With a new quarterback, young offense and revamped defense, the upcoming football season will be a little different for Texas Christian University this year, especially without stars like wide receiver Josh Doctson and quarterback Trevone Boykin.
Head coach Gary Patterson isn’t longing for the past, though.
“It’s easier when you have unknowns,” he said. “As a head coach, I have a lot more energy, and [I’m] excited about this season going into it than I was a year ago.”
Patterson, speaking to reporters at Big 12 Media Days in Dallas on July 18, said the 2016 season reminds him of 2014. Back then, the Horned Frogs were fresh off a 4-8 season, with quarterbacks Boykin and Matt Joeckel competing for the starting spot. This year, the Frogs face a similar situation in coming out of a difficult season – at least in terms of suffering numerous injuries – and two quarterbacks, Kenny Hill and Foster Sawyer, competing for the job.
The 2014 season saw the Frogs finish with a 12-1 record and a win over Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl, just a hair short of the College Football Playoff. There’s no guarantee that 2016 will play out the same way, but Patterson says he likes the uncertainty.
“We only talk about beating TCU,” Patterson said. “How good of a football team can we become? That’s the way we’ll attack it.”
Patterson said quarterback frontrunners Hill and Sawyer have different skill sets, with Hill being more of a runner and Sawyer being more of a passer.
“Both of them can beat you in a little bit different way,” Patterson said.
There’s youth on the receiving corps as well, with Deante Gray being the only senior receiver on the post-spring depth chart. This year’s pass catchers will fill the shoes of last year’s top receivers Doctson and Kolby Listenbee, who both left for the NFL. Both Doctson and Listenbee suffered injuries and missed part of last season, though, allowing younger players to get playing time, Patterson said.
“I’m not really sure we’re a young football team,” he said. “We’ve got guys that played a lot of football and have experience.”
Newcomers are also showing promise, like freshman receiver Isaiah Graham, who Patterson called “maybe our best wide receiver coming out of the spring as far as making plays.”
The defense, on the other hand, is entering 2016 with more experience. Many of them, like linebacker Travin Howard, rose into starting roles last year after the players above them suffered injury. Howard, for example, switched from safety to linebacker to replace Mike Freeze, who left team for personal reasons, and Sammy Douglas, who sat out the season with an injury. Howard ended the 2015 season leading TCU with 105 tackles.
“I’ve never played linebacker before, but Coach P, he depends on me,” Howard said. “He trusts me.”
Other players who suffered injuries last season will be returning, such as cornerback Ranthony Texada, linebacker Sammy Douglas and safety Kenny Iloka.
Kicker Jaden Oberkrom and punter Ethan Perry have graduated, which means TCU will be getting a new set of legs for 2016. Sophomore Jonathan Song will be stepping in at kicker and freshman Adam Nunez at punter.
Patterson said he’s not looking for a kicker or punter with a great technique, just someone who can score points.
“I don’t care how pretty it is,” he said. “If it rolls over the crossbar, that means three points or one.”