After finishing the 2010-11 season with its first BCS bowl win and ranked No. 2 in the final BCS poll, TCU faces the task of replacing five defensive starters.
For the past three years, TCU has had the best statistical defense in FBS football and has finished first in total defense an unprecedented five times under head football coach Gary Patterson 8212; more than any other program since NCAA started tracking statistics in 1937. Only Toledo (1969-71) and Oklahoma (1985-87) have also finished first in total defense three consecutive seasons.
A big part of that expected success depends on the secondary, which will enter many new starters into the lineup next season.
Four major contributors to the best defense in the country in 2010 have moved on. Safety Tejay Johnson is gone. Safety Collin Jones is gone. Safety Alex Ibiloye is gone. Cornerback Jason Teague is gone. Before panic sets in, it must be noted that TCU lost All-Americans Jerry Hughes (Indianpolis Colts) and Daryl Washington (Arizona Cardinals) along with both four-year starting cornerbacks going into the 2010 season. The Frogs still ended up bettering their total defense average by 11.2 yards from the 2009 season.
The 2010 departures of Johnson, Jones, Ibiloye and Teague means there will not only be a lack of experience at TCU's defensive secondary scheme, but at the positions themselves, Patterson said.
"Our guys are not just learning how to play our scheme, they're learning how to play the position itself," Patterson said. "Jonathan [Anderson] has never been a safety, Antonio [Graves] has never been a safety, Sam [Carter] has never been a safety. We're turning them all into safeties."
It may only be fitting that there is a new face to coach the secondary to join the new players. TCU's safeties coach Chad Glasgow hit the road after last season to take the Texas Tech defensive coordinator job in Lubbock. New safeties coach Trey Haverty was the defensive coordinator at Millsaps College last season after a three-year stint as a graduate assistant at TCU.
After spring practice Saturday, Patterson was not particularly happy with the play of his safeties, but he realized that it is a learning process.
"I don't think we're as physical as we need to be yet," Patterson said. "We're a long way from what our standard is and how we do things. Usually every year at some point in time I say we're terrible; I haven't said that yet but I'm close."
Safety Jonathan Anderson, safety Antonio Graves and safety Sam Carter, along with fellow freshmen cornerback Travares Battle, sophomore safety Elisha Olabode and sophomore cornerback Jason Verrett, have been getting lots of reps as defensive backs during spring practice. The group will be led by senior cornerback Greg McCoy and senior safety Tekerrein Cuba, who have both been contributors for a number of years.
With six more spring practices, TCU's April 2 spring game and the summer break before the season opener at Baylor Sept. 3, there is opportunity for Patterson to mold his freshman into defensive backs capable of leading a sixth No. 1 total defense squad before they graduate.
"Every day, they're getting better leaps and bounds," Patterson said.
TCU spring practice schedule:
4 p.m. Tuesday
4 p.m. Thursday
Spring Game: 11 a.m. Saturday
Note: Practices closed to the public. The Spring Game will be held in Amon G. Carter Stadium.