TCU’s injuries have piled up to the point that a kicker is lining up as a scout team defensive end in practice these days.
“Just to be a body,” coach Gary Patterson said.
That is how depleted TCU is in this injury-riddled season. It’s something that Patterson has never experienced before.
Practice scripts have been adjusted, aimed at getting players healthy and available for Saturday’s game at West Virginia.
“Today, we won’t go inside drill which we usually do on Tuesday, we won’t go pass-rush on each other, we won’t go 1-on-1s,” Patterson said during his weekly media availability. “We’ll try to get everybody to Saturday.”
TCU’s goal remains a bowl game, but it faces an uphill battle to get there.
At 4-5, the Frogs have to win two of the next three games with a banged up roster. They’re going to No. 7 West Virginia as heavy underdogs, face a formidable Baylor team in Waco and then finish out with a home game against Oklahoma State.
“You get a lot of rest if you don’t make it to a bowl game,” Patterson said. “They’ll get about a month and a half. … Sometimes that’s a good thing. It gives you a lot more time to be able to go out [and recruit].
“We want to go to a bowl game, but the bottom line to it is if we don’t then I’ll be on the road every day recruiting, which I wouldn’t be if we were getting ready for a bowl game. For every weakness there’s a strength.”
Much like the injury situation facing the Frogs. The rash of injuries has gotten younger, more inexperienced players exposed to the college game sooner than expected.
The most similar season in which Patterson endured something of this nature is 2012, TCU’s first season in the Big 12 when it had to play 17 true freshmen.
But this year has seen even more shuffling. Patterson said he’s down seven safeties, including starters Innis Gaines and Niko Small. Garret Wallow, the team’s leading tackler, isn’t being used as a full-time linebacker anymore. He’s getting snaps at strong safety with the number of injuries.
In all, Patterson said about 40 players have missed at least four games throughout the season with injuries. He estimated there’s been about 20 season-ending injuries ranging from the starting quarterback (Shawn Robinson) to a standout defensive tackle lost in fall camp (Ross Blacklock).
“We’ve lost a lot of soldiers this year, but next guy up,” senior weak safety Markell Simmons said. “Coach P preaches that all the time.”
The unusually high number of injuries isn’t going to force Patterson and his staff to alter the offseason or training regimen.
As Patterson said, “When you’re young, you have more injuries. A lot of them have been non contact.”
To Patterson’s and the players’ credit, TCU refuses to use the injuries as an excuse for the losing record. And, despite the number of injuries to safeties, the Frogs still have the Big 12’s top-ranked pass defense allowing 190.7 yards per game.
Staying near that mark will be difficult against West Virginia. The Mountaineers have the second-most explosive pass offense in the conference behind quarterback and Heisman hopeful Will Grier.
“Obviously we’ve been playing some people that throw the football,” Patterson said. “I don’t know if we’ve played anybody to this point that throws like they do. They have a lot of weapons.”
Grier’s top target is David Sills V, a 6-foot-4 receiver who has 626 receiving yards and 11 TDs on the season.
TCU has had mixed results against some of the bigger receivers in the Big 12. Iowa State’s Hakeem Butler had just two catches for 14 yards, while Texas Tech’s Antoine Wesley finished with three catches for 82 yards and Texas’ Collin Johnson had seven catches for 124 yards.
“Those guys are big, tall, so you’ve just got to play smart when the ball is in the air,” Simmons said. “As they’re coming down, you try to knock the ball out of their hands and just be smart.”