Burning Offseason Questions: TCU’s Linebackers

THSF
Photo via Reese Strickland, USA TODAY Sports

 

TCU’s linebacking corps was one of the biggest question marks early in their 2015 campaign, as a glut of injuries and the odd disappearance of Mike Freeze, who took a leave of absence from the team and never returned. With the numbers dwindling, Gary Patterson turned to a pair of safeties (Travin Howard, Longview and Montrell Wilson, Fossil Ridge) and a former high school QB (Ty Summers, San Antonio Reagan) to try and shore up the position.

It was a work in progress over the course of that first year, to say the least, as Howard and Wilson, who barely registered 200 pounds each, got a tough introduction to life as a Big 12 linebacker. But over the course of the season, Howard became a beast – leading the team in tackles as he used his high football IQ to read and react to offensive play calls. Wilson, however, struggled with injuries, and was eventually replaced by Summers, who never relinquished the role.

Burning Question #1:

Are Howard and Summers the answer?

Both returning starting linebackers posted triple digit tackle numbers each last season, leading the conference with 130 and 121 tackles respectively. Though Summers has managed to put on some good weight over the last two years – the current sophomore is up to 235 pounds – Howard is still a little light by Big 12 standards at 210, especially when you consider some of the running backs he has had to go up against over the past two seasons. And while Gary Patterson would ideally like to move Howard back to his more natural position in the secondary, it’s proving difficult to do, as several highly touted recruits have either not panned out or not been able to beat out the junior. Sammy Douglas (Arlington), who was slotted to start alongside Freeze in 2015 tore his ACL in the first game of that season, and was just rounding into form at the end of 2016, when he finished with 60 tackles. Alec Dunham (Coldspring-Oakhurst) and Paul Whitmill (Bastrop) were expected to be crucial cogs in the rotation, but neither has made a significant impact to this point – though Dunham is only a sophomore and may get his chance to shine this fall.

For the time being, it looks like they are the guys going forward, but after a season in which the vaunted TCU run defense allowed a startling 4.2 yards per carry, expect the competition to be open and on-going if the results aren’t there.

Burning Question #2:

Is there anyone on the team that can backup the starters/challenge them for the job?

The Frogs’ addressed their lack of depth at one of the most important positions in the 4-2-5 this winter, signing Juco transfer Alex Bush, a three star product out of Cerritos College, who should be able to pick up the playbook quickly and make plays from day one. There are also several intriguing athletes in the 2017 group that could make the switch to linebacker; safety Garret Wallow (John Curtis, LA) has a similar build to Summers and has just as high an IQ, but is a little faster and more experienced on the defensive side of the ball. At 6’2” and 215 pounds heading into his first collegiate season, he is a good candidate to make the move, though it could come in year two. Another candidate to switch is high school wide receiver Ni’Jeel Meeking out of Union Parish, LA, who at 6’3” and 205 pounds with a frame that could add weight seems to be in the mold of a big safety or good-sized linebacker for GP’s system.

While it appears the starting lineup will remain the same, with Howard and Summers, the depth should be far improved in 2017. If Douglas can get, and stay, 100% healthy, he provides a bigger body to throw out against bigger backs – and against teams like Arkansas, who the Frogs face early in the season this fall. Bush should help in those situations as well, and is a good wrap up tackler in the middle of the field. With so much turnover on the front line, linebacker play will be even more crucial this year, and developing that second line of defense will be key to the overall success of the TCU defensive unit.

Burning Question #3:

Who is the player TCU can’t afford to lose or have an ‘off’ season in 2017?

Ty Summers has gone from a relative unknown to an all-conference caliber player, becoming one of the more reliable tacklers and a vocal leader on the defensive unit. Entering his junior year, Summers has become the linchpin of the unit and one of the most important players on the defense as a whole. Not only is he a leader with his on-field production, but he’s one of the most well-respected guys in the locker room and a heady player who is excellent at making in-play adjustments and getting his teammates set at the snap. The Frogs have the talent below him to cover, but he brings so much more than statistics to the table.

 

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