Preseason Football Update: First scrimmage offers a mixed bag

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One scrimmage is in the books for TCU head coach Gary Patterson and his Horned Frogs, and, as you might expect, practicing for the last seven days straight has begun to wear ever so slightly on the team.

“We’re tired, I’m getting too old for this,” Patterson said Friday with a wry smile.

When asked how he could be “getting too old” with 78 year-old Bill Snyder having just signed an extension at Kansas State through 2022, he fired back with an trademark Patterson one-liner, “That’s Coach Snyder, he’s tougher than I am.”

However, the scrimmage did give Patterson some more clarity on a few different position groups as he said it highlighted “who can block and tackle, as usual in the first scrimmage.”

Quarterback Competition

The race to replace Kenny Hill is a two-man battle between Hill’s understudy last season, sophomore Shawn Robinson, and University of Pennslyvania transfer Michael Collins. Highly-touted freshman Justin Rogers is still recovering from a knee injury he suffered at the beginning of his final high school season. Both Robinson and Collins impressed Thursday.

“Both Shawn and Mike looked good, but Shawn can really get himself out of trouble though,” Patterson said, referring to Robinson’s mobility, a skillset the sophomore from DeSoto utilized to run for a team-high 84 yards in the Horned Frogs’ 27-3 road win against Texas Tech last season. “It’ll be interesting to see how it turns out, but in [the Big 12], if your quarterback is going to run, you better have two. Michael runs a lot better than you think he does.”

To his credit, Robinson has slimmed down from weighing 228 lbs.in the spring to about 217 lbs., a weight that Patterson noted has allowed him to “do more things.”

“That’s made him where he runs better, has more stamina, and when you’re not tired, you make better decisions,” Patterson said.

TCU quarterback Shawn Robinson works through drills in practice. Photo by Cristian AruguetaSoto.

At this point, Patterson said he’s been favoring Robinson because he’s been in the TCU system longer, but he also said Saturday’s scrimmage will be quite telling.

“I’ll know more tomorrow because all the teaching is done, and it’s more into getting better and reacting more than thinking,” Patterson said.

Defensive Backfield

Bad news struck the Horned Frog secondary as one of TCU’s top recruits, freshman safety Atanza Vongor, is expected to miss the season with an undisclosed injury.

Patterson attempted to see the silver lining in the loss.

“It’s one of those things … the great part about having a redshirt,” Patterson said. “Still get involved and do things.”

Even without Vongor, Patterson liked what he saw from his safeties.

The expected starters at free safety and strong safety respectively are Niko Small and Innis Gaines. Small has returned to practice after being sidelined last week with a minor injury.

Gaines, a junior who had a game-sealing interception in last season’s Alamo Bowl has the inside track over senior Ridwan Issahaku, who is still getting back in shape after missing spring practice with an injury.

Redshirt freshman Michael Onyemaobi could see snaps at cornerback and safety. Freshmen Ar’Darius Washington and DeMauryon Holmes, as well as sophomore La’Kendrick Van Zandt and redshirt freshman Noah Daniels, have been players who have stood out early on in camp.

“Really, Noah has had a great camp, even Onyemaobi is doing great – we moved him back to corner,” Patterson said. “Yoyo (Onyemaobi) has been playing great.”

At this point, having a deep stable of defensive backs will be critical for TCU’s success since they’ll face a number of high-flying, Big 12 offenses.

“We keep building the depth so you run out somebody in the middle of the season, they’ve already got a little bit of a base,” Patterson said.

Offensive Line

The position group with the most turnover is the offensive line, which has to replace four starters. However, the unit is progressing despite a training camp injury to potential starting guard Casey McDermott Vai. Vai also missed all of last season with an injury.

“We’ve been pretty happy…our offensive line has come a long, long way, even with our twos on the inside,” Patterson said. “I still think we have work with our two tackles, but Anthony McKinney has made a lot of progress. We weren’t able to [make a lot of progress] in the spring because all of our defensive ends were out. Now, every day you get a chance to work on good, and that helps.”

Patterson likes his starting five up front, and he noted that McDermott Vai will likely be ready to play in Week 1 against Southern.

Defensive Line

The Big 12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, TCU senior defensive end Ben Banogu, is a known commodity. Patterson expects younger returning players like defensive tackles Ross Blacklock and Corey Bethley to make big strides in their sophomore seasons.

“One of our biggest problems two years ago was we weren’t big enough and couldn’t hold up inside on defense, so even though they’re young, them being able to play is going to be huge as we rotate between five to six guys,” Patterson said.

Senior defensive end L.J. Collier will line up across from Banogu in Patterson’s defense, looking to replace the since-graduated Mat Boesen’s 12.5 sacks.

“He’s got a chance to have a big year,” Patterson said. “They’re [Banogu and Collier] just different – L.J. is a power rusher, Ben is a speed rusher.”

Patterson hopes Collier cutting some weight will allow him to make a larger impact on the game by staying on the field for longer stretches.

“He’s only used to playing about 20 plays a game, and the whole thing has been getting him where he can play – last year, he only played third downs,” Patterson said. “Now you see if he can still play on third downs like if he was coming from the sidelines.”

Linebacker Ty Summers will also play some defensive end again in this season, a move Patterson likes to save for teams that are a little faster and like to run a lot of read-option plays.

Linebacker Ty Summers goes through drills in practice. Photo by Cristian ArguetaSoto.

Linebackers

Patterson raved about the effect of moving defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow from coaching safeties to now coaching the linebackers.

“Linebacker guys, as a general rule, are really front guys, so coverage is a different animal, and when you move a secondary guy to linebacker – and Chad played linebacker in college – so he has that element and he has the coverage element, which really helps linebackers understand principles,” Patterson said. “It takes so much teaching for our safeties, so he has brought that attention to detail to the linebacker position.”

Northern Illinois transfer Jawaun Johnson has caught Patterson’s eye, but the head coach made sure to mention some other players that have impressed to this point as well.

“Jawaun keeps getting better, really, all of them are,” Patterson said. “Alec Dunham, even the young guys Ben [Wilson] and Jacoby [Simpson]. Chad’s really done a great job bringing those guys along.”

Special Teams

Jonathan Song has begun the last two years as the starter at kicker, but he has suffered lower leg injuries the last couple of years, which has allowed other players like Ryan Graf, Brandon Hatfield, and Cole Bunce all see time as the placekicker for TCU in the past.

“Cole (Bunce) is the starter right now at kicker,” Patterson said.

Long-snapper Lucas Gravelle graduated, but Patterson has added a long-term replacement who has met expectations.

“But for those of you who have been asking about the long snapper, we got some good news there, as well,” he said. “[Antonio] Ortiz has really emerged – the freshman. He is really fast. Exactly what we thought he was when we recruited him.”

TCU kicks off the 2018 football season Saturday, September 1 at 11:00 AM CT against Southern at Amon G. Carter Stadium.