Scoop on TCU QB battle, a future NFL star, and freshmen that look like Day 1 starters

TCU football hosts open practice at renovated fields

It's time for TCU Horned Frog football, head coach Gary Patterson's Frogs on the practice field for day two of workouts in Fort Worth.
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It's time for TCU Horned Frog football, head coach Gary Patterson's Frogs on the practice field for day two of workouts in Fort Worth.

Gary Patterson isn’t going to anoint starters or make bold predictions about the TCU football team in early August.

Patterson and the rest of the coaching staff are in teaching mode with the start of fall camp.

“All we do is teach and evaluate,” Patterson said after Day 2 on Saturday. “All we’re trying to do is they learn our offense, defense and special teams. Then, the second week, we get into how do we make it better and we start looking at the top 65-80 guys.”

Yes, a lot is going to change between now and the season opener against Southern on Sept. 1. But it’s not too early for yours truly to pass along observations from Saturday’s practice. Here are five takeaways –

1. Quarterback competition. OK, most believe Shawn Robinson is the Horned Frogs starter. Patterson took him to Big 12 Media Day and Robinson is certainly the favorite.

But the coaching staff is giving Michael Collins a legitimate look. Collins impressed on the scout team last season, and has the arm and athleticism to succeed at the college level.

Shawn Robinson and Michael Collins are expected to split first-team reps as TCU opens its fall camp. Robinson is the favorite, but it's closer than most expect.

This isn’t a manufactured storyline going into camp. This is a competition and the coaching staff is rightly letting the top two quarterbacks battle it out.

The team will only benefit by having competition at the most important position.

2. O-line matters. The offensive line was one of the strengths for TCU last season, evident by four players landing with NFL teams (Patrick Morris, Austin Schlottman, Matt Pryor and Joseph Noteboom).

One of the biggest questions is how the Frogs will replace that much talent, but I think the Frogs will be just fine. Talking to a couple offensive linemen during the school’s media day on Thursday and seeing them on Saturday suggests this is a unit that is hungry to prove themselves.

And they do have two returners with starting experience in Cordel Iwuagwu (left guard) and Lucas Niang (right tackle). Kellton Hollins was rated as Louisiana’s top center coming out of high school and is the favorite to win the center position.

The other two spots – left tackle and right guard – are up for grabs. On Saturday, the first-team reps went to Austin Myers at left tackle and Casey McDermott Vai at right guard.

But this is a time where coaches like to rotate different guys with the first-team, so the position battles are just starting to heat up with those two spots.

As Patterson said, the goal by the end of camp is to have eight capable offensive linemen (the five starters, a swing tackle, a backup center and a backup guard).

3. The Big B’s. Count me among those intrigued by the defensive line. Yes, Ben Banogu is an NFL prospect getting plenty of attention, and L.J. Collier is expected to see plenty of time at the opposite end position.

But the interior guys are the most intriguing as there will be more than 600 pounds in the middle.

Sophomore Ross Blacklock, a 6-foot-4, 329 pounder, had a standout freshman season, and has the ability to be a disruptive force from the nose tackle spot. Fellow sophomore Corey Bethley, a 6-foot-2, 290 pounder, is expected to start next to Blacklock and is coming off a solid freshman season as well.

TCU defensive tackle Ross Blacklock is confident the Horned Frogs' defensive line can be a standout unit for the team.

Blacklock and Bethley – the Big B’s – should make it difficult for teams to establish a power running game.

4. The track star. Darrion Flowers is a player I kept an eye on throughout Saturday’s practice. It’s clear he’s still knocking off the football rust, but it’s easy to see his athleticism on the field.

Flowers earned All-American honors as a track standout and is now trying to utilize that natural speed on the football field. He was a star receiver during his high school days at Arlington Sam Houston, and has a chance to see some action in TCU’s secondary.

It’s a tougher transition than some might think, but it’s a worthwhile gamble for Flowers and the coaching staff. Secondary depth is never a bad thing.

5. Freshman watch. Jalen Reagor and KaVontae Turpin are the known names among the wide receiver corps, and are expected to be the top targets going into 2018. But don’t sleep on a couple freshman receivers who caught my attention on Saturday.

At 6-foot-4, John Stephens Jr. is hard to miss and he didn’t look like a freshman on the field. It’s easy to see why he was ranked as the No. 1 athlete in Louisiana.

Taye Barber, a 5-foot-9, 186-pounder, looks natural on the field as well. This is a player who spent time at quarterback and running back in high school, and was highly sought after with offers from schools such as Clemson, Stanford and Wisconsin, but chose TCU.

It’s very early, but Stephens and Barber give off the impression that they’ll make an impact as freshmen.

The speedster will be counted on, but to an extent, said coach Gary Patterson at Tuesday's media availability. Video by Matthew Martinez.

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