The TCU Horned Frogs are heading back to the practice field, two months removed from an Alamo Bowl win that capped off an 11-3 season.
Head coach Gary Patterson now faces the prospect of piecing back together a team after the departures of a significant number of key contributors from the 2017 team. Much of the responsibility for the rebuild will fall on the shoulders of second-year offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie, who will be breaking in a promising young quarterback behind a relatively green line. Meanwhile, Patterson will try to identify replacements for all-conference performers on the other side of the ball.
5 Storylines to Watch During TCU’s Spring Practice
1. Rebuilding the offensive line
The losses up front on offense for the Horned Frogs from last season are substantial. They include two players who were all-conference selections at some point in their careers, Matt Pryor and Austin Schlottmann; a multi-year starter in Patrick Morris; and three-year starter Joseph Noteboom.
Offensive line coach Chris Thomsen will spend the spring evaluating the candidates stepping into starting roles. Equally important, the Horned Frogs’ will need to start finding ways to building chemistry in a unit where it is paramount.
2. Over the Hill
Kenny Hill suffered through plenty of criticism in his two seasons as TCU’s starting quarterback, leaving many Horned Frog fans ready to see Shawn Robinson ascend to the top of the depth chart now. A coveted dual-threat signal-caller out of DeSoto, Texas, Robinson played the role of understudy to Hill as a true freshman in 2017. He appeared in six games and started against Texas Tech in Hill’s absence.
Whatever frustrations Hill’s boom-or-bust style of play may have created, he stabilized the position after star QB Trevone Boykin departed and helped lead TCU to an 11-win campaign. Robinson can start to show this spring if the offense can go to another level on his watch.
3. Who leads on defense?
Travin Howard. Mat Boesen. Nick Orr. Rathony Texada.
Those are some heavy hitters on the defensive side of the ball, all of whom received all-Big 12 accolades last season. They’ve also graduated.
Gary Patterson deserves his reputation as a defensive innovator, but solidifying TCU’s D will require veterans such as defensive lineman Ben Banogu and linebacker Ty Summers stepping into leadership roles in word and deed to replace the standouts who departed.
4. Offensive reorientation
Sonny Cumbie’s background as an offensive strategist primarily consists of schooling in the pass-happy Air Raid. In his first season as a play-caller in 2017, however, Cumbie turned the running game into the focal point of TCU’s offense – the Horned Frogs ran on 55 percent of their offensive plays for the season.
This year, TCU may look to lean on the ground attack even more. Robinson offers an even more dangerous threat as a runner than Hill. Meanwhile, leading rusher Darius Anderson will be back from a knee injury, along with explosive junior Sewo Olonilua.
5. Wreaking more havoc?
Not long ago, TCU’s defense had a knack for forcing turnovers. From 2012-14, the Horned Frogs generated 32, 28 and 40 turnovers on the season, respectively. In the three seasons since then: 19, 16 and 20.
Patterson can’t be happy about the decline in takeaways. Maybe he fiddles with the scheme this spring as a result.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.