Josh Harvey, Scout.com

TCU spring football report: backup QB battle a “wash”, offensive line improving

TCU Football completed its sixth spring practice on a windy afternoon in Fort Worth Thursday, and head coach Gary Patterson had plenty to say about the state of the team, from quarterbacks to cornerbacks and defensive lines to offensive lines.

TCU Football completed its sixth spring practice on a windy afternoon in Fort Worth Thursday, and head coach Gary Patterson had plenty to say about the state of the team, from quarterbacks to cornerbacks and defensive linemen to offensive linemen.

“This first practice back from spring break on Tuesday wasn’t exactly one of my most memorable days, but I thought today was better,” Patterson said. “Offensively it was better than we’ve been and defensively we’re down a few players, but they’re playing harder and we’re starting to return and rotate a bit – about where you’d be on practice six.”

With seven more spring practices to go and the annual Spring Football Game 16 days away, Patterson said he expects to learn a lot about his team’s identity in the coming weeks.

“You find out quite a bit in those [practices] because there really is no new teaching anymore,” Patterson said. “Everything is about getting better at what we do.”

As the team continues to get back into the swing of things ahead of the 2017 season, here’s what you might want to know from Thursday’s report.

Quarterbacks

With Kenny Hill expected to return as starting quarterback for TCU in the 2017 season, the question remains who will serve as the back-up quarterback for the Frogs once the season gets underway in September. Patterson said it’s still unclear who will be second to Hill.

“It’s too early,” Patterson said. "They’re all young. They’ve been good and they’ve been bad, so I’d probably say it’s a wash right now.”

Six of the seven quarterbacks aside from Hill on the TCU roster are freshmen, highlighted by the arrival of Shawn Robinson this spring from Desoto, Texas. The only non-freshman of those seven is junior Grayson Muehlstein, who has not seen action in a ballgame since Sept. 12, 2015 when TCU throttled Stephen F. Austin in week two.

In regards to Hill, Patterson said that the senior needs a boost of confidence headed into a season that will see the Frogs embark on tough road-trips to Lubbock, Stillwater, and Norman.

“He [Hill] needs to get some of his swagger back and do the things that he can do,” Patterson said. “I think he lost a little bit of confidence at the end of last year, and I don’t think all of it was his fault. All the players need to be on the same page – I think Trevone Boykin was a good player in part because of Kolby Listenbee and Josh Doctson.”

Hill finished 2016 with 3,208 passing yards and 17 touchdowns, but threw 13 interceptions and a FBS high 171 dropped passes over the course of the season.

Wide Receivers

The Frogs have plenty of depth at the position of wide receiver, and that will only increase with the arrival of highly rated recruits Jalen Reagor and Omar Manning this summer. They may also be of help in reducing the astonishingly high rate of dropped passes last season for the Frogs.

“They better be catching the ball, because if not, we’re not going to win very many ballgames,” Patterson said of his entire receiving corps. “We weren’t very good at it last year.”

Patterson added that he feels the blame for dropped passes is often assigned to the wrong place.

“The quarterback gets blamed a lot for a lot of things, but to be honest with you, it’s not always his fault," Patterson said.

Patterson said the key to success when it comes to catching passes is not just practice, but also a matter of chemistry between the quarterbacks and receivers.

“The tandems of quarterbacks and receivers have to grow up together if they want to be great,” Patterson said. “They have to live together, throw together, think together….they have to do all that stuff. There has to be a chemistry, and if you don’t have it you won’t become what you want to become.”

There won’t be a lack of experience in 2017 among the receiver corps, as the Horned Frogs boast 13 upper-classmen receivers on the roster. In the word of Patterson, it’s simply a matter of “growing up.”

“You’ve got to have a couple of receivers step up and say 'I’m the guy who’s going to make those catches no matter what,’” Patterson said. “That's what we’re striving for – that they know it’s got to be perfect.”

The Offensive Line

With the arrival of former Arizona State offensive line coach Chris Thomsen over the offseason, Patterson said he believes his squad can boast a much improved offensive line in 2017.

“Some of the younger guys are getting more and more reps,” Patterson said. “You don’t have [Austin] Schlottman out there right now or Cordel [Iwuagwu]…but like you do every spring, if a guy is down on offense or defense, the next guy is getting his chance to come up and get some reps.”

Patterson highlighted sophomore Lucas Niang as one of the younger offensive linemen who is benefiting from extra practice. TCU recruited Niang as the No. 1 offensive tackle in the state of Connecticut among the 2016 class.

Patterson said he hasn’t yet considered switching positions among players in order to fill other holes, but he hopes to limit the amount of starting freshmen, and that goes for both sides of the ball.

“You don’t want to have to [start them],” Patterson. “As a rule, they say you usually lose a game for every freshman. There haven’t been many exceptions to it.”

The Defense

It’s no secret that TCU was plagued by a slow defensive start to 2016 before the unit finally found its groove towards the latter half of the campaign. 2017 may serve as a fresh start for the Frogs’ defense to come out of the gate as a physically intimidating force.

Patterson said the safeties have shown significant improvement in strength over the offseason, highlighted by junior Niko Small and senior Nick Orr.

“The 1’s are good,” Patterson said of the safety unit. “Nick [Orr] and Niko [Small] had a great offseason. They all squatted almost 600, they all benched about 400, and they all power cleated 400.”

Along with Orr and Small, Patterson expressed praise towards redshirt freshman defensive tackle Ross Blalock for his physicality.

“He needs to learn how to play 6-8 plays, but he’s huge and talented,” Patterson said. “He runs really well and is powerful. I think he benched almost 500 pounds and squatted over 700 pounds. He and Wes Harris are exactly what you want from young guys.”

As for the linebackers, Patterson said junior Ty Summers has shown improvement while senior Sammy Douglas is still getting back into the groove of things, continuing to deal with a bad knee.

“This was really his first practice back,” Patterson said of Douglas. “He struggled a bit to be honest with you.”

Douglas is no stranger to adversity, having missed nearly the entire 2015 season with a knee injury suffered in week one.

“I expect to be back to full speed by August,” Patterson said. “He’s a veteran player.”

On the other hand, Patterson remarked that there is still plenty of work to be done at defensive end, a unit that includes three redshirt freshmen.

“Every day we get better but we also get a bunch of surprises,” Patterson said. “We have a long way to go.”

Up Next

The Frogs will conclude spring practice with the annual Spring Football Game at Amon G. Carter Stadium on April 8. The event will be open to the public.

 


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