* Two returning quarterbacks who have combined to post a 15-2 record as starters.
* Two tailbacks who have each gained over 1,000 yards rushing in a single season.
* The return of their top two wide receivers, including the first 1,000-yard receiver in school history.
* Two experienced tight ends who combined for over 20 receptions in 2003.
* Four of five starters returning on an offensive line that helped TCU finish as just one of six schools to gain an average of 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing per game in 2003.
* A return specialist who logged a school record for return yardage in a season, breaking a mark set by Heisman Trophy winner Davey O'Brien in 1937.
Yet, when pressed as to how TCU will win football games in 2004, the modus operandi is expected to remain the same as it has over the past several seasons – by controlling the ball with a good running game, using an aggressive defense that flies to the ball and creates havoc, solid special teams play, winning the battle of field position and making fewer mistakes than its opponents.
That formula has proved to be a winning one. Since going 1-10 in 1997, TCU has:
* Tasted victory 52 times in 73 games, a 71 percent winning clip.
* Reeled off a school record six consecutive bowl appearances (a streak only 16 other schools can currently claim).
* Put together three 10-win seasons in the last four years (after having just four in the previous 104 years combined).
* Finished the season ranked in the nation's top 25 three times in the past four years, including back-to-back seasons in 2002 and 2003 for the first time since the 1950s.
In 2003, TCU had arguably the most talked about college football program in the land. The Horned Frogs opened the season for the second straight year on Labor Day in front of a hostile crowd with a national television audience tuning in. Unlike in 2002 when the Frogs fell short in an overtime decision at Cincinnati, TCU escaped from the New Orleans Superdome with a three-point win over the Tulane Green Wave, 38-35.
The Purple and White were home for their next two contests and showed the Horned Frog faithful the strong defense that they had become accustomed to with a 17-3 win over Navy, followed by a 30-14 rout of Vanderbilt.
The Frogs took a 3-0 record to the Tucson desert for a late September Saturday night tilt with the Arizona Wildcats. With rumors of the imminent firing of their head coach swirling, the ‘Cats were anything but mild. But thanks to a Nick Browne field goal with just over a minute left in regulation and another in the first overtime after a Jeremy Modkins' interception, the Frogs came away with a 13-10 victory and a perfect mark in the non-conference portion of the schedule.
The TCU defense was at its best over the next two games, blanking Army by a 27-0 count in Fort Worth, then ending USF's 21-game home winning streak with a 13-10 triumph in Tampa. Over a three-game stretch, the Horned Frog defense surrendered just 20 points and had allowed just 37 points over a five-game stretch after giving up 35 in the season opener at Tulane.
The Frogs had their hands full the next week at home when they took on the UAB Blazers. The Frogs fell behind 24-16 in the third quarter, but rallied for a 27-24 victory, their fourth three-point win of the season.
The late rally by the offense against UAB may have been a little foreshadowing of the explosiveness they possessed, but no one could have anticipated what would happen the next week in Houston. In the highest scoring game in school history, TCU outlasted the rival Cougars by a 62-55 score in a game that was entertaining for everyone except the defensive coaches. The Frogs rushed for 407 yards in the game and threw for another 375, giving them a school record 782 yards of total offense. Houston was nearly equal to the task, shredding the TCU defense for 684 total yards. After the dust had cleared, the Frogs were 8-0, ranked 13th in the nation and headed home for a date with the Louisville Cardinals.
The Frogs and Cardinals did not disappoint the ESPN crew or the national television audience tuning in for what would have to be considered the most exciting finish of the Frogs' 2003 season. When Nate Smith's 44-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the game bounced off the crossbar and fell harmlessly away, TCU survived with a 31-28 victory to remain undefeated at 9-0 and kept the debate about whether it deserved to be part of the Bowl Championship Series alive for another week. It was the cardiac Frogs' fifth win of the season by exactly three points.
The BCS debate would continue for one more week after the 10th-ranked Horned Frogs disposed of Cincinnati by a 43-10 count on Senior Day in Fort Worth, setting up a Thursday night clash at Southern Miss for the Conference USA title. By this time, the talk shows and columnists across the country debated daily the merits of the sixth-ranked team in the BCS standings, the highest ranking ever attained for a non-BCS school. But with officials from the Fiesta and Orange bowls in attendance, TCU ran out of miracles in Hattiesburg. But even in defeat, the Frogs showed the heart and determination that this program has become known. After falling behind by a 31-6 margin after three quarters, TCU put together a frantic rally, scoring 22 unanswered points to cut the lead to 31-28, before succumbing to the Golden Eagles by a 40-28 margin. With the win, Southern Miss earned the right to represent Conference USA in the AXA Liberty Bowl as the league champion.
Despite reeling from the loss at Southern Miss, the TCU squad still had one more regular season game to play, defeating crosstown rival SMU, 20-13 in a lackluster performance. The Frogs' fifth straight victory over the Mustangs for the "Iron Skillet" kept the Ponies winless for the season and gave TCU its seventh victory of the season by a touchdown or less.
The Frogs' sixth consecutive bowl game came in their own backyard as they took part in the inaugural PlainsCapital Fort Worth Bowl against 18th ranked Boise State. The offenses dominated the first half with the teams heading into the locker rooms for the intermission tied at 24. The defenses restored order in the second half with the Broncos pulling out a 34-31 win. The victory wasn't secured until Mike Wynn's first career field goal attempt fell short with seven seconds remaining in the contest.
Despite losing two of their final three contests, TCU finished the season ranked 24th in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll and 25th in the final Associated Press poll. Now the question that presents itself is an obvious one: "What do you do for an encore?"
"We didn't win the conference championship," fourth year head coach Gary Patterson reminds those who question the Frogs' mindset entering 2004. "You're only as good as your last game, and that was a loss for us. We have two bowl teams (Northwestern and Texas Tech) along with our crosstown rival (SMU) on our non-conference schedule. The conference race will be competitive again with tough road games at UAB, Cincinnati and Louisville on the schedule. This is also the final go-around in this conference," continued Patterson. "I'm sure that will add a little something to some of those games. Last year's team was able to find a way to win the close games. This team will have to find its own identity. We're talented enough to make another run, but we also know our margin of error is very slim."
As always, the Frogs used their spring drills to grow up some of their younger players who will be asked to step up and fill the big shoes left by the 2003 senior class which posted 37 wins, the most in a four-year stretch since 1936.
"That was a great group, but now it's time for someone else to step up and keep the tradition going," said Patterson.
"We start over every spring," he continued. "We treat the spring as just the first 15 of 44 practices we have to get ready for Northwestern. We had something like 21 surgeries last year that we have people coming back from, but came out of spring with only one major injury (offensive lineman Wade Sisk's torn ACL). We had some guys fight through some nagging things and we were able to grow some guys up. I think that's a big key for us," Patterson added.
"It always comes down to chemistry and becoming the best football team we can be. We have a lot of big-play players returning on both sides of the ball and with the number of returning regulars we have, our strength should be on offense. The biggest question I have for this team is, ‘How bad do they want it?'"
If things work out as Patterson hopes, look for the Frogs to: control the ball with a good running game, use an aggressive defense that flies to the ball and creates havoc, have solid special teams play, win the battle of field position, and make fewer mistakes than its opponents.
If those things happen, that model for success should have the Frogs bidding for their seventh straight bowl game, challenging for another conference title, ranked in the nation's top 25 for the third straight year and, with a little luck, making another run to become the first non-BCS school to break the stranglehold held by the BCS leagues for a spot in one of the four major bowl games.
"It still comes down to winning by one point," said Patterson.
But with a high-octane offense that Fort Worth hasn't seen since a guy named LaDainian Tomlinson ran wild in 2000, maybe the Horned Frogs' margin of victory will be just a little greater in 2004.
GARY PATTERSON SAYS: "Offensively, we have a lot of people coming back who played a lot of football with the exception of fullback. We have our quarterbacks and our tailbacks back. We have our top two tight ends. We have nearly all of our wide receivers coming back, plus those who redshirted last year. We lost a couple offensive linemen, but we have our three best coming back, plus the young guys are growing up. We should be able to be productive and put points on the board this season, we just need to get everyone healthy and going again."
On paper, the Frogs appear to be loaded on the offensive side of the ball. Eight starters return from a team that averaged nearly 30 points per game last season. Many college coaches talk about having a balanced attack, but the Frogs prove it on the field. They were one of just six schools to average over 200 yards per game both rushing and passing a year ago.
As is the case in most seasons, the success of the offense starts with the guys up front. The Frogs feature three offensive linemen who could receive all-conference accolades, including returning first team all-league tackle Anthony Alabi, second team all-league center Chase Johnson and senior guard Zach Bray. In addition, Herbert Taylor earned a spot on the league's all-Freshman team a year ago.
Health is the key throughout the skill positions. Quarterbacks Tye Gunn (8-0) and Brandon Hassell (7-2) are proven winners with a combined 15-2 record as starters, but both have been hampered by injuries. Senior wide receiver Reggie Harrell, the school's first 1,000 yard receiver, missed all of spring after undergoing ankle surgery. Several of the younger receivers were limited in the spring as well due to nagging injuries. Tailback Lonta Hobbs was limited in 2003 with an ankle injury after producing a 1,000-yard season as a freshman in 2002, paving the way for Robert Merrill to step up with a 1,000-yard season of his own.
With the tight end position in the capable hands of Cody McCarty and Chad Andrus, the only question mark on offense is at the fullback position.
The Frogs have two known commodities at the quarterback position in senior Brandon Hassell and junior Tye Gunn. The question for both has been health. Hassell missed much of the spring with a stress fracture in his foot, while Gunn has been unavailable more often than not over the past two seasons with a sundry of ailments. If both can remain healthy, the situation becomes much more interesting. Patterson has not indicated who the starter will be, but expects to use both and could go with whoever possesses the hot hand.
This situation is not like the 1999 season, which featured a quarterback tandem of Patrick Batteaux and Casey Printers. Whereas Batteaux was a much better runner and Printers was a much better passer, Gunn and Hassell are much more even in what they bring to the table. Both can run the option and throw the ball. If there is a difference, Gunn may be more likely to play it conservatively and bring the ball down to scramble, where Hassell may take a few more chances passing the ball.
"There is not a controversy, because they haven't been healthy at the same time," said Patterson. "They are good friends, but both want to play, making it highly competitive. But make no mistake, it's a two-horse race. It's Hassell and Gunn head and shoulders above the others, with the rest in a group fighting for the third spot. That third spot is important," reminded Patterson, "because we can't rep that many quarterbacks during the season."
The competition for the third spot will be a battle as well, with no pun intended. The candidates are many – Kyle Kummer, Jeff Ballard, James Battle and Chad Huffman all have their sights set on the that third spot. Whoever steps up and executes during two-a-days will put themselves in a position to be the next man in.
Kummer, a junior walk-on, stepped up in the bowl game against Boise State and led the Frogs to a score. He has been in the program for two years and has a good understanding of the offense.
Sophomore Jeff Ballard now has two years under his belt, but has yet to step on the field. He needs to have a good summer and fall to work his way back into the mix.
A pair of redshirt freshmen, James Battle and Chad Huffman appear to be the heir apparants at the quarterback position. Battle is an excellent athlete while Huffman throws the ball well. Both were proven winners at the high school level and are chomping at the bit to get their chance to prove it on the collegiate playing field after sitting out last season.
Anton Mackey provides depth at the position as a walk-on quarterback.
The Frogs recruited just one quarterback in 2004, but they believe they got a good one in Shae Reagan. Reagan is certainly the biggest quarterback in recent memory, as he is listed at 6-4 and 255 pounds. The Idalou, Texas product most likely will sit out the season as a redshirt as he makes the transition to the college game.
Most teams that win championships can run the football. If that old football adage holds true, the Frogs could be hoisting the hardware at the conclusion of the 2004 season. TCU returns one of the nation's most potent one-two punches at the tailback position. Both junior Lonta Hobbs and sophomore Robert Merrill have rushed for more than 1,000 yards in a season, each doing so during their freshmen campaign.
Hobbs broke every freshman rushing record at TCU in 2002, rushing for 1,029 yards on just 157 attempts, an average of 6.6 yards per carry, en route to Conference USA Freshman of the Year honors. He was hampered much of the 2003 campaign by a nagging ankle injury, but still managed to rush for 659 yards. After two seasons in the Purple and White, he has accumulated 1,688 yards on the ground, including seven 100-yard rushing games, with 21 rushing touchdowns. He needs just 125 yards on the ground to move into the Frogs' all-time top 10 for career rushing yards. In fact, he has gained more yards after his sophomore season than any other back in school history, including LaDainian Tomlinson.
Merrill began the 2003 season as the third team back behind Hobbs and Ricky Madison. After not carrying the ball in either of the season's first two games, Merrill was called on as injuries decimated the position. The 5-10, 203-pounder responded with five 100-yard rushing games and finished the season with 1,107 yards, breaking Hobbs' freshman record. He earned first team Freshman All-America honors, according to Scripps/FWAA and second team honors by The Sporting News.
Both Hobbs and Merrill are expected to see plenty of action in the backfield this year as they will use a rotation system to keep their legs fresh. Opposing defenses will have their hands full with these two battle-tested backs who can go the distance from anywhere on the field. Experience has given them a better understanding of their assignments and each has improved on his pass protection and blitz pickup skills.
The only concern at tailback is if the injury-bug hits. After Hobbs and Merrill, no other TCU tailback has carried the pigskin in a game situation. The third man in is senior Kenny Boyd. Boyd came to TCU as a tailback, was moved to fullback and spent last season in the defensive secondary. He moves back to his original position for his final campaign in Fort Worth. Boyd knows the offense and provides a little bit bigger back at about 215 pounds, but is also fairly elusive. He had a solid spring, and as history has shown, a third back is a necessity, not a luxury at TCU.
Senior Billy Overshown and redshirt freshman Freddie Stoglin provide depth at the position. Overshown is a walk-on, while Stoglin has been hampered by knee injuries since his arrival on campus.
Justin Watts is the lone tailback recruit in the 2004 class, although it's possible that one of the incoming wide receivers could end up at tailback as well. Watts played his high school ball at Center (Texas) High School.
The fullback position is the biggest question mark for the Frogs offensively as they prepare for the 2004 season. The Frogs graduated two players in Kenny Hayter and Corey Connally who saw extensive time in the backfield during their careers. Now an unproven player will have to step up to provide the additional blocking needed to help the talented tailbacks find a crease in the opponents' defense.
Sophomore Marcus Draper is listed as the starter heading into the fall camp. Draper is a hard-nosed player who briefly got onto the field as a true freshman in 2003 before separating his shoulder in practice.
Redshirt freshman William Jackson made the move from linebacker to fullback in the spring and showed promise. As he picks up more of the offense, look for him to compete for playing time.
Draper and Jackson both bring a physical nature to the position. They are tough kids who understand their role. They both can block and catch the ball out of the backfield.
Junior walk-on Tanner Davidson is a bit undersized at 5-9, and 200 pounds, but has worked his way into a utility role at both fullback and tailback.
Senior Eric Schautteet has worked extremely hard in practice and provides depth at the position, along with junior DeJuan Williams.
Newcomer Jason Phillips played quarterback and linebacker in high school but has been identified as one of the incoming freshmen who could have a chance to see some action in 2004.
The Frogs are very talented and deep at the wide receiver position, but higher expectations are something this group will have to adjust to as the season progresses. Health will also be a major concern for this group as several key contributors are bouncing back from off-season surgeries.
TCU graduated just two wide receivers in Bruce Galbert and Chris Wingate. Galbert was a starter as a fifth-year senior and provided leadership for a younger group of receivers. That leadership responsibility will have to be assumed by someone else as this group finds its own identity.
There is certainly no shortage of talent at the wideout position. Start with senior Reggie Harrell, the first 1,000-yard receiver in school history. Harrell hauled in 58 passes, the fourth highest single season total in school history, a year ago as he developed into a "go-to" guy. He needs just 164 yards receiving to move into the school's top 10 list for career yards receiving. At 6-3 and 215 pounds with excellent hands, Harrell provides a big target for the TCU quarterbacks. A national semifinalist in the high hurdles on the track, Harrell also possesses the ability to score from anywhere on the field, as he showed at Arizona with a 98-yard catch and run. Harrell underwent ankle surgery in January and missed the entire spring. The Frogs expect him back at 100 percent in the fall and will try to move him around on offense to create match-up problems.
Sophomore Cory Rodgers has the ability to electrify the crowd every time he touches the ball, as he showed with a six-catch, 177-yard performance at Houston last season. A member of the Conference USA All-Freshman squad at both wide receiver and punt returner, Rodgers just needs to work on his consistency and become a better all-around receiver in his second season.
Sophomores Quentily Harmon and Michael DePriest are expected to carry more of the load this year as well. Harmon caught just 11 passes a season ago while missing part of the season with a separated shoulder, but three went for scores. He is considered the best route-runner of the group. He missed part of the spring with a quadriceps injury, but is expected to be at full speed in the fall. DePriest may have been the most improved of the three sophomore wideouts in the spring, as he was able to stay healthy and take more reps. Considered the fastest of the group, DePriest played all three wide receiver positions in the spring, which makes him a valuable commodity in the fall.
Juniors Matthew Grimmett and Ryan Pearson both contributed last fall, filling in when the injuries began to mount. Both will figure in the mix again this fall.
Marcus Brock earned his way onto the field as a true freshman last fall before injuring a shoulder and undergoing surgery. He needs to continue to make strides in the fall to be part of the rotation at the wide receiver position.
Ervin "Coop" Dickerson sat out last season as a redshirt freshman. He began to gain a better understanding of the offense in the spring and figures to be in the mix in the fall. A wild card at the receiver position is junior Erick Wilson. A standout on the track, Wilson walked-on to the football program last fall and was redshirted. He is coming off an torn ACL and did not go through spring ball. When healthy, he possesses world class speed, including a personal best 9.93 clocking in the 100 meters.
Derek Moore, Kevin Saxe and Cory Waters are a trio of walk-ons who work with the scout team and provide depth.
The 2004 recruiting class brought four wide receivers into the fold, although there always is a chance that one or more could end up playing another position before their careers are over. The quartet of Walter Bryant, Detrick James, Donald Massey and Otis McDaniel could certainly challenge any other foursome on the squad in a sprint relay on the track. All bring with them an impressive high school resume. How they respond to the college game will dictate how quickly they see the playing field.
At times an under-appreciated position, the Frogs appear to be well-stocked at the tight end slot in 2004.
Senior Cody McCarty is the incumbent starter at the position. Now in his final campaign with the Horned Frogs, bigger things are expected from the 6-4, 260-pounder. With good size and soft hands, McCarty should be one of the top tight ends in the league and could provide leadership on the offensive side of the ball.
Junior Chad Andrus has seen significant playing time in each of his first two seasons in a TCU uniform and has the coaches believing he could be a special player before he hangs up the cleats for the final time. He will either figure into the rotation or could be used with McCarty in a double tight end formation. Like McCarty, Andrus has great hands and is a physical blocker.
Junior college transfer Brent Hecht arrived on campus in January and went through the spring drills with the Frogs. He figures to have a good upside as he gains more familiarity with the offense. A strong summer and good performance in the fall two-a-days could get him into the mix for playing time.
Jack Proctor and Tom Stevens are a pair of walk-ons who provide depth while working with the scout team.
Most football games are won in the trenches. The Frogs figure to put an offensive line on the field which gives them a chance to win every time they take the field. With four returning starters, all of whom deserve consideration for post-season accolades, the Frog front wall will be a source of strength this season. Athletically, they know what to do and mentally they understand what the offense is trying to accomplish. Now it's just a matter of executing the plan on every play.
Senior center Chase Johnson is the key cog along the O-line. Johnson, a second team all-league selection a year ago, was playing the best of the group during the spring and expects to have an excellent senior campaign. He is on the pre-season Rimington Award watch list, which is given to the nation's top center.
Both tackles earned post-season recognition a year ago. Senior Anthony Alabi was a first team all-league selection from the left tackle position. Blessed with tremendous size at 6-6 and 323 pounds, Alabi has all the physical tools to play at the next level. He is on the pre-season Lombardi Watch list, which goes to the nation's top lineman. Herbert Taylor holds down the right tackle position. Taylor started every game in 2003 and earned a spot on the C-USA All-Freshman squad. A vocal leader despite being only a sophomore, Taylor finished the spring very strong.
Junior Michael Toudouze can spell either Alabi or Taylor without much of a drop off and will push both players for a starting position. He can play on either side of the offensive line.
The Frogs also possess three talented players at the guard position in senior Zach Bray and juniors Shane Sims and Stephen Culp. All three are expected to see considerable action, with Bray getting the nod at the right guard slot, while the other two battle it out for starting honors on the left side. Bray started every game at right guard a season ago and is considered one of the strongest players on the team. Culp will also work at center in the fall.
Senior Stephen Simmons has made the transition from the defensive side of the ball to offense, but missed valuable practice time in the spring with class schedule conflicts. Junior Ben Angeley could see some action at either the guard or center positions this fall. Marvin Pearson and Maurice Bouldwin moved to the offensive line from the defensive side of the ball during the latter part of the spring drills. Although each still has a lot to learn, Pearson showed tremendous athletic ability in his short stint at tackle. Bouldwin most likely will play guard, but was injured and unavailable for most of the spring session.
The jury is still out on the trio of redshirt freshmen that includes Matty Lindner, Will Oliver and Wade Sisk. All have battled injuries and need a good summer and fall to work their way into the mix. Walk-ons Adam High, Adam Lowery and Tony Savino work with the scout team and provide depth.
GARY PATTERSON SAYS: "I think the strength of this football team defensively is the back seven. (Linebacker) Martin Patterson is playing at a level that (C-USA Defensive Player of the Year) LaMarcus McDonald did a couple of years ago. Our corners and safeties played well in the spring. I think our corner position may be as athletic as any group in the six years I've been here. (Safety) Marvin Godbolt should be a pre-season All-American. He was leading the country in interceptions when he got hurt last year. He brings a presence to the secondary. Overall, we are probably faster as a football team defensively than we were a year ago. We have a lot more players on defense coming out of the spring that can make plays, compared to what we had a year ago."
The TCU defense will certainly have a different look to it this year. Gone are Bo Schobel, Chad Pugh and Robert Pollard, a trio of stalwarts who controlled the line of scrimmage over the past couple of seasons. But don't mistake a different look as a sign of weakness. While last year's defensive strength was along the defensive line, this year's defensive strength will be in the secondary. And Patterson believes this secondary may be as good as any he's had since coming to Fort Worth.
Although last year's defense admittedly struggled at times, especially against the pass, it still finished ranked 38th in the country in total defense and in the high 20s in the nation in scoring defense, rankings that many schools would happily accept. Those who follow such things closely however, acknowledge that at TCU, the bar is set at a higher level. While the defensive line takes some time to gain its identity, the linebacker play, led by senior Martin Patterson, should be solid, while the secondary play, especially at the corner position, is expected to be much improved. The return of senior Marvin Godbolt to the safety position may be the single biggest factor to the Frogs getting the swagger back.
Those closely associated with the Frog football program acknowledge that the biggest question mark entering the 2004 season is the defensive line. Gone are all-conference performers in Bo Schobel, Chad Pugh and Robert Pollard, with Schobel and Pollard getting a chance to take their abilities to the next level. In addition, the Frogs may be without the lone returning starter with eligibility remaining in Brandon Johnson, who missed all of the spring after undergoing knee surgery and his future status is certainly in doubt. Any help from Johnson this fall would be an unexpected bonus.
While the names along the line may be unfamiliar, the cupboard is certainly not bare. In fact, the D-Line, while young and relatively inexperienced, should feature more speed than last year's unit. Competition during the fall two-a-days figures to be fierce as starting jobs are still up for grabs.
Look for junior Ranorris Ray to assume more of a leadership role this season. Ray is listed as the starter at right end, but could also slide into a tackle position, depending on the makeup of the rest of the line. Ray brings a great attitude and a competitive nature to the line on every play.
Sophomores Terence James and Jamison Newby are listed as the starting nose tackle and left end respectively. Both got their feet wet a year ago, showed potential and now are looking for breakout seasons.
A trio of junior transfers figure to be major contributors as well. Jared Kesler, a transfer from Dartmouth, was the surprise of the spring and is the projected starter at the defensive tackle position entering the fall. Highly-touted Zarnell Fitch will push James for the nose tackle duties once he gains a better grasp of the defense. Chris Hayes is a great talent at defensive end who got better as the spring went on.
Fifth-year senior Andrew Calovich has been in the program the longest and provides a steadying influence for the younger players.
Junior Jeremy Breedlove gained some experience last season and brings a good work ethic to the table.
Sophomores Jared Retkofsky and Jarrarcea Williams provide depth at the tackle positions, while redshirt freshmen Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz add depth on the edge. All four have potential, with Blake, who has excellent speed, a candidate to be an impact player as he gains a better understanding of the position.
If nothing else, the TCU linebacking corps can do one thing exceptionally well – they can run. According to linebackers coach Kyle Nystrom, this group has the best overall speed in recent history. Despite losing the likes of Josh Goolsby and Devon Davis, this linebacker group also may have more depth than recent squads. In addition to providing the second line of defense, many of these players will also play key roles on special teams.
The leader of the group without question is senior Martin Patterson. Patterson moves back to the "Mike" position where he's a better fit for the defense after playing the "Sam" a year ago. The team leader in tackles last season, Patterson is a worthy candidate to receive all-league recognition this fall. He had an outstanding spring and did a great job of tracking and finding the football.
While Patterson has the "Mike" spot locked up, the "Sam" starter remains up for grabs entering the fall. Senior Logo Tevaseu found a home at the "Sam" position and is penciled in as the starter, but will be pushed hard by redshirt freshman David Hawthorne. Tevaseu is a good blitzer and brings a tenacity to the field on every play, while Hawthorne, who has gotten bigger and stronger since his arrival on campus, has shown good instincts and can make plays with his 4.59 speed. Sophomore Andrew Ward figures into the mix as well at the "Sam" position. Ward, who sat out last season after transferring to TCU from Colorado, made the move to linebacker in the spring after spending last fall at strong safety. His experience at safety helps him pass coverage.
Junior Shawn Brooks is starting to mature as a player and will back up Patterson. He could also be used on special teams. Walk-on Ryan Schlenger did not go through the spring after undergoing shoulder surgery, but will be ready in the fall. Both Brooks (4.7) and Schlenger (4.65) have excellent 40-yard dash times.
Senior Brad Veale is in his fifth year in the program and provides depth at the position. He was honored as the MVP on the Defensive Scout Team in 2003.
Robert Henson, a 6-1, 205-pounder out of Longview, Texas, was the only linebacker signed in the spring of 2003.
The Frogs admittedly had problems at the cornerback position last fall and made significant strides in the off-season to rectify that situation. With the addition of two junior college players who will provide immediate help, the position, which was a weakness in 2003, should be a strength in 2004.
Some of the problems at cornerback last year can be attributed to a revolving coaching door. When off-field troubles sidelined Willie Mack Garza, Coach Patterson had to assume the cornerback coaching duties in addition to his already full plate of responsibilities. Midway through the year, Kasey Dunn joined the staff, becoming the cornerbacks coach in a matter of months. Former Indiana assistant Charles McMillian came aboard in January and provided some stability and instant credibility.
McMillian has plenty of talent with which to work, including four players who could probably start on many college teams. McMillian believes this is the best depth of talent he has ever coached. Having four players who can step in without a drop in talent will allow more of a rotation system which should keep all four fresh and able to make more plays.
Start with Thorpe Award semifinalist Mark Walker on one side. Now a senior, Walker is expected to become more of a leader. With 14 career starts under his belt, he has a good knowledge of the defense and has shown a better work ethic.
On the other side is fellow senior Jerome Braziel. Braziel became a little more vocal in the spring and earned the starting job by making plays. He has always had the tremendous speed and great feet, but now has added a better understanding of the game.
Junior college transfers Drew Coleman and Quincy Butler will challenge Walker and Braziel for the starting duties. Coleman, listed at just 5-11 and 173 pounds, is not the biggest of the four, but possesses the most overall skill – combining speed, agility, hands and intelligence. He has a knack for the football and has the ability to make plays. Butler has good size with long arms. He features great speed and quickness and may be the best bump and run cover guy.
A trio of walk-ons in Roderick Knight, Chris Clarke and Gerrad Wilson provide depth and will work on the scout team.
The safety position is what separates the Horned Frog defense from most around the country. Head coach Gary Patterson employs a 4-2-5 scheme, keeping three safeties on the field at all times.
Despite losing 2003 starters Chris Peoples and Brandon Williams, the safety position is perceived as an area of strength this season. Last year's group was decimated by injury. Ken Lewis and David Roach, both expected to be big contributors, did not get out of two-a-days before suffering season-ending knee injuries. The the loss of Marvin Godbolt in the season's fourth game, proved to be the most devastating injury of all.
With those three players back in the fold, the Frogs have a very athletic group of safeties who play very well off each others strengths and weaknesses. Some depth exists, but as the Frogs found out a year ago, health will be a major factor in how the season progresses. Several of the players have been used at different spots, seeing action at the free, weak or strong safety position, which allows the coaches some versatility to get the best guys available on the field.
The player deserving of the most accolades is Godbolt. A third team all-conference pick last year despite playing in just four games, Godbolt is the epitome of a playmaker. Since earning game MVP honors at Nebraska in 2001 in his first collegiate game, Godbolt has made things happen. Last season the three-year starter had four interceptions and four forced fumbles in just four games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. He is expected to be at 100 percent when the season begins and will pick up right where he left off, manning the weak safety position.
Juniors Jeremy Modkins and Flander Malone came out of the spring as the projected starters at the free and strong safety positions respectively. Modkins has made 16 career starts and is a solid performer who turned in a good spring. Malone is very athletic and has gained a better knowledge of the defensive package. He stepped up in the spring and put himself in a position to get on the field this fall if he plays within himself.
Sophomore Eric Buchanan moves over from cornerback to the weak safety position to back up Godbolt. He excited the coaches with his ability to adapt to the position and brings solid man coverage skills from his days at corner to his new role. Redshirt freshman David Roach will battle Buchanan for the top backup spot behind Godbolt. Roach showed tremendous athletic ability last year before suffering a knee injury early in the fall camp.
Like Roach, sophomore Ken Lewis sat out the entire 2003 season after suffering a knee injury during the fall two-a-days. Lewis was one of only three true freshmen to play for the Frogs in 2002, joining Lonta Hobbs and Chad Andrus. He returned in the spring and will challenge Malone for time at the strong safety position.
Redshirt freshman Brian Bonner is an athletic player who is continuing to learn the position. He will join Lewis in challenging Malone for playing time at strong safety and also could see playing time in the "nickel" and "dime" packages.
Sophomore Elvis Gallegos is listed as the second team free safety behind Modkins entering the fall. Gallegos finished the 2003 season very strong and will see significant playing time this year.
The Frogs inked a pair of local safeties to national letters of intent in the spring. Steven Coleman, from Lake Highlands High School in Dallas, is a bigger safety at 6-2 and 200 pounds, while Matt Panfil, who helped North Crowley to a state championship, will begin his TCU career at safety, but may grow into another position before his career is over.
The Frogs take tremendous pride in their special teams play and understand the difference special teams can make between winning and losing. One needs to go back no further than last season when the Frogs won five games by exactly three points and seven games by a touchdown or less.
No one has bigger shoes to fill than Mike Wynn. Wynn is the odds-on favorite to replace All-America placekicker Nick Browne. Browne wrapped up his TCU career owning nearly every school kicking record and was the Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Year in 2003. Wynn has handled the kickoff duties for the Frogs each of the past two years, but has attempted just one field goal, missing a game-tying attempt from 51 yards out in the final 13 seconds in the 34-31 loss to Boise State in the PlainsCapital Fort Worth Bowl. Wynn has a strong leg, but needs to gain more consistency to connect regularly from inside 40 yards, something that Browne made nearly automatically.
Walk-on Peter LoCoco had a decent spring and will push Wynn for the placekicking chores. LoCoco has a smoother approach than Wynn and just needs to gain confidence to be a factor. Both Wynn and LoCoco have the leg to be good, according to special teams coach Dan Sharp, but they are unproven in game situations. The job is still open and will be won in fall camp.
Two-thirds of the placekicking unit returns with senior Clif Alexander handling the snapping duties, while Reeves Dalton is back as the holder. Both did an excellent, albeit unsung job in helping Browne earn all the accolades a year ago. Alexander will also be asked to handle the long snapping duties this season, replacing the departed Andy Boerckel, who held that role for the past three seasons. Andrew Calovich and Jared Retkofsky have also worked at the deep snapper position and will serve as backups to Alexander.
Senior John Braziel returns to handle the punting duties. Braziel struggled in punting average a year ago, ranking 89th in the country, but did a decent job with 18 of his 66 punts backing the opponents inside their own 20 yard line. Braziel has shown a tremendous leg in practice, but needs to gain consistency in his drop. He gets the ball off in a hurry, and did not have a punt blocked last season. An improvement from Braziel is expected to help the Frogs win the battle of field position.