The TCU Football team addressed the upcoming season at the team’s on-campus media day at Amon G. Carter Stadium Tuesday afternoon.
A half hour press conference with head coach Gary Patterson kicked off media day, followed by an open time for questions with several players and other members of the coaching staff. Among those in attendance were co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie, senior tailback Aaron Green, and senior defensive end Mike Tuaua.
Players and coaches addressed preseason hype, roster changes and general preparations before the 2015 season kicks off.
One theme at Tuesday’s media session was increased preseason expectations, which have changed drastically from a year ago. How the Frogs respond to them will be paramount this season.
Last week the Frogs were ranked No. 2 in USA Today’s first Amway Coaches Poll of the season. That’s the highest preseason ranking the team has ever had in the poll, and ties their highest ranking ever in the poll at any point in the year.
The last time TCU faced such high expectations was in 2011, when the team came off their thrilling victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.
Patterson said few things could pass up the influence that the Rose Bowl victory had on the program, but he expects great things for the team after their rise to the national scene last season.
“I think being where we sit and what we’ve accomplished, and having a guy like Trevone Boykin that can play up to his potential….if he can do that we will have the season we want to have, and we’ll win a lot more games than we lose,” Patterson said.
The 2010-11 season had a tremendous impact on the TCU football team. The Frogs’ national profile rose considerably and has remained high. TCU is not only highly ranked, but also in a power-5 conference — the Big 12.
“We’ve had years like this before as far as rankings go.” Patterson said. “The Big 12 just asks more of us though. Last week I was up at 11 PM with ESPN. It’s a lot but it’s just part of the job.”
While the Frogs’ recent success and rise to the top may be great publicity for the team, the downside is that it inevitably puts a target on team’s back.
Patterson said he expects the team to see the best shot from their opponents week in and week out given the Frogs’ ranking.
“As long as you sit where you sit in the standings, everybody wants to beat the number 2 team,” Patterson said. “You don’t even have to put a university’s name up, whether it’s TCU or anybody else. Any time it’s a ballgame where the fan’s have a chance to rush the field, you’ve got to understand that, but we can’t worry about it.”
Despite the perceived target, Patterson said he obviously prefers to be where the team currently stands.
“You’d much rather be the frontrunner than the guy that’s coming up from behind,” Patterson said.
Green says he and other players view the ranking as an honor, but the key is staying humble.
“We’re handling it well,” Green said. “We’re an extremely humble group and Gary is an incredibly humble coach, so I think that rubs off on us. Whatever the rankings are, I think we will be able to come out and play our best ball.”
Replacing lost talent
A talking point that took off right from the moment the last second ticked off the clock at last year’s Peach Bowl in Atlanta, the departure of several key players after last season has raised questions about the depth of the Frogs this year, especially the defense.
While the Frogs’ offense is mainly intact from last year despite losing wide receiver Chris Porter to the NFL Draft, the defensive unit suffered a major setback in the off-season with the loss of safety Chris Hackett, cornerback Kevin White, and linebackers Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet all to the NFL Draft. Veteran defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas also announced his retirement after last season.
Not only will the Frogs’ need to replace the skills those players brought to the field, but also the leadership qualities they brought to the team.
“The big thing was that guys like them had knowledge,” Tuaua said. “They learned things from previous players that they could pass down to the younger guys. Losing them hurt us but Coach Patterson likes to build us from the ground up.”
Tuaua also highlighted the importance of him and the other seniors pouring into the younger players this season.
“You always got to look out for them and show them the way the Horned Frogs do it,” Tuaua said. “Me being a senior I always try to teach them our ways. No matter our record we want to be best and just take things one game at a time.”
While the squad lost many veterans however, the sheer amount of youth on this year’s defensive unit has led many to predict that the Frog’s could have one of the fastest defensive squads in the nation this season.
“We have a lot of speed guys…at the d-line and linebacker we can move pretty good and even the safeties have some speed,” said senior defensive tackle Davion Pierson. “Hopefully speed can do us some help.”
Patterson said he sees potential for the changes to be a good thing.
“I felt like with this freshman class coming in, we might be a better football team then we were a year ago,” Patterson said. “We have a chance to be faster, but will they be better? That’s my job.”
Patterson said he is still aware that gaps may needed to be filled.
“We lost six defensive starters,” Patterson said. “We came a long way in the spring and we had some young linebackers. I’d be more concerned about how we play at safety and corner, and our front has to be better than it was in the spring.”
Patterson said that they will begin the teaching phase on Wednesday. The next two weeks will be a period of evaluation, and after that, the final 70 man roster will be put together.
Preparations for the 2015 season
With increased national attention and roster changes during the off-season accounted for, the last big question is how it will translate into the course of the 2015 season.
Kickoff is now less than a month away, with the Frogs opening up the season at Minnesota on Thurs, Sept. 3. at 8 p.m. CDT. Not only are the Frogs opening the season with a week-night road game televised to a national audience on ESPN, but it also happens to be state fair week in Minneapolis, which attracts thousands of individuals to the city. That’s quite an environment to begin things in.
Players and coaches said that all their attention right now is on the Minnesota game, and that is the theme for the Frogs all season long: focus on the task at hand.
“We’re taking it one game at a time,” said co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie. “The biggest thing right now is getting prepared for our first game of the year in Minnesota.”
Given the Frogs’ schedule, one game at a time is critical. With additional road games at Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Iowa State, and Oklahoma, the Frogs will be dealing with teams that have a history of winning at home.
“I don’t even want my players to be talking about the national championship right now,” Patterson said. “That’s my job. You can have a goal for it but I’ve watched teams all the time say that they’re solely focused on winning a national championship and then they lose one game and their season is over. That can’t be the case for us.”
Patterson said that every year the mentality needs to be more of winning as many games as possible and giving the seniors the best possible season that they can have. And the Frogs certainly have what it takes to do so.
With an offense that is almost full intact and more experienced from last season, it is expected to reach new levels this season. Boosting the unit even further is the duo of Meacham and Cumbie, who now have a full year of experience as coordinators.
“Its a total collaboration, and it’s good because it’s really progressive process,” Meacham said.”Everybody has ideas and Sonny and I have very similar backgrounds as far as offenses. We try to take to the next level, and with all the other guys it’s a great combination.”
For both Cumbie and Meacham, the learning curve that last season provided for them may be what takes them to that “next level” this year.
“This year we are trying to set apart things we tried last year.” Cumbie said. “We want to eliminate some of things from last season that we weren’t really good at, and then zero in at the things we did do well last year. It’s nothing too particular but we just want to become more efficient as an offense.”
For the defense to excel, Patterson said it is a matter of coaching.
“Defensive coaches have to practice different from other coaches,” Patterson. “You got to be able to call and be as variable as an offensive coach. If you can make it second and 12, you’re going to have a good day.”
Patterson also stressed the importance of 3 and outs, and red zone defense
“Last year we led the nation in 3 and outs,” Patterson said. “If you keep the opposing offense off the field, you’re going to win a lot of games. You also have to play great red zone defense. We only allowed about 9 or 10 red zone touchdowns all season long, which can really be a difference maker.”
Patterson said that no matter the circumstances, the coaching staff will keep pushing their players to better their game.
“Coach them up so we can have the opportunity to be the best that we can be,” Patterson said. “If we’ve done that, then as a coaching staff you’ve done all you can do.”
Green said even the players carry that role to “coach players up” to a degree
“Whenever your teammates ask, be there for them,” Green said. “Tell them what to expect, especially during two a days. Let them know that it’s going to be tough but everyone has gotten through it, because we here at TCU embrace the grind.”
The team is set to begin practices on the field on Wednesday, Aug. 5.