New season brings new players, high expectations from Patterson

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Head coach Gary Patterson said Friday that the Horned Frogs are practicing well and will scrimmage for the first time Saturday morning.

Senior quarterback Kenny Hill, “had the best day since he’s been here,” Patterson said in practice earlier in the week. Patterson put his stamp of approval on Hill’s leadership, saying the Southlake Carroll product “commanded the field well.”

The Horned Frogs have five freshmen on the defensive line this year, including four defensive tackles Patterson said are playing well.

“I’m really happy with all of them,” he said.

The four tackles are George Ellis III, Terrell Cooper, Dennis Collins and Corey Bethley. Patterson said that freshman Ni’Jeel Meeking, listed as a linebacker and defensive end, has been playing linebacker so far.

TCU was tied for 71st in the FBS last season in field goal percentage, making 72 percent of its field goals. Sophomore Ryan Graf made 5 of 6 field goals, while senior Brandon Hatfield made 13 of 19. Patterson said that sophomore kicker Jonathan Song has kicked really well in practice so far. Song, the presumed starter entering last season, took a redshirt in 2016 due to an injury.

Patterson also likes how some of TCU’s wide receivers are bouncing back from 2016 injuries, saying that junior receiver KaVontae Turpin has “looked really sharp,” and senior receiver Ty Slanina “has looked as good as I’ve ever seen him.”

TCU finished 29th in FBS last season with 268.2 receiving yards per game and Patterson is optimistic about freshman receiver Jalen Reagor who he says has “tremendous upside” as well.

Patterson said that the Horned Frogs have a deeper team in 2017 after watching film Friday morning and seeing the third and fourth string players practice in the afternoon.

“We have more depth,” he said. “We’re farther along than we were a year ago at this time.”

However, not everything is set for the new season, with an ongoing search for a starting strong safety and backup defensive ends. Possibilities for strong safety include sophomore Innis Gaines and freshman La’Kendrick Van Zandt, Patterson said, and added that he may have to move players who are not normally defensive ends to that position if he needs more backups.

“The team is, for the most part, healthy, but we had a scare yesterday,” Patterson said. “Sewo [Olonilua, sophomore running back], we thought he tore his knee up but he didn’t, he just hyperextended it.”

The injury doesn’t appear to be a long-term issue.

“He’ll be on the shelf for a little while, but it’s not season-ending,” Patterson said.

Olonilua, a backup to starting running back Kyle Hicks a year ago, had 15 carries for 122 yards and a touchdown as a freshman.

Patterson said that he will be attending former TCU running back LaDainian Tomlinson’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame  Saturday in Canton, Ohio.

“I’m going to do the scrimmage, I’m going to grade it and then I’m going to get on a plane, and I’m going to go,” Patterson said.

The Horned Frogs open the season Sept. 2 against Jackson State at Amon G. Carter Stadium.