Monday, August 25, 2008

Previewing the Frogs for '08

TCU came up short in half of its conference games last year-- by a combined sum of only 18 points. Reversing that tide in 2008 will require just minimal improvement overall. What units on the team look ripe for improvement this season or, gasp, what units might look worse, and will the result be a better team in '08?

Look for the Frogs' o-line to be its best in several years. Center Blake Schlueter is one of the NCAA's best, and he veterans to work with. Marshall Newhouse continues to start at left tackle; Giles Montgomery and Nic Richmond return on the right side. New talent has deepened the line as well: JUCO transfer Zack Roth is as good as advertized, and will rotate at right tackle. Redshirt Freshman Josh Vernon is battling senior Preston Phillips for the starter spot at left guard. The bottom line is that the second-team line doesn't appear to be any weaker than the first-team, except perhaps at center.

One of the biggest mysteries about this year's team is not just how the new offense will use runningbacks, but who will become the go-to runner. The roster of legs that the Frogs will feature is exhausting: Aaron Brown, James Watts, Joe Turner, Ryan Christian, Chris Smith, return. Newcomers Ed Wesley, Jai Caveness, Jercell Fort, and Luke Shivers all will press for playing time. What's not a mystery is who will appreciate the improved O-line at TCU the most: crucial rushing yards were largely missing from last year's offensive production.

By all reports, Andy Dalton had a masterful fall camp, and appears ready to throttle opposing defenses with greater confidence, experience, and finesse than he showed last year. Dalton is no longer only capable of exploiting the Frogs' upgrade at wide receiver (see below), but will make good on those expectations this year and put up very unusual numbers for a TCU quarterback.

The most noticable talent upgrade at TCU this year will be at wide receiver. Behind seniors Walter Bryant and Shea Reagan (TE) is a remarkable gaggle of sophemores who will surprise the conference every week. Jeremy Kerley, Jimmy Young, Bart Johnson, Ryan Christian, and Alonzo Adams have turned heads day after day in practice. Freshmen Antoine Hicks and Jonathan Jones aren't far behind. Working in tandem with Dalton, TCU's receivers will blow the Frogs' passing attack as wide open as it's been in a generation.

Unlike last season, the defensive line and linebackers appear primed for an outrageously productive season. Nobody in the group has been suspended, or has developed life-altering anxiety, etc. Rather, both units will be one of the strongest in recent memory. James Vess and Cody Moore anchor the d-line; add returning depth at ends with Jerry Hughes, Matt Panfil, Christopher Leatch, and the freshman phenom Braylon Broughton, and it seems only unfair to finish the front six with returning linebacks Jason Phillips, Robert Henson, and Daryl Washington, and youngster Tank Carder. No opposing offense will be able to overpower TCU's defensive front, though OU and possibly the very best of the MWC may be able to match it.

At last we find a position among the Frogs that might be problematic: one of the five defensive backs likely won't be a veteran-- until Teejay Johnson returns, that is. RSFr Tekerrein Cuba will fill in while the returning sophemore heals from a fall camp injury. However, the other four d-backs are juniors or seniors, each with either an all-conference resume, or potential.

How will the freshmen handle gameday pressure? Anson Kelton and Ross Evans will handle most of the kicking for the Frogs-- and neither has booted the ball in a college game. This will only be worrisome if the offense and defense are less than dominating. We have only a few days' wait to find out, but the Wimple is confident the Frogs' line play won't disappoint, giving the kickers time to grow into their responsibilities.

The Frogs' offense looks to improve dramatically. No unit will surprise the conference more than the wideouts, and the offense as a whole gives the Frogs the improvement it needs to push for the conference title. The defense looks primed to exceed last year's performance, especially up front. If these predictions come to pass, we won't even notice a drop off in kicking, if there even is one to be noticed!

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