TCU kicks off the first of several spring wrapups for selected non-AQ teams. The Horned Frogs have plenty of holes to fill after losing an eye-popping 26 seniors, including veteran leaders Andy Dalton, Jake Kirkpatrick and Tejay Johnson. Several players stepped up, while other positions still have question marks headed into fall practice.
Questions answered: The biggest are the replacements for Dalton and Johnson. Casey Pachall had a good spring and really answered the challenge of having to replace the winningest quarterback in school history. Pachall is bigger than Dalton, has a stronger arm than Dalton and can run faster than Dalton. Though he is just a redshirt sophomore, he just completed his third spring practice at TCU because he was an early enrollee. He definitely has a grasp of the offense, and split all the reps this spring with Matt Brown -- the only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster right now. Senior Johnny Fobbs is penciled in to replace Johnson and also appears to be stepping up. One position to note is defensive line, where coach Gary Patterson believes his team could be even better than last season. Braylon Broughton had a terrific spring as the replacement for Wayne Daniels at defensive end, and Stansly Maponga continued to mature at the other end spot. Broughton, at 6-foot-6 and 272 pounds, is also a senior and expectations are high for him.
Questions unanswered: The biggest is who is going to step up as a leader to fill the void of Dalton, Johnson and Kirkpatrick. There are several candidates, from linebacker Tank Carder to receiver Josh Boyce to guard Blaize Foltz. Patterson will not have his answer until fall camp, when he sees who steps up and takes leadership and accountability during offseason workouts -- when the true character of teams are formed. As for positions, receiver needs more depth, and TCU is most likely going to need to rely on two highly touted incoming true freshmen -- Brandon Carter and LaDarius Brown. The offensive line also has four new starters, though some of them have gotten extended playing time in games. Pachall might have the physical tools, but does he have the intangibles to lead TCU to another BCS game?
Spring stars: Watch for Sam Carter at safety. Carter follows the mold Patterson loves to use when finding his defensive stars. Carter came in as a quarterback and redshirted in the fall. He is now playing safety and opened some eyes. So did true freshman Deryk Gildon out of Arlington, Texas. Gildon enrolled early and at some points during the spring was running with the second team. He has a chance to get some playing time this season on special teams, and behind Carder and Tanner Brock.
Of note: Carder sat out the spring while rehabbing an injury. What sticks out to me is the way TCU is playing the underdog card for the 2011 season. The Horned Frogs have lost one game the past two seasons, but are most likely going to be picked to finish second in the Mountain West behind Boise State because of all the players they lose. TCU backers will tell you that the program is on solid footing, and they don't rebuild, they reload. They will most certainly have to prove that this season.