Spring football is officially underway at TCU today, which means several questions will begin to get some early answers. Although no answers will be immediately given a satisfactory answer, and some questions likely won’t be answered until TCU kicks off in the fall, there’s no doubt that these are some of the biggest story lines headed into the spring:
Hill vs. Sawyer vs. Muhlestein
With Trevone Boykin officially graduated and out of eligibility, TCU is moving on to a new permanent signal caller who can replace the record-breaking performances that the scrambling Mesquite product put out on a weekly basis. The Earl Campbell winner is going to be replaced by the winner of a Mexican standoff between Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill, four-star All Saints product Foster Sawyer and Decatur product Grayson Muhlestein.
The front-runner for now seems to be Hill, who after a season on the scout team, will be trying to replicate results like his 500+ yard performance he put up in the SEC against South Carolina. Whether he’ll be the “Kenny Trill” of the early 2014 season or the benchwarmer he was at the end of the season is still yet to be determined, but after watching what Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham could do with a former receiver/running back/hesitant quarterback, there’s no reason that Hill shouldn’t be a likely signal caller by the end of spring.
That said, both Sawyer (who was once called the second coming of Andy Dalton during his recruiting) and Muhlestein have a lot that they can do to prove their worth as quarterbacks. Sawyer, out of all the quarterbacks on the roster, has the most playing experience with the Frogs, but was replaced by Bram Kohlhausen in the Oklahoma game and for the Alamo Bowl.
Muhlestein, recruited as a dual threat quarterback, played in just one game last season and rushed for 12 yards on three carries against SFA. He’s
Brennan Wooten, a top QB recruit out of Big Spring, will likely get a redshirt and should not be a member of this race.
The new special guys
Similarly to replacing the big shoes of Boykin, Gary Patterson has to replace the massive shoes and even bigger leg of TCU’s greatest kicker in school history - Jaden Oberkrom. After having a reliable leg for four years, the Horned Frogs are going to turn to All Saints product Jonathan Song to be the new clutch kicker. As a high school kicker, his longest kick was 56 yards and he had 103 touchbacks.
He’ll need to beat out the competition though if he is going to be the permanent kicker though, as TCU will have two other competent kickers on its team in spring camp.
The first candidate is Brandon Hatfield, out of Chino Hills, California. The lefty kicker has shown the ability to kick it in from deep, but has never seen the field as a place kicker on the college level. He also has the ability to punt, which means he likely could fill in for Ethan Perry, who also graduated after the 2015 campaign.
The other candidate is Ryan Graf, who redshirted last year. Also out of California, the Culver Military Academy product has shown the ability to knock it in from deep as well.
The Battle of the New No. 1 and No. 2 Receiver
With the departures of Josh Doctson and Kolby Listenbee, TCU is without a signature 1-2 punch in the receiver corps. With three new faces in LSU transfer John Diarse and JUCO transfers Taj Williams and Ryan Parker, there’s a lot to look at for the new top dogs. This, of course, doesn’t even include the wide variety of returning players, such as Emmanuel Porter, KaVontae Turpin, Jaelan Austin, Ty Slanina and Jarrison Stewart.
The new No. 1 will likely be Williams or Parker, depending on who shows best in spring. The two receivers were ranked as the top two JUCO receiving recruits in the nation, and were prize catches as signing day came for TCU earlier this month.
However, only one has proven that he can catch a ball one-handed while doing a backflip.
That also leaves room for John Diarse, who was known as a blocking receiver and a deep ball third down threat in Baton Rouge. Given the run-heavy playbook designed by the Tigers offense, Diarse likely didn’t get as many opportunities to show off his talents as he would have wanted, which is not going to be a problem at TCU. If his third-down capabilities can be translated to an every play situation, he’ll quickly shoot up on the depth chart.
Of course, while those new talents are big additions to the team, there’s a lot of talent already fighting for the spots. Patterson, who praised the talents of his young receivers often after the Alamo Bowl, has noted that several young players stepped up after Josh Doctson was gone for the year and Listenbee was on-again, off-again injured. This bodes well for Austin and Stewart, two underclassmen who saw significant time in TCU’s Alamo Bowl comeback. New 2016 recruits Isaiah Graham and Isaiah Chambers could very well be in the mix as well.
Porter, who may have the best measurables of the group, could be in contention for a top spot, as could be the spark-plug dynamo Turpin. Additionally, Slanina, who will hopefully be fully recovered from his shoulder injury, leaving him as a possible No. 2 option for the fall.
Perhaps the most excited thing about spring ball will be watching players come back from injury. As previously mentioned, Slanina will hopefully be restored soon, but so will 2014 standout James McFarland, who everyone hopes has vanquished his mighty foe - the lawn sprinkler. Back from a broken toe, he’ll compete against Mat Boesen, Josh Carraway and several underclassmen to be a starter again.
Likewise, the rest of the defense should get a much-needed boost from the returns of linebacker Sammy Douglas, cornerback Ranthony Texada and safety Kenny Iloka. All three will return to places of youth for TCU, where inexperience gave the Frogs several unusual headaches on the defensive front. With Derrick Kindred gone, Texada and Iloka in particular will need to show relative seniority and stability to the young bucks in the secondary.
Speaking of young bucks, last season, TCU played more than 30 freshmen over the course of the season. Although the Frogs shouldn’t have to play that many again this year (fingers crossed), there’s a lot of open spaces for the class of 2016 recruits to fill in. Most immediately will be defensive tackle, which leaves a gap after Davion Pierson’s graduation. Ross Blacklock, arguably the biggest prize of the 2016 class, has an immediate capability to be a starter due to the lack of depth at the position.
Freshman Sewo Olonilua, who can play at running back or linebacker, will likely get a chance to play from day one, and his positioning during spring ball will be a fascinating development to watch. New guy Darius Anderson, a product of George Ranch High School, could be making his way into the running backs stable for 2016 as well.
Finally, Vernon Scott, Innis Gaines and Markell Simmons, all fresh faces to Fort Worth, could see some work this year in the secondary. Simmons, the JUCO transfer from Pima CC in Arizona, will be the most likely to see some early showings in the safety position.
TCU’s first practice of 2016 starts today at 4 p.m., with their spring game happening on April 1.