By: Malcolm Mayhew
Basketball is long gone, and the baseball team is home from Omaha. That means one thing — TCU has football on its mind.
After finishing 6-7 last season, the Horned Frogs are looking to do better. And like they do every year, head coach Gary Patterson and select players gathered Monday for Big 12 Media Days, this time at the Dallas Cowboys’ world headquarters, The Star, in Frisco. Quarterback Kenny Hill, running back Kyle Hicks, and linebackers Ty Summers and Travin Howard joined Patterson at the event to dish on the upcoming season.
Here are seven things we learned:
Ty Summers at Big 12 Media Days.
Forcing turnovers is one factor TCU’s defense is looking to improve. Summers said that during the season, the team keeps track of who forced a turnover by marking it on a chart in the team’s meeting rooms. Those who do, get a candy bar.
“That way we make it like a competition,” he said. “We give little candy bars for people that get turnovers after games.”
It appears that Texas A&M transfer Hill has solidified his spot as the starting quarterback, listed so on TCU’s post-spring depth chart (with highly touted freshman quarterback Shawn Robinson following). With a year of experience as a Horned Frog under his belt, in which Hill completed 61 percent of his passes (and also threw 13 interceptions), Patterson said Hill needs to work on finding his “swagger” — with his coach’s help.
“I judge quarterbacks on Saturdays,” Patterson said. “Obviously we went through a season where that was his first time. For me, I think I need to do a better job helping him with his swagger. That was pretty tough early, doing things, and I think he hadn’t been through that coach’s style.”
Patterson added that the rest of the team, not just the quarterback, should take responsibility, saying that TCU should create an offense that accommodates Hill’s strengths.
“Players have to step up … You can blame the quarterback, you can blame the coach, you can blame whatever, but at the end of the day, you have to make plays,” he said.
Dropped passes were a particular issue for the team last year. According to sports analytics site Pro Football Focus, Hill had 38 dropped passes in 2016 — the most of any quarterback in the nation.
“We need to give him help obviously,” Patterson said. “We need to catch the ball better. I think we’re going to be better up front, offensive line-wise, we’ve only lost one wide receiver — so I think all those things benefit him.”
Doug Meacham left his role as TCU’s co-offensive coordinator back in January, moving running backs coach Curtis Luper into the role, with fellow offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie now calling plays. With the rearrangement of the offense’s coaching duties, Patterson said he doesn’t anticipate that the offensive scheme itself will change dramatically.
“How much it will change, I don't know,” he said. “We're teaching the same thing. If anything we've gone back to, it's more back to the essence of making sure that we can run a base offense and run it really well, then add things to it and not change on a game-to-game basis.”
Standout kick and punt returner KaVontae Turpin (#TurpinTime, anyone?) missed much of spring practice due to academic issues, but according to Patterson, “he’s good right now.”
“One of the biggest problems we've had is when we've had great freshmen that have played early and got a lot of notoriety,” Patterson said. “If it was up to me, obviously, you need some of them to do that, but how do you get them back into where they get in the right lane and do the right things? I think KaVontae is doing the right things, understanding what it is to be a college athlete and a college student.”
Hill praised TCU’s run game — especially his teammate Hicks, saying he’s “one of the most underrated running backs in the country.” Last season, Hicks was TCU’s leading rusher with 1,042 yards on 203 carries, scoring 12 touchdowns in the mix.
Hicks said he’s not thinking about it too much though.
“I’m glad [Hill] has a lot of confidence in me,” he said, “but I really don’t look into all that stuff … I just try to go out there and be the best Kyle Hicks that I can be.”
Gary Patterson at Big 12 Media Days.
The Big 12 is doing something new this year — holding a championship game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, which Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby hopes will up the league’s chances at making it into the College Football Playoff. For the most part, Patterson says he’s happy with the decision.
“For us, I think we just need to keep doing what we're doing as a league,” he said. “I'm excited about being part of the Big 12, and I think the Big 12 is a great league. As coaches, we have a responsibility — all of us do — to recruit better players, play better on the field, and have responsibility to our league and our people that we do well.”
By: Malcolm Mayhew