Gary Patterson told SI.com that the way to have a good defense is to have a good offense. No joke-- the guru of defense gurus in college said,
"The biggest stat for me, as long as you are not giving up big plays, is the amount of plays that you are on the field. We have averaged less than 60 plays. ... It is more of a team concept. ... you have to be able to control the football and get people off the field. I have always felt like if you play a 60-play game and 30 of those plays you had a better call than what the offense did, then you are limiting them to 30 plays to be able to score and do things. The less time they spend on the field, the better."
Sounds simple, when Andy Dalton, Jake Kirkpatrick, Marcus Cannon, Jeremy Kerley, and Jimmy Young are all on the field. But with a new crew taking the reins, will TCU still be able control the football?
Nobody argues that TCU is young, especially on offense. Coach Patterson says that youth manifests in mentality.
"We're athletic enough, but are we going to be mature enough, tough enough, and mentally tough enough... Are we going to be mentally tough enough to handle [something like a close game in terrible weather on the road] this time?"
But there can’t be a finer place than north Texas, in August, to grow up young players. When it’s 110 degrees outside (this year that's no exaggeration), the coach (or was it Chuck Norris?) says,
"This is nothing. I thought it was a pretty good day." But it’s not all braggadocio; there’s method to the madness. "We had a breeze today and the humidity is down. I've been saying for two weeks, everybody is talking about how hot it is, and it is, but for us, we're usually out here and it's 109 and 80 percent humidity. That's hard, but when you have [the humidity] at 20 to 40... that's why we train in the afternoon all summer."
Now it’s clear—it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. Welcome to TCU, recruits.
And welcome to the see-saw, Frog fans. That’s part of having a young team: one day the line from Patterson was,
"It was a wasted day. There were two bad practices. We got to change up the scrimmage tomorrow because everyone got beat up this morning because they weren’t ready. It was a wasted day, both sides of the ball, both practices. Wasted day.... it was a wasted day with a capital W."
About a week later, the tune from Patterson was, "I saw some things on both sides of the ball that showed me we've improved as a football team ... in all aspects, all the way through practice I started to see things that made a difference." And a few days after that change, it was back to doom and gloom. One expects gravity to reverse before a young football team meets Gary Patterson’s expectations.
The youth movement for TCU begins at quarterback. Casey Pachall finished spring drills, his third, clearly in the lead to start in 2011. There’s been a little equivocation on that at the tail end of August drills, but Pachall is still the starter. Matt Brown, who looked very inexperienced in April, has narrowed the race. Physically, Pachall is further along than Dalton when he took over as a redshirt freshman in 2007. "He owns the offense a lot better than Andy Dalton did when he took over," Patterson said. "Will he own the leadership role?"
That leadership role has eluded Pachall until very recently. It recently became public knowledge that Pachall was among the prime party animals on the trip to the F-Bowl, and that some resentment towards him had lingered for at least a season. In this context, it makes sense that Gary Patterson, pointedly, is taking a wait-and-see approach about Pachall's leadership. Patterson doesn’t single out Casey for blame, however.
"It's not just him, all of them," Patterson said. "How do you act when I'm not around? All athletes have to be able to handle the grind. Most of them know how to handle coaches on the field, [but] do you go to bed at night? Do you get your sleep? Do you eat right? Do you study?"
Pachall, for his part, says,
"I feel like I'm more of a lead-by-example guy," he said. "My entire life I've never been outspoken and vocal. I just work hard and do things through my actions. But now I'm going to have to start being a little bit more vocal for the new guys coming in who haven't been around me as long. They maybe need to hear something out of me."
On the field, Pachall is earning respect, even Patterson’s. He threw almost no interceptions in August. About a week into two-a-days, practice watchers began to comment on his leadership in the huddle, and at the line. Pachall is playing like a veteran, came the word; distributing the ball among lots of receivers; commanding the offense. Nobody said that in the spring, so it's a nice change.
Frog fans took a long collective breath when word filtered out that Pachall was getting an MRI for a sore shoulder, and sitting out of practices. Apparently it was a routine MRI, and it showed no problems, because the sophomore was back in practice as usual within a couple days. The days out gave Matt Brown and Trey Boykin lots of snaps to grow. Brown, especially, seems to have thrived with the ones; but Boykin is not a name to forget. In one scrimmage, he did not throw a single incompletion. Patterson Boykin will travel with the team, and should not expect to redshirt, because TCU only has three quarterbacks. Dalton was the traveling third quarterback in 2006, you'll recall; he redshirted that season.
So the most visible issue for the offense—Dalton Replacement—does not look, yet, like it is going to be a major problem for the Frogs in 2011. How the more serious, but less visible, issue will resolve remains unclear: the replacement of TCU’s outstanding offensive tackles, especially left tackle Marcus Cannon. At the end of August camp, the Frogs moved Jeff Olson to left tackle, and moved the problem to right tackle.
Solving that problem of finding a second starting tackle has been like a game of hot potato-- James Dunbar, Nykiren Wellington, Ty Horn, Tayo Fabuluje all have taken snaps with the ones, and all have yielded to the next contender. The buck (or potato) seems finally to have stopped with Robert Deck, a converted senior tight end. Deck was awarded his first athletic scholarship at TCU in the spring, and at 6-4, 285, he’s the smallest player on the first-team line. He and passed by two promising younger players on the depth chart, James Dunbar (6-6, 305) and Nykiren Wellington (6-6, 275), when he was taking the first team snaps at left tackle. At right tackle, he’s playing ahead of sophomore Ty Horn (6-5, 320). Deck shows good footwork, says the Coach.
"He’s over 285 pounds with a 450-pound bench, 650-pound squat, he’s got good feet and he’s smart, he’s a senior. You want guys that can fight. ...Some of the offense he does, all the zone read stuff, he does better because he has better feet."
Patterson has been unsparingly pessimistic about the performance at tackle all spring, and now all August. Some days the mood improves. "Today they did better. Ty Horn was back. Sometimes it’s the people, we just got to keep getting people back and keep playing." But usually the line is more like this one: "We got to be more physical upfront offensive line wise, defensively we have to communicate, we can’t let them make big plays."
The starting five seem to be Jeff Olson, Kyle Dooley, James Fry, Blaize Foltz, and Robert Deck. This line is the least experienced, as starters, at TCU in several years. On their quick development hinges success, especially early in the season. Their backups appear to be Dunbar, Thompson, Eric Tausch (with Michael Thompson making a move at center), John Wooldridge, and Ty Horn.
The freshman linemen who stood out in August was Carter Wall, who is taking snaps at center, and sometimes at tackle. Redshirt freshmen Michael Thompson (center) and Bobby Thompson (tackle) also impressed, again.
The jewels of August camp have been the new receivers. There are five (Cam White, Brandon Carter, David Bush, LaDarius Brown, and David Porter) and all of them raised eyebrows, probably White and Carter the most often. Patterson said, of them, "He’s definitely been good the two days of camp. Both [Carter] and Cam White had to have IV’s yesterday because they ran so hard but they were back out here today doing what they need to do."
The inside-most practice watcher calls TCU’s eight top receivers (the freshmen and the three returning starters Boyce, Hicks, and Dawson) the best group of receivers he’s ever seen at TCU. "It is one thing to have 2 or 3 really good receivers but 8 at one time? We have never had this many top receivers at one time."
Every indication is that Antoine Hicks is playing at the high level he showed in 2009. Antonio Graves, converted from safety, and Jonathan Jones are also at receiver, and looked good. Stephen Bryant, Corey Fuller, and Logan Brock also haul in passes from tight end. Ethan Grant has returned to runningback.
The backfield, adding Grant, is old, and still good, news. Dwight Smith transferred to a junior college to get his grades up, but nobody expects to miss him. Simply put, Ed Wesley, Matt Tucker, Waymon James, and Aundre Dean are going to excel this season.
Ezra Hood blogs about all things TCU football at Frogs O' War.