This spring should be a time of celebration for TCU's football program.
After a 12-season stretch in which the Horned Frogs won at least 10 games nine times and went to two BCS bowls, TCU has left the "minor leagues" behind and moved to the Big 12. Spring practice was supposed to be all about getting ready for tougher week-to-week competition that awaits in that conference.
That all changed last week, when four football players – including three projected starters on defense - were arrested in a campus-wide crackdown on drug dealers. All four were dismissed from school.
Coach: Gary Patterson (12th season)
Last season: 11-3 overall, 8-0 in Mountain West
Spring practice dates: Feb. 25-April 5 (no spring game)
Returning starters (minimum 7 starts last season):
Offense (5): WR Josh Boyce, G Blaize Foltz, C James Fry, QB Casey Pachall, TB Ed Wesley
Defense (5): LB Kenny Cain, E Ross Forrest, T David Johnson, E Stansly Maponga, CB Jason Verrett
Special teams (0): None
The three starters were linebacker Tanner Brock, the team's leading tackler in the 2010 season; tackle D.J. Yendrey; and strong safety Devin Johnson, a former walk-on. Brock would've contended for All-Big 12 honors. After the arrests, reports circulated that Brock and Yendrey talked of multiple failed drug tests by players.
Thus, instead of worrying about tweaking this scheme and installing another deep pass or two, coaches and players instead are hunkered down and trying to overcome all the bad PR.
Despite the off-field issues, this is a solid program. Quarterback Casey Pachall threw for 2,715 yards and 24 TD passes – and did it in his first season as the starter. He has a good group of tailback and receivers, too. The offensive line needs three new starters, though.
Defensively, the dismissals of Yendrey and Brock mean questions about the front six (TCU runs a 4-2-5 set). The secondary, which needs four new starters, already was a concern. TCU is going to see better offenses more regularly now that it is in the Big 12, and what was expected to be a solid defense now lends itself to some concerns.
TCU also needs a new kicker and punter.
There are a lot of holes to fill, so you have to excuse coach Gary Patterson if he's not in a celebratory mood anymore.
[Big 12 spring preview: West Virginia, TCU bring new look to league – again]
The biggest problem: Rush defense. The Horned Frogs allowed 123.8 rushing yards per game in 2011, which isn't bad. But it's a far cry from where Patterson's defense stood in 2009 and '10, when it allowed 80.2 yards and 99.7 yards, respectively, thanks to the play of the likes of Daryl Washington, Jerry Hughes and Tank Carder. Yendrey and Brock were supposed to be among the leaders in TCU's front seven, but they were kicked off the team. It will be up to LB Kenny Cain and E Stansly Maponga, among others, to help TCU return to its dominance against the run. Sophomore Deryck Gildon and senior Greg Burks, along with 2012 signees A.J. Hilliard and James McFarland, are options to play alongside Cain at linebacker. At tackle, David Johnson and Jeremy Coleman must step up with Yendrey's departure.
On the spot: Cain. He led the team with 72 tackles in 2011, when he started in place of the injured Brock; Cain added three tackles for loss, a sack and an interception. With Carder graduating and Brock no longer around, Cain has to make more big plays than he did a year ago. Patterson's defense always is good, but if he has playmakers at linebacker, it can be one of the best in the country.
On the verge: WR Brandon Carter. He wowed Frogs fans with his athleticism as a freshman in 2011, when he caught 23 passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns. Antoine Hicks has graduated, leaving the door open for Carter to see plenty more passes thrown his way in 2012. With Pachall back for his second season as the starting quarterback and Skye Dawson, Josh Boyce and Carter on the outside, TCU could have its most dangerous aerial attack since Patterson took over.
General overview: The biggest question marks surround the defense, which suddenly is without three expected starters. Special teams also could be a concern. K Ross Evans graduated, and as much as Frogs fans blamed him for losses, he still connected on more than 80 percent of his field goal attempts last season. TCU signed K Jaden Oberkrom, but he will not be on campus until the fall. Some explosive return men would be nice, too. Last season, there was no Brian Bonner or Jeremy Kerley returning punts; in addition, Greg McCoy is gone as the kick returner. TB Waymon James has returned one kickoff for a touchdown in his career, and as the TCU recruiting classes improve, there should be no shortage of athletic options at return man.
For in-depth coverage of TCU athletics, go to purplemenace.com
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