TCU’s Offseason Burning Questions: The Kicking Game

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Photo via Tim Heitman, USA Today Sports

 

The kicking game was a notable weakness last season after having been such an undeniable strength the four years prior. Once four year starter Jaden Oberkrom graduated, the Frogs lost one of the most reliable aspects of their team, the ability to make kicks consistently. Oberkrom was expected to be replaced by redshirt freshman Jonathan Song (Fort Worth All Saints), a sophomore who had two career kickoffs and was 1/1 on PATs during his freshman year – but had a reputation for booming long field goals and kickoffs throughout his high school career. Song was sidelined early in camp with an injury, and though Gary Patterson routinely said he was just a few weeks away, he never stepped foot on the field during play over the course of the season.

With Song on the sidelines, the experimentation began, with little success. TCU turned two a pair of walk-ons: senior Brandon Hatfield and redshirt sophomore Ryan Graf, both California natives. Graf made five of six attempts over the course of the season, but had a potentially game-winning 28 yard attempt blocked with just seconds to go in the Arkansas game, in what would be his last meaningful attempt of the season. Hatfield took over, going 13 of 19 overall and 27 of 29 on extra point attempts, and missed critical attempts against Texas Tech and Georgia, two games the Frogs lost by single-digit margins. Cole Bunce, yet another California native, handled kickoff duties and was solid in the role, averaging 62 yards on 74 attempts with 27 touchbacks.

Unsatisfied with the results of the prior season, TCU fans clamored for the Frogs to sign a kicker in the off-season, which Patterson did not do. With a small number of scholarships available in the class of 2017, the staff decided to count on Song, who has looked good in practice and in his limited game action, to return to full health – and by all accounts he is practicing fully this spring. The Frogs also brought in a transfer prior to the 2016 campaign in former Michigan kicker Andrew David, a redshirt sophomore who was a top ten kicking recruit coming out of high school in Ohio. Whether Song, David, Hatfield, or Graf wins the job coming out of fall camp, TCU will be in much better shape at one of the most important – if underappreciated – positions on the field come the 2017 season.

One area where the kicking game wasn’t just competent, but excellent, was punting. True freshman Adam Nunez (Second Baptist Houston) stepped seamlessly into the role vacated by Ethan Perry (Smithson Valley High School), and was brilliant over the course of the season, executing his kicks with height, depth, and precision. Nunez boomed 72 punts over the course of the year for nearly 40 yards per kick, resulting in just two touchbacks and pinning opponents inside the twenty 26 times. He had three kicks of over 50 yards and helped TCU’s Special Teams unit allow a scant 87 yards on 22 returnable punts.

The last element of a successful kicking game is the snapper; TCU had a reliable man in the middle for long-snapping in Matt Boggs, but he will be graduating this spring. Thus, the Frogs turned to another transfer – this one of the graduate variety – in former Wazzu Cougar Lucas Gravelle. Gravelle was a two year player for the Cougars after a year of Juco ball on the east coast, starting all 13 games as a junior and participating in all 26 contests overall. He’s a big, reliable, and experienced player – something TCU was lacking on the roster. The Frogs also have redshirt freshmen Donovan Cahill out of New Jersey and Wil Houston (Trinity Christian Academy) on the depth chart.

 

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