Five takeaways from TCU football’s spring training camp

With spring practice in the books for TCU, the Horned Frogs can officially turn their focus to the 2024 season where the program will be in need of a bounce back year after a 5-7 finish.

Despite the numerous injuries that plagued the offense, the Horned Frogs were able to make the most of the 15 practices with a number of new faces immediately making an impact in Fort Worth.

“I thought we had a really good spring,” coach Sonny Dykes said. “I loved the effort, the work ethic. I’m really pleased, I think offensively we did some good things as well.”

The biggest victory for the Horned Frogs in the spring was avoiding any major injuries with most players like Josh Hoover expected to be ready for the start of fall camp. Here are five main takeaways from TCU’s spring football camp:

The defense will take a big jump

The Horned Frogs’ has had its fair share of low moments in the first two seasons under Dykes which led to the head coach firing former defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie to bring in Andy Avalos in December. From the first day of practice it was easy to see why Dykes made the move to bring in the former Boise State head coach.

There was more movement and variety in playcalls in two practices than there were in two seasons under Gillespie. That’s because the two schemes are vastly different with Gillespie’s 3-3-5, drop eight scheme being more passive while Avaos regularly sent four to six defenders after the quarterback during practice. The heavy blitz scheme can be countered like any defensive system, but at the very least Avalos will put a much bigger emphasis on making the quarterback uncomfortable.

It’s not just the scheme, but the transfers TCU added on defense have looked like hits so far. Kaleb Elarms-Orr (Cal) may be TCU’s best linebacker, Cameron Smith (Memphis) was a breakout star at safety and Nana Osafo-Mensah (Notre Dame) was the most productive of the spring game. With a fresh philosophy and fresh batch of playmakers, it would be stunning if TCU doesn’t take a big leap in sacks and scoring defense.

Frogs need O-line help

The offensive line was a work in progress most of the spring with the main starting unit consisting of Ben Taylor-Whitfield, Mike Nichols, Carson Bruno, Coltin Deery, Remington Strickland and Bless Harris alternating with Whitfield and Nichols at tackle. Avalos’ defense had the offensive line on its heels most of the spring and there were times offensive line coach A.J. Ricker was visibly frustrated with their performance.

However, it should be noted that the offensive line improved in the final portion of the spring with the spring game on Saturday being their best outing. The run game in particular was effective with both Cam Cook and Nate Palmer having strong days. While that development is encouraging Dykes said TCU will still be active looking for more reinforcements up front.

Who are some potential targets? The Horned Frogs already landed one with a reporteded commitment from Alabama transfer James Brockermeyer, whose brother Tommy transferred to TCU from Alabama last season. Brockermeyer is a former four-star recruit and was competing for the starting job with the Crimson Tide. TCU also recently offered Arkansas tackle Andrew Chamblee who played under TCU offensive coordinator Kendal Briles and running backs coach Jimmy Smith.

How were the quarterbacks?

With Hoover missing the entirety of spring it opened the door for both Ken Seals and Hauss Hejny to receive more reps than expected. Neither was spectacular during the spring, but there’s a few reasons for that. Firstly, the wide receiver was ravaged by injuries all spring. There was one point in practice where the Horned Frogs were down to just five scholarship receivers and walk-ons like Sutton Lee and Keagan Cunningham were often the favorite targets of Hejny.

Add in the inconsistent offensive line play and the exotic defense of Avalos and it’s no wonder that neither quarterback was able to light it up on a day-to-day basis. However, both also showed some positive signs with Seals being exactly what you expected from a senior quarterback. He’s picked up the offense well, is pretty accurate to his first read and has more mobility than he’s given credit for. If Seals was asked to start a game or two because of injury TCU would likely be fine, which is what you want in a backup.

Hejny’s upside is tantalizing with a strong arm and elite athleticism. Hejny got a lot thrown at him during the spring and made some mistakes with interceptions and holding the ball too long for sacks, but those are necessary growing pains for his journey. Could Hejny be ready to compete with Hoover for the starting job in the fall? It would be a bit of a surprise, but if Hejny takes another jump over the summer he could make things interesting with a full cast of receivers.

Cam Cook is RB1

After losing another 1,000-yard rusher in Emani Bailey, running back was a big question mark for TCU entering the spring, but the program has found its answer in Cam Cook. The sophomore running back was clearly the best running back all spring and was one of the standouts of the spring game. Cook is a jack of all trades in the backfield, he’s not a burner, but has more breakaway speed than Bailey.

He’s not as big as Kendre Miller, but still runs with surprising power for his 5-foot-11, 195 pound frame and he also showed upside as a receiver in the screen game and running routes out of the backfield. Cook isn’t the only young back to stand out as Nate Palmer made a strong case for moving up the rotation over veterans like Trey Sanders and Trent Battle.

The 2023 class makes a jump

Dykes’ first full class after the run to the national championship game was one of the best in program history and a number of those players are starting to make an impact. Cook and Taylor-Whitfield will likely be starters, but players like Max Carroll, Zachary Chapman and Keviyan Huddleston were three more players that stood out and earned praise from Dykes.

“Max Carroll, I thought had an excellent spring,” Dykes said. “We’re excited about the player he’s going to develop into. Keviyan Huddleston, Zach Chapman, some of those young players I’ve been really impressed with them and what they’ve been able to do and how much they’ve improved. They’ve got to get us a bunch of meaningful snaps.”

Dykes also mentioned defensive lineman Markis Deal as another player from the 2023 class that TCU could depend on a lot this season, especially with the departure of Damonic Williams. Safety Jordan Lester was another from the class that stood out as he had multiple interceptions and pass deflections. Cornerback Vernon Glover got extended reps in TCU’s dime sub-package and impressed with his ball skills.

Whether it’s a starting or special teams role, expect to see more of these players in the fall.