No question TCU is going to be a new-look team in 2011. But coach Gary Patterson realizes he does not have time to wait and see how his team develops.
Hence the motto for 2011: Do it now.
“We don’t have time to say this year we’re going to have young guys, we have to develop a new quarterback,” Patterson said in a phone interview. “Now is our challenge to grow up and be a preseason top 25 team.”
TCU is in a vastly different position today than it was a year ago at this time. Expectations were high for the Horned Frogs going into 2010, and even included talk about potentially becoming the first non-AQ team to play for a national championship.
That did not happen, but they did beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and their 26 seniors left with a career 36-3 record. With players like Andy Dalton, Tejay Johnson and Jake Kirkpatrick gone, many expect this to be a rebuilding year -- many outside Fort Worth.
Whether this year is as good as the last few could hinge on what happens with the offense. The trademark defense is expected to be just as good, even without Johnson manning the defensive backfield. Linebackers Tank Carder and Tanner Brock return, and the defensive line could be even better.
The three biggest questions right now:
How will Casey Pachall do replacing Andy Dalton at quarterback?
Who will step up in the receiving corps?
How will TCU play on the offensive line?
Pachall had a good spring, but Patterson is holding off on any judgments until the season opener at Baylor on Sept. 3. “The only way you can judge a quarterback is by the way he plays in the fall,” Patterson said.
The redshirt sophomore has several advantages over Dalton, who also made his first career start against Baylor back in 2007 (that game was at home, a key difference). For one, Pachall has had three spring practices to learn. Dalton did not. Pachall also has a better arm and better running ability. Depth at running back also is huge, with Ed Wesley, Matthew Tucker and Waymon James all returning.
But there are several other factors that will determine whether Pachall can be successful immediately. The offensive line loses four of five starters, including center Jake Kirkpatrick and tackle Marcus Cannon, expected to be high NFL draft picks. Both tackles are gone, and that is one of the biggest question marks headed into the fall. Senior Jeff Olson is slated to start at one spot, but plenty of other candidates are aiming for the other spot.
Three of the team’s top four leading receivers are also gone, though leading wideout Josh Boyce returns. Antonie Hicks and Skye Dawson had good springs, but watch for true freshman receivers Brandon Carter and LaDarius Brown to see playing time immediately.
If all the pieces of the offense come together, this could be another great year. But everyone will be watching to see whether Pachall has what it takes to be a leader. When I asked Patterson whether quarterbacks are born with those intangibles or if they are something they learn through game experience, he went back to his quarterback in 2005 and 2006.
“Jeff Ballard was 19-2 and I fired him every Tuesday,” Patterson said. “He was a terrible practice quarterback. Casey knows it’s about wins and losses -- it’s not about yardage, it’s not about touchdowns. He has to do whatever he can to manage the game. We’ll see how it works.”