrell Lathan, providing encouragement that the Frogs can replace Fields’ edge rushing skills by committee as they prepare to open the season Saturday against Samford.
“They’ll play an equal amount of reps,” coach Gary Patterson said. “I consider them all 1s. We have four 1s.”
Fields led TCU in sacks two years ago, and after recovering from a season of injuries last year, it looked like he might be on track to provide the same kind of results this year.
But a domestic violence arrest in July resulted in his suspension by the school, so he is out of the Frogs’ plans.
“We couldn’t go get a free agent,” Patterson said, tongue in cheek, this week when he was asked if the loss of Fields made him prioritize finding a pass rusher. “We have four guys who we feel like have played in the Big 12. Last year, we didn’t have Devonte, and we were one of the top sacks teams in the league.”
That is true.
The Frogs tied Baylor for third in the Big 12 with 32 sacks a year ago. But Baylor, Texas (39 sacks) and Oklahoma (33 sacks) each played one more game.
Patterson gives credit to 11th-year defensive coordinator/defensive line coach Dick Bumpas.
“He is a really good football coach as far as how he sets up all of his games, how we attack protections,” Patterson said. “A little bit of it, even last year, was coverage sacks, being able to home in on people, making people have to double pump. In this league, people have good players, and they have good quarterbacks. You’ve got to make sure you can do all of the above.”
But Lathan’s sack total of five last year was the lowest for a team leader since 2001.
Bo Schobel had a team-record 17 sacks in 2003. Jerry Hughes put up 15 and 11.5 in 2008 and ’09. Fields had 10.0 in 2012. In those seasons, the Frogs were 41-11.
Then again, three of TCU’s best seasons happened without a double-digit sack leader. Wayne Daniels led the Rose Bowl championship team with 61/2 sacks. Stansly Maponga had nine sacks for the 11-2 team in 2011, and Chase Ortiz had nine for the 11-1 team in 2005.
The top four defensive ends this year don’t have 10 sacks total for their TCU careers. McFarland got off to a slow start in fall camp because of a hamstring injury. And Lathan rounded into shape late, Patterson said. Carraway and Tuaua took advantage of the openings.
But the defensive ends don’t have to do it alone. The Frogs believe they can also count on tackles Chucky Hunter and Davion Pierson.
“It could be anybody,” linebacker Paul Dawson said. “The two starting tackles, they rush the passer every time. And they usually get there.”
Saturday, it will be time to start counting those times.