The TCU football team is off this week for spring break. The Horned Frogs have been holding spring practices since Feb. 24 and will return to the field next week. Let's take a look at how the team has fared through three weeks of scrimmages and drills, as well as a few developing storylines:
Hard to find too many holes here. The Horned Frogs’ offense returned most of its skill players, including quarterback Casey Pachall and wide receiver Josh Boyce. Other than Boyce being banged up a bit with an ankle injury, those two have performed as expected this spring.
The only concern entering spring practice was replacing three starters on the offensive line – tackles Jeff Olson and Spencer Thompson and guard Kyle Dooley. Tackles James Dunbar and Tayo Fabuluje should help soften the blow of losing those three. Dunbar missed the majority of last year due to academic issues and Fabuluje had to sit out a season after transferring from BYU.
It’s been a rough few weeks for the TCU defense.
On Feb. 15, three projected starters – Tanner Brock, D.J. Yendrey and Devin Johnson – were arrested on suspicion of selling drugs. Then, as players shuffled from position to position, Patterson’s stance on the unit went from patient and understanding to tearing into it after a scrimmage on March 10.
Surprisingly enough, the loss of Brock, who led the team in tackles in 2010 and was a preseason all-American last year, might not have hurt the linebackers as much as the loss of Johnson could hurt the secondary.
Johnson started the final eight games of the season, getting plugged into the lineup against San Diego State. Hard to tell how big of an impact Johnson actually had, but the would-be senior helped solidify a weakened secondary, one that struggled early in the year but eventually was able to limit Kellen Moore and Boise State on the road in November.
Every TCU fan knows of Casey Pachall. They know of Josh Boyce. They know of Ed Wesley.
But it’s the players they don’t know of, the players that either didn’t play last year or weren’t as highly touted recruits as others, that sometime make the biggest difference in the fall. Here’s a look at two under-the-radar guys that have the potential to turn some heads when the Frogs open up play in September:
Danny Heiss (LB) – Heiss, a walk-on sophomore from Aledo, moved from safety to linebacker right before the start of spring practice and has impressed since making the transition. Patterson has continually been high on Heiss, who, as of last week, had taken the starting job (temporarily, at least) from sophomore Deryck Gildon. Heiss, along with fellow walk-on and former Aledo High School teammate Joel Hasley, should provide solid depth (if not starting playing time) at a position weakened by the loss of Brock.
Ladarius Brown (WR) – Brown isn't as unkown as Heiss, but he might be the best kept secret in the Big 12.
He’s that good and that skilled. Most TCU fans know that – they just might have forgotten.
A four-star recruit from Waxahachie, Brown was the crown jewel of the 2011 recruiting class. He redshirted last year but is up to 225 pounds. Patterson raved earlier in the spring about Brown’s ability to gain weight and add muscle, yet still remain as fast as he was when he came to campus last year.
Brown has the potential to earn a starting job at receiver, but if he doesn’t he’ll at least provide the kind of depth that’s needed in the Big 12. Brandon Carter provided an unexpected impact as a true freshman last year. Expect Brown to have a similar – if not bigger — impact this fall.
With the majority of practices being closed, it’s hard get too much of a gauge on the performances of players, especially since it’s still just March. Every once in a while, though, Patterson will indicate who’s stepping up and who’s not. Here’s a look at two guys on each side of the ball that have impressed this spring:
Offense: Casey Pachall (QB) and Josh Boyce (WR)
These two haven’t missed a beat. If anything, they’ve taken it up a notch, especially Pachall, who Patterson said has stepped more into a leadership role starting with offseason workouts in January.
Both Pachall and Boyce played at a Big 12-ready level last year. Staying at that level and helping bring up the game of their teammates will be key over the next few months. That starts with leadership and raising the day-to-day intensity level, something Pachall and Boyce have done this spring.
Defense: Jason Verrett (CB) and Kenny Cain (LB)
Patterson has singled out Verrett as the lone member of a struggling TCU secondary who’s “doing what we need him to do.”
That’s a good sign. Patterson doesn’t throw around compliments like that lightly, especially not during spring ball.
Verrett, a junior college transfer, struggled in the Frogs’ season-opening loss to Baylor, lost the starting job temporarily, then earned it back and finished the year strong.
The TCU defense – in particular the secondary – has to have Verrett carry the momentum from the end of last season, and this spring, into the fall.
The junior has the speed and coverage skills to be a solid, if not lockdown, cornerback in the Big 12. But, as Verrett and the rest of the secondary learned last year, there’s a fine line between
As for Cain, Patterson has said several times that the junior linebacker is the only vocal leader on the TCU defense. That’s good, considering Cain, last year’s leading TCU tackler, will have to be relied upon even more with the absence of Brock.
Switching things up
Sophomore Antonio Graves moved from wide receiver to linebacker before the start of spring practice but then switched to strong safety last week.
Graves has bulked up to about 230 pounds, and the bouncing around was likely a move by the coaching staff to get the sophomore on the field in whatever capacity possible.
Patterson said Graves is picking up on his latest position quickly, partly because he began as a safety in 2010 but mainly because during his short time at linebacker he excelled at blitzing and coverage, two key aspects of playing safety.
The TCU secondary’s woes were well-documented during the early part of last season, and the unit took another hit with the loss of Johnson. Plugging in an athletic player at safety like Graves, who led the team in special teams tackles last year, could pay huge dividends.
When senior Ross Evans’ career ended in December after the Poinsettia Bowl, TCU lost the Mountain West career scoring leader and the 13th most accurate kicker in NCAA history.
How do the Frogs plan on replacing Evans? Meet Ryan Denucci.
Denucci, a sophomore from Austin, who saw spot time on kickoffs last year, has been working with the starters during extra point and field goal drills this spring.
Nothing’s set in stone, but Denucci likely has the starting job for now. Redshirt freshman Hans Ingold and Jaden Oberkrom, an Arlington Martin product, who signed with the Frogs in February, will be the other two kickers on TCU’s roster this fall.
Three-headed monster at running back
Patterson hasn’t given any indication as to whom will be the starting running back, and he likely won’t anytime soon.
Or ever, for that matter.
Seniors Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker and junior Waymon James have all impressed this spring, enough so that Patterson hasn’t given any of them an edge for the starting job.
That might seem like coachspeak, but in this case it’s probably pretty close to the truth.
Last year, Tucker, Wesley and James all had nearly the same amount of carries – 123, 120, 121, respectively. Their stats were almost identical, too.
James led the team in rushing with 884 yards , followed closely by Wesley with 745 and Tucker with 708. Tucker, the clear goal-line option for the Frogs, scored a team-high 12 touchdowns. Wesley and James had six touchdowns apiece.