As he looked at it on paper, TCU coach Gary Patterson evaluated his highly rated 2016 football signing class quickly.
“We were able to go out and fill needs,” he said.
Perhaps with walk-in starters.
That’s not necessarily been the approach for the veteran head coach over the years in Fort Worth. Sure, he and every other coach is more than happy with a player they can plug in and play.
But Patterson tends to take a measured approach.
“Freshmen are freshmen,” he said. “The physical doesn’t have anything to do with the mental. It’s the upstairs stuff that’s just as important as the body types. The freshman group we have here right now going through the off-season is struggling with the mental aspect.”
But if the mental aspect is mastered for the 2016 class, it has the potential to produce immediate impact in more than a handful of spots.
The Horned Frogs have openings at 11 or 12 positions. Some, like running back with Kyle Hicks and Y receiver with Emanuel Porter, have incumbents or late-season replacements who have a big head start on winning those jobs in 2016. The offensive line, for example, technically lost four starters. But center Austin Schlottman and guard Matt Pryor started against Oklahoma, Baylor and Oregon to finish the season in place of the injured Joey Hunt and Jamalle Naff.
They can easily be considered returning starters now.
But help is needed in lots of places, and competition is always welcome. That is what Patterson’s fourth Big 12 recruiting class could provide perhaps as quickly or more quickly than his past classes.
A big reason is that eight of the 22-member class are already enrolled and will go through spring training.
That group of eight could provide two Week 1 starters in receiver Taj Williams and offensive lineman Chris Gaynor. They are experienced, were top-10 rated players at their position in junior college — Williams was No. 1, in fact — and they fit in at positions of need.
At 6-3 and 180 pounds, Williams has the build of a Josh Doctson, minus 10 to 15 pounds. He brings production. He caught 20 touchdown passes in two years at Iowa Western Community College. Whether he fits in at Doctson’s or Kolby Listenbee’s spot on the outside remains to be seen. But because both spots are open, he and Ryan Parker out of Tyler Junior College both have double the opportunity.
“Really has tremendous upside for the simple reason that I think the weight room is really going to help him in his two years here,” Patterson said of Williams. “He has speed, can go get the football. He was looking for a place that can throw the football like we do.”
Gaynor has a year of experience at both guard and tackle from his his time at Dodge City (Kan.) Community College. Joseph Noteboom and Aviante Collins have the inside track at the tackle spots, but the Frogs need guards. Gaynor might slide right in.
It’s tougher to project defensive help. There are a lot of moving parts there for Patterson to sort out.
TCU expects to get four starters back from injury — defensive end James McFarland, linebacker Sammy Douglas, safety Kenny Iloka and cornerback Ranthony Texada. They played a combined six games last year, all lost for the season in nearly successive weeks: preseason for McFarland because of a broken toe, and knee injuries in Week 1 for Douglas, Week 2 for Iloka and Week 3 for Texada.
If they come back on medical redshirts as expected, vacancies at defensive end and cornerback, at least, are filled.
But Patterson gave himself insurance with four defensive back signees — safeties Innis Gaines, Vernon Scott and Markell Simmons and cornerback Ke Shawn Somerville. Gaines is a four-star signee. Simmons played cornerback at Pima (Ariz.) Community College and could transition to safety.
“When you play a three-safety system, you really like to have nine to 11,” Patterson said. “At the end of the season, we were at six, and one was a walk-on. Markell Simmons was high on the radar for a lot of people. He’s a guy that really cares about being really good. Fits our system. They ran our system a little bit where he was at.”
Linebacker Tyree Horton was signed to help right away, but he didn’t enroll in January as planned, so he has less of a head start.
Four-star defensive tackle Ross Blacklock has ready-made size for college, and Patterson is impressed by his quickness. Already, Patterson is trying to brace a defensive line for the running attack the Frogs will see from Arkansas in Week 2.
“In this league, you have to have a guy that can have that size,” Patterson said. “The thing about Ross is he moves very well for that size. I’m really excited to see what he’s like in our off-season program and over a year.”
That could apply to many members of this class, which, for now, looks ready to help. Right now.