With six of 15 spring practice sessions under their belt, TCU players and coach Gary Patterson don’t have the full, clear picture of what the Horned Frogs will be in 2016. How could they?
Even within the the framework of spring practice, during which NCAA regulations say full contact is allowed in 12 of the 15 sessions, the team is very much in early development. The coaching staff is looking at quarterbacks, searching for cornerbacks and defensive tackles and seeking the right mix on the offensive line.
Right now there are no starters ... We don’t have starters back, and we don’t have numbers.
TCU coach Gary Patterson, on the questions at defensive tackle
“You can see a little more between guys in practices 11 through 14, sometimes not even then,” Patterson said. “These next six practices are our toughest practices of the spring. When we start going pads every day you’ll see the front people get a lot better.”
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Defensive tackle search
Defensive tackle is still a question mark for the Frogs.
“Right now there are no starters,” Patterson said. “That’s one of those positions along with cornerback where we’ve got to keep getting better and better. We don’t have starters back, and we don’t have numbers.”
Eight players on the TCU roster are listed at defensive tackle, but none with the experience of junior Chris Bradley or senior Aaron Curry, who combined for 70 tackles and four sacks last season.
After those two, the drop-off in experience is a precipitous one. Sophomores Breylin Mitchell and Joseph Broadnax, each of whom saw action in the final five games of the year, would be next in line.
Developments at linebacker
The Frogs have some pieces in place at linebacker. Junior Sammy Douglas is back with the team after his 2015 was cut short by an undisclosed injury in the season-opening 23-17 win at Minnesota.
Travin Howard has really become one of the leaders of the defense.
“Being out six months he’s rusty, but he’s better than he was two years ago,” Patterson said.
Alongside Douglas is Travin Howard, one of the pleasant surprises from 2015. Howard joined the linebackers after the siege of defensive injuries and led the team in tackles (105) in the regular season.
“Travin Howard has really become one of the leaders of the defense,” Patterson said.
But Patterson wouldn’t go as far as expressing optimism in the overall situation.
“Not me,” he said. “I’ve never been optimistic, in nine years.”
Declaring “we’re not terrible” put Patterson about as close to optimism as he gets.
Newcomers Tony James and Jeff Gladney have solidified their positions in the early cornerback rotation, for the moment.
Patterson said that after James, a converted wide receiver, and Gladney, a redshirt freshman, had impressed early on in spring drills, he now considered the pair starters, along with junior Torrance Mosley, the only returner in the secondary with game experience to speak of.
Tony James, Jeff Gladney and Torrance Mosley would be considered starters in the secondary, although two key players are still to return from 2015 injuries.
The situation would presumably see a shake-up, though, when junior Ranthony Texada returns from his season-ending knee injury, suffered against SMU.
Patterson said Texada and safety Kenny Iloka, also out with a knee injury, were progressing as expected and are able to run, while not able to fully participate in organized practices.
Spring break 2K17?
Patterson said he didn’t think traveling with the team to hold off-campus spring practices was in the cards for TCU.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh made waves by taking his team on a weeklong spring break trip to hold practice at a premier high school football facility in Florida.
“Number one, it costs a lot of money,” Patterson said. “My university takes care of us really well. I don’t believe in wasting.”