What will the linebacker corp look like?
Is DeMontie Cross prepared to take over a linebacker unit with limited numbers?
The Frogs are coming off a 7-6 season which saw them compete in their eighth consecutive bowl game under Gary Patterson, despite fielding his youngest team in his 15 years at the program. While 2012 can be described as somewhat of a disappointment, optimism is oozing around the program for the 2013 season. The Frogs' defense last season at times resembled the defense that roamed Amon G. Carter Stadium in the mid-2000's. The unit finished the 2012 season ranked No. 16 in the country in total defense, giving up 323 yards per game. In true TCU defense fashion, they finished in the top ten in rush defense giving up only 105 yards on the ground.
In their first year in the Big 12, a conference known for high-flying offensive performances, the Frogs proved all doubters wrong by leading the conference in total defense and rush defense while finishing second in scoring defense behind Kansas State. All with just one senior on the defensive depth chart.
The numbers don't lie.
The Frogs' held Baylor (21), Texas (13) and Kansas State (23) to scoring season lows. Not bad for a team who many felt would be run out of the stadium by opposing fan bases and some national "experts".
As with every spring camp, fans should keep an eye on a couple of position switches as well. Junior safety Jonathan Anderson is said to have moved to linebacker to add more depth at the position. For now, junior walk-on Joel Hasley is the most experienced player returning and Marcus Mallett started to show improvement late in the season. It will be interesting to see if Cross has as much success that Randy Shannon had in his short time at TCU tutoring his set of backers.
We'll see how many significant switches there are throughout the spring.
The Frogs "return" nine starters, including All-Americans Devonte Fields and Jason Verrett, from last year's defense. We mention return loosely as Patterson will say all positions are open for battle, just as he does every spring.
Finding a replacement for Maponga will be a tough task out of the gate. How do you replace a three time All-Conference player? The good news is the return of sophomores James McFarland and Josh Carraway. Both were two of the four true freshmen who saw significant playing time in 2012 and bring their own unique abilities to the position. One could question whether or not one is better than the other, they could very well split playing time. Regardless, both will look good with Fields on the opposite end likely drawing most of the attention.
Boykin did as well as one could expect in his first year as a freshman starter in a major conference. Even former Frog great and NFL Pro Bowler Andy Dalton threw more interceptions than touchdowns as a freshman. In Boykin's first year as a starter he threw for 2,054 yards with 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions but questions do remain if the Frogs' offense is better with him or Pachall under center. The Frogs finished the season averaging 388 yards per game which ranked them 8th in the Big 12. The passing game was ineffective most of the season, but again, youth played a big part. You don't go from a NFL prospect to an inexperienced player without suffering a couple of bumps in the road.
But, give credit to Boykin for leading the Frogs when his back was against the wall, just as it was on the road at West Virginia when he avoided a Mountaineer rush and found a wide open Josh Boyce for 94-yards. It was a season turning moment for the Frogs and a big reason the Frogs went bowling yet again. It also proves that while Pachall may be better at some throws, Boykin has better overall athleticism.
But, last season wasn't all about Boykin and his task to replace Pachall, although it's just as easy to always point at the quarterback. TCU played exactly four seniors on offense; four. Boyce and offensive lineman Eric Tausch were the only juniors who saw significant playing time as juniors. Youth was abound.
The Frogs lost their best runningback in just the second game of the season when Waymon James suffered a season-ending injury at Kansas. That meant extra work for senior Matthew Tucker, oh by the way, who also missed time with an injury. There was a silver lining with the James and Tucker injuries; the emergence of freshman speedster B.J. Catalon, who led the Frogs rushing game in 2012 with 582 yards.
The Frogs were forced to start Aviante Collins as a true freshman at right tackle. He also saw time at left tackle with him and Tayo Fabuluje, a sophomore, swapping spots periodically during games. Collins backup was a fellow true freshman; Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Joey Hunt was another true freshman who saw significant playing time at guard and center in 2012.
Certainly the youth played a part with some of the struggles last season. But like Boykin and the defense, they had their moments in the spotlight. Especially down in Austin in front of a national audience on Thanksgiving Night. TCU passed just nine times in a 20-13 win over the Longhorns averaging nearly five yards per rush. It was as dominating of an offensive line performance that Frog fans have seen under Patterson.
The offensive line and quarterback positions only have room for improvement but regardless of how much they do improve, the offense took a hit with Boyce declaring early for the NFL draft. Boyce leaves TCU as the school's all-time career touchdown record holder (22), second in career yardage (2,535) and third in receptions (161). The good news for TCU fans is despite the loss of Boyce, the receiving corp still could be the strongest unit at any position on the Frogs' roster. Who replaces Boyce is the biggest question but one could expect for Ladarius Brown, Brandon Carter or Cam White to have a breakout season. We saw each player show flashes of greatness last year.
Okay, we've heard enough about last season. This team is ready to venture into their second season of the Big 12 and some of those same experts who felt TCU would struggle mightily in the Big 12 are predicting a possible conference championship for Patterson and Co. in 2013.
In all, the Frogs tied for the nation lead in playing true freshmen with 16 as well as total freshmen with 28. 70-percent of TCU's contributors last season were either freshmen or sophomores so the battles could be filled with even more intensity. Although there aren't many redshirt freshmen to discuss as most of the 2012 class saw playing time, but the obvious player fans are waiting to see his development is quarterback Tyler Matthews, who came to TCU was one of the top prospects in the country. Can he make a run at Pachall or Boykin?
The addition of Story and Doctson gives the Frogs two more big targets at receiver and that can't be underestimated in the Big 12. We saw flashes of what Brown could do last season, imagine two more players like him.
Truth be told, Patterson had praise for each of the transfers last season as scout team members and each will certainly test his phrase of no "returning" starters.
All this will begin to unfold in a matter of days when the Frogs hit the gridiron again.
In the following days, HornedFrogBlitz.com will break down each position battles and who we believe will be in the fight to take over top spots on the depth chart. We'll also give our analysis of top players to watch at each position.