TCU has built a winning program under head coach Gary Patterson, winding their way through multiple conferences, rarely with less than double-digit wins to show for it. The strength of TCU Football was challenged, and showcased, a season ago, as the Frogs suffered a rash of injuries unlike anything seen before in Fort Worth, losing a staggering number of starters and backups to various injuries and ailments over the course of the season. Despite being forced to play several true freshmen and many inexperienced players over all, TCU clawed their way to 11 wins and a big time bowl win in San Antonio a season ago.
At the opening of camp this August, the Frogs were looking to return 11 starters on defense alone; senior defensive end James McFarland, senior safety Kenny Iloka (Kempner High School), junior linebacker Sammy Douglas (Arlington High School), and junior cornerback Ranthony Texada (Centennial High School) were all expected back from season-ending injuries, helping strengthen a very young group that were forced into action earlier than planned. But McFarland has already missed time, Texada isn’t quite back to 100%, and most upsetting of all may be that leading tackler Travin Howard, a junior linebacker out of Longview High, could possibly miss games after spending time in the hospital for what’s being called an ‘emergency-type’ situation by his coach. Promising young corner Julius Lewis (Mansfield High School) was lost for the season in the spring, prompting a move from WR to CB for fellow sophomore Tony James (Bowie High School).
If there is one thing Gary Patterson knows how to do, it’s develop players. Last year, that ability was put to the test, but while certainly shaky at times, his patchwork defense found a way to make enough stops more often than not. And by the end of the season, they were pretty good. The display against Baylor showcased their improvement in a big way, as did second halves against Oklahoma – where they held the Sooners to just a single touchdown – and Oregon, where they shut the Ducks out in the third and fourth quarters to give the offense a chance.
Speaking of that offense, things look a little brighter through the early goings of camp, as the injury bug hasn’t bitten in quite the same fashion on that side of the ball. Senior receiver Deante’ Gray (Westside High School) seems to be back to form, after sitting out 2015 recovering from a spring ACL injury, and his counterpart, fellow senior receiver Ty Slanina (East Bernard High School) is also practicing at full-bore after a shoulder injury against Texas Tech cut his campaign short as well. Where the O could be in trouble in depth along the offensive line – two players are out for the season after going down early with serious injuries. Also of concern is special teams – Jaden Oberkrom, arguably the best kicker in TCU history, has graduated, leaving sophomore Jonathan Song (Fort Worth All Saints) as the leading candidate to replace him. Song is out indefinitely with a toe injury.
While TCU fans, and college football fans in general, were anxious to see an injury-free Frog defense get back to playing Gary Patterson style football, it appears early that it may not be meant to be. But, the TCU coaching staff certainly has experience in finding ways to work around the injury bug and produce results on the field.