The first play of TCU’s spring scrimmage last week was a deep throw from Kenny Hill to Jaelan Austin.
No surprise. The downfield strike is a big part of the Air Raid offense — Trevone Boykin, Josh Doctson and Kolby Listenbee turned it into a weapon the past two seasons.
But just because it worked for Boykin and company doesn’t mean it will work for Hill, Austin or anyone else throwing it or catching it for TCU in the fall.
“We’re not throwing the vertical ball as well as we need to,” coach Gary Patterson said. “We’ve got to catch the vertical ball better.”
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Austin had to slow up for the long pass from Hill, and it was broken up. Foster Sawyer, Grayson Muehlstein and Brennen Wooten didn’t have much luck with the deep strike, either, unable to find the range on throws to the middle of the field and the sideline.
Deante’ Gray adjusted for an over-the-shoulder catch at the yard-line numbers on a throw from Sawyer, but that was about it for big-play highlights.
It’s an acquired taste – you really have to work on it, you have to have timing.
TCU coach Gary Patterson, on deep passes in the Air Raid offense
Patterson wasn’t surprised. He has seen it before.
“That was the same problem we had two years ago coming out of spring when we had a new group,” Patterson said.
Boykin, Doctson and Listenbee struggled, and in turn the entire offense struggled, in spring practice two years ago when the Air Raid was installed. Patterson said they practiced their way to proficiency. Boykin and Doctson wiped out the TCU record book by the time they were through.
“I don’t know that either one of them were as good as we need to be right now,” Patterson said of Hill and Sawyer, both held without a touchdown pass in the scrimmage. “Same thing with Trevone when we ended the first spring. It’s an acquired taste – you really have to work on it, you have to have timing.”
TCU was eighth in the country in passing offense with 347.5 yards per game in 2015 and seventh with 326.2 in 2014.
Timing requires repetition, and receivers who are new to the offense, like LSU graduate transfer John Diarse, don’t really have an idea how much repetition is required, Patterson said.
“He’s not used to running that many vertical routes,” Patterson said. “He’s got to get himself a little bit lighter and build up his stamina. Because even our guys, they about died. He died all spring, just because he’s used to blocking and running a little bit. And in this offense, from the time you walk on the field at practice until the time you leave, you’re going one direction.”
For quarterbacks, it’s about a short memory.
“Quarterbacks are like cornerbacks in our defense,” Patterson said. “You’ve got to have ice in your veins. In this offense, you’ve got to be able to put the ball up. You can’t say, ‘The last time, they picked it.’ If he’s open, you’ve got to throw it.”
13 Points produced by the offenses in the TCU spring scrimmage last week, two field goals by Jonathan Song and a touchdown pass from Grayson Muehlstein to Taj Williams.
Two years ago, Boykin led the summer workouts. He and his receivers reinforced to themselves everything they had learned about the offense and began to understand each other’s likes and dislikes.
“You’ve got to get used to the guys you’re throwing with, their speed, their contact, their abilities, what they can do,” Patterson said. “That just takes time. That takes a lot of throws. It’s no different than what Kolby Listenbee and Josh Doctson and Trevone Boykin did. Now it’s going to be Kenny and Foster with all the rest of those guys, finding their niche, how they make it work.”
The organized work is over. The next time the Horned Frogs practice as a team will be the first week in August.
“They have April, May, June and July – that’s what really helped that group two years ago,” Patterson said. “They spent a lot of time in the summer time with each other. They’ll decide what they’ll become.”