TCU’s offense may lean more on the running game in 2017 because of quarterback Kenny Hill’s struggles last year and questions about the wide receiver corps. On defense, head coach Gary Patterson put a priority on getting bigger up front while the linebackers and secondary feature plenty of experience. There are pieces to work with on both sides, but unless Hill bounces back in a major way, the Horned Frogs will likely find themselves jockeying for positioning in the middle of the Big 12 not fighting for a spot near the top of the standings.
Previewing TCU Football’s Offense for 2017
What a difference a change in quarterback made for TCU in 2016, and not in a good way. Kenny Hill could not match Trevone Boykin’s production, and worse, he made more mistakes — a Big 12-leading 13 interceptions. The Horned Frogs went from a 23–3 run under Boykin to 6–7 in 2016. But Gary Patterson and the coaching staff did not put the blame entirely on Hill. He was dragged down by an inconsistent receiving corps that ran sloppy routes and inflicted 38 drops on Hill, more than any other quarterback in the country, according to a count by Pro Football Focus. On top of that, KaVontae Turpin missed five games with a knee injury, taking away a big-play threat from Hill for almost half the season.
The Frogs might also help their quarterback by slowing down the game a touch as Sonny Cumbie takes over play calling. He can turn to two versatile backs with receiver-type skills, Kyle Hicks and Shaun Nixon, and two more traditional backs, Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua. Hicks led the team in rushing and receptions a year ago, the first TCU back to do that since 1996. He is a strong runner with deceptive movement and strong acceleration, and Patterson called his route running “receiver quality” a year ago. Actually, TCU could use more receiver quality. Their leading wide receiver a year ago had 39 catches. Incoming four-star recruits Jalen Reagor and Omar Manning could find themselves playing early and playing a lot.
Previewing TCU Football’s Defense for 2017
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As he spends more time in the Big 12, it becomes more important to Patterson to add size to his defenses, which have traditionally relied on speed and quickness. Those remain valued traits, but the late-season hammerings by the mammoth lines of Kansas State and Oklahoma State drove home the point: Size matters in a Power 5 conference. It’s why redshirt freshman Ross Blacklock (326 pounds), junior college transfer Ezra Tu’ua (315) and incoming freshman Corey Bethley (302) were important acquisitions.
The Frogs will break in a new crop of pass rushers following the departure of their two most accomplished ends from the past three seasons. ULM transfer Ben Banogu, sophomore Brandon Bowen and redshirt freshman Isaiah Chambers are untested but ooze talent.
Behind them, the Big 12’s leading tackler, Travin Howard, returns off back-to-back 100-tackle seasons. He and veterans Montrel Wilson, Ty Summers and Sammy Douglas are back with a combined 10 seasons of experience.
Cornerbacks Ranthony Texada and Julius Lewis have 36 starts between them, and Jeff Gladney started eight games while Lewis recovered from an Achilles injury last season. Junior safety Niko Small began to emerge last season, and senior safety Nick Orr led the team in interceptions.
Previewing TCU Football’s Specialists for 2017
The Frogs missed Jaden Oberkrom a year ago. Ryan Graf and Brandon Hatfield were 18-for-25 on field goals in his place with critical misses against Arkansas and Texas Tech and in the Liberty Bowl against Georgia. They are back, but so is Jonathan Song, the projected 2016 starter who missed the season with a quadriceps injury, and transfer Andrew David for competition. Adam Nunez returns after a strong season at punter. There will be a new long snapper, likely transfer Lucas Gravelle.
The Air Raid-based Frogs will go as far as their quarterback takes them. Improvement from Hill is a must if TCU wants to return to its winning ways, let alone compete for the Big 12 championship. There are tools to work with on offense, but the best of them may still be a year away from making a legitimate impact. At least Patterson is likely to put out a sound defense. Experience is on his side this year, and that typically has meant good things.