Thursday, May 6, 2010

TCU spring report

TCU held spring drills from a position it hadn’t since early 2006: front runner. The Frogs are commentators’ unanimous choice to win the Mountain West– with the more insightful conference watchers hedging their bets slightly because of the roady to Salt Lake City in November. Do these expectations align well with the Horned Frogs’ lineup on the field? Very much so. And TCU’s strength stems first from its experiences and depth along both lines.

The Frogs return four starts to the offensive line. Marcus Cannon moves to LT, Kyle Dooley, Jake Kirkpatrick, and Josh Vernon (pushed hard by Blaize Foltz) return at LG, C, and RG, respectively. (those four shown left, next to the only departed starter, big #70, Marshall Newhouse.) Filling Cannon’s shoes at RT will be Jeff Olson and/or Zach Roth, with James Dunbar backing up whoever fails to win that starting nod. Barring injury or academic issue, that will be the Frogs’ only question on offense going into fall practice.

Masticate on that a minute; TCU has 10 of 11 starting spots on offense well decided, going into fall drills. And this is a year after the Frogs broke nearly every school offensive record. Yes, TCU ought to field a frightening offense in 2010.

What do the other positions on offense look like?

Dalton leads the pack, for the fourth year running. His backup is the winner of the ongoing competition between Yogi Gallegos (right) and Casey Pachall. Pachall’s got the arm and speed and hype; but Gallegos has proven spunky, has a semester’s on Pachall with the playbook, and simply won’t cede the fight for backup snaps.

Dalton has an embarrassment of riches around him. On the ground, he’ll be handing off to returners Matthew Tucker and Ed Wesley (left), and new faces Waymon James and Andre Dean. (Dwight Smith’s injury takes him out of the rotation until further notice.) No team in the conference (country?) will have fresher runningbacks late in the game than TCU. Look for Wesley to line up in the slot, filling the Ryan Christian role to overflowing. Tucker and Dean run through blockers; Wesley and James run around them. Formation-wise, the Frogs are tooling more with the pistol. They’ve used it before, but it has appeared more often this spring. All the better, thinks the Wimple, to give more touches to the Gang of Four at tailback.

In the air, Dalton and the offensive coordinators have to figure out how to get a new WR into the rotation, joining Antoine Hicks and Curtis Clay outside, Jimmy Young and Jeremy Kerley inside, and Bart Johnson, Jonathan Jones, and Skye Dawson behind them. The new face? Redshirt freshman Josh Boyce, who lit up the defense all spring. In other news, Young’s move inside was an eye-opener this spring; he welcomed the move, because it shows the NFL another side of his talent. Add TEs Evan Frosch, Logan Brock, and Corey Fuller, and the real mystery this year on offense is how the heck Dalton & Co. will spread the ball to so many playmakers.

On defense, TCU looks on paper like it may lose some of its punch. However, it looked that way coming into 2009, and the Frogs rose up to clinch a second consecutive national top ranking for defense. So: count the Frogs out of contention for the top spot at your peril.

Along the line, just like their offensive compadres across the trench, rising seniors abound. Clarence Leatch, Kelly Griffin, Cory Grant, and Wayne Daniels will be an all-senior line. (Grant, Griffin, and Daniels are suffocating some poor UNLV Rebel, left.) Likely no single one of them will match new Indianapolis Colt Jerry Hughes’s production, the four of them will make the conference’s most formidable defensive front. Again. (Junior Ross Forrest or redshirt freshman Stansley Maponga may start ahead of Leatch. This is one of the defensive questions that is yet unsettled going into fall.)

Behind Griffin and Grant are three young tackles who have risen to battle for the #2 spots, in a yet-unsettled order: junior Jeremy Coleman, sophomore D. J. Yendrey, and early-enrolled true freshman David Johnson.

The second would-be difficult departure for TCU is Daryl Washington’s, at linebacker. Tanner Brock (#35, left) is tasked with replacing the athlete (now an Arizona Cardinal). Kenny Cain is pushing for that job as well, but to date it appears to be Brock’s to lose. Brock joins returning standout Tank Carder in the youngest linebacking corps at TCU in several years.

The final holes to fill this offseason at TCU are in the secondary. Four year starting corners Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders were ably backed up last year by Greg McCoy and Jason Teague, who may outperform their elders this season. McCoy (right) had a monstrous spring, snagging passes right and left. Both McCoy and Teague started at least once last season. The only questions at corner were their backups; Malcolm Williams has moved over to be one of them, and done very well.

At safety, the master communicator and least-trumpeted star of the show, Tejay Johnson, returns, grooming a protégé in Jurrell Thompson, who impressed this spring. Ibiloye, Luttrell, and Jones all will see a lot of PT in 2010, but exactly which of them, with Thompson, will start and which will backup remains uncertain.

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