In 2014, Football Frogs braced for change
At Big 12 Media Days, coach Gary Patterson addresses coaching changes, a new offense and a sport that is on the cusp of new governance rules.
by Caroline Collier '98
Updated: Tuesday, July 22, 2014
TCU coach Gary Patterson talked to media members from the Fort Worth-Dallas area and all across the Big 12 region. (Photography by Rick Waters '95)
Change is the name of the game for college football in 2014.
From the inaugural playoff to a new conference logo, transformation was the hot topic in Monday’s opening session of the Big 12 Media Days at the Omni Hotel in Dallas, where TCU Football's Gary Patterson and four players met about 250 of the conference's print, television and online press.
The theme of change is especially relevant for TCU. The Horned Frogs built a new stadium, moved to the Big 12, and in year three of their new conference, are implementing a brand-new offense under the direction of recently hired co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie.
The Frogs, who employed a generally cautious style of play calling during the historic run through numerous conference championships to a Rose Bowl win, will now match many of the Big 12 teams with a no-huddle, pass-heavy spread scheme.
The shift is “truly a change in philosophy,” coach Gary Patterson said to a room of around 200 media professionals. Incorporating the new offense has necessitated alterations, from doubling the pace of strength training to ditching the well-worn playbook, but “It gives us an opportunity to level the playing field as far as being able to throw the football,” he said.
“If you’re not changing then you’re just staying the same. And if you stay the same, you’re going to get the same results,” said safety Sam Carter, one of TCU’s four player representatives in attendance.
Opportunities for improvement will be welcome, as the Frogs finished ninth in total offense in the Big 12 last year on their way to a 4-8 record.
The first order of business before the season begins on August 30th is choosing a starting quarterback. Two weeks before two-a-days, the race is primarily between incumbent Trevone Boykin and Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel, with wildcard possibilities in true freshmen Grayson Muehlstein and Foster Sawyer.
Patterson called Joeckel more of a “prototype dropback” quarterback, while Boykin is now slimmer and speedier, having whittled his frame from 220 to 205 in the offseason. Boykin “wants to be the guy,” Patterson said.
Both have been leading voluntary workouts during the summer to help the squad adjust to the up-tempo pace a no-huddle scheme demands.
The quarterback decision will not follow a timetable, Patterson said, “But I think the key is to find the guy that has the swagger that allows us to move the football, score the points … the guy that's not going to turn the ball over.”
An area of the team in need of improvement is the offensive line, which didn’t give Boykin adequate time to develop plays last year. Patterson and the four player representatives agreed that fans can expect serious a serious upgrade in this department, now under the direction of former co-offensive coordinator Jarrett Anderson.
Tackle Tayo Fabuluje returns after spending a year as a regular student at BYU, and third-year players Aviante Collins, Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Joey Hunt return with two seasons of significant Big 12 blocking experience.
Hunt, another player representative, pointed out youngsters Joseph Notebook, Matt Pryor and Patrick Morris as ones to potentially earn more playing time.
“We’ve gotten a lot bigger, and we’re more athletic,” Patterson said of the line, while also accentuating improved depth across the team.
Hunt said the culture change for the o-line unit was not as dramatic as it could have been. Anderson and retired coach Eddie Williamson are both “laid-back guys who want to coach you,” he said.
“We’re so excited about the depth,” Hunt continued. “We have a solid group of guys that can go out there and play.”
The wide receiver corps, which will be without Brandon Carter, LaDarius Brown and Cam White, also needs to play better if the Frogs want to resume the march toward conference titles or a playoff spot.
Dropped balls and inaccurate routes hurt the passing game last year, which is perhaps why the unit now commands the attention of two coaches. Meacham will coach inside receivers, including tight ends at times. Rusty Burns shifts from coaching quarterbacks to outside receivers.
David Porter explained that the double duty “gives you an opportunity to get a little more individual time.” He estimated that each receiver will now get about twice as much personalized attention.
Porter believes that the new-and-improved offense will better showcase the Frogs’ outstanding speed. Players like Deanté Gray, Cameron Echols-Luper, Kolby Listenbee and Big 12 110-meter hurdle champion Jordan Moore will have ample opportunities to fire up the burners.
If the wideouts run the proper routes, synchronize their timing and correct the “minor things” that plagued them in 2013, better lanes will consequently open for the running backs, Porter said. A stout rotation, with B.J. Catalon, Aaron Green and Kyle Hicks should have an opportunity to shine from the backfield.
“Everybody’s going to get their chance to get the ball,” Porter said.
The Frogs lost six games by 10 points or less in 2013, a factor that contributed to TCU’s first bowl-less season since 2004.
Defensive tackle Chucky Hunter said he was “embarrassed” that his team sat out last postseason. On Christmas day, he was at home running and doing footwork drills. During the offseason, he watched a lot of game film to keep learning and stay motivated for the upcoming season.
He remains optimistic about where the next stop on TCU’s journey may be. “Sometimes you have to go through the growing pain to get to the next level,” he said.
TCU’s defense keeps thwarting opponents, despite any overall team frustration. They finished first in rushing defense and second in total defense in the league last year.
Onlookers expect the Frogs, who return eight defensive starters, to be stout on that side of the ball again. Media voted Devonte Fields preseason defensive player of the year despite his missing the majority of 2013 due to injury. Patterson said he was “surprised” at the honor and pointed to Hunter, Terrell Lathan and Davion Pierson as also being exceptionally capable defensive linemen.
Hunter and Sam Carter made the preseason all-Big 12 team as well, but as many accolades as his team may collect, preseason honors mean little, Carter said. He explained that he wants to assume leadership and motivate the team to keep improving, namely by encouraging everyone to watch more film.
A favorable schedule could help the Frogs return to their winning ways. The team will play 10 games in the state of Texas and seven in Fort Worth. A lopsided home schedule would usually be an advantage, but TCU has only won one conference home game in two years of the Big 12.
“We’ve got to get back to controlling and protecting the Carter,” Patterson said.
Another topic on the agenda was protecting college football players. Commissioner Bob Bowlsby spoke first, mentioning the seven class-action lawsuits facing the NCAA, including one charging the governing body with providing an inadequate response to concussion concerns. He also discussed the increasing autonomy of what he called the “five high-visibility conferences.”
“There isn't just the likelihood of transformational change coming, but there is instead the certainty of transformational change coming,” he said in a somber speech. Bowlsby will take part in a forum in New York City on August 6th to discuss the issues facing college sports, including player health and the employee-athlete distinction. He voiced fears that structuring changes might crowd out men’s Olympic sports due to budget constraints.
Patterson, for his part, has remained while consistent discussing his coaching philosophy. “I still think it comes down to growing young men up. I think it comes down to the scholarship is worth something,” he said. “Knowledge is power.”
As far as further changes relating to governance, stipends and unionization, “I think we need to just make sure we go at this slowly, make sure we do the right thing for the kids,” he said.
Patterson emphasized the need for his team to return to a bowl game this season. He seemed comfortable being back in the underdog role, and happy, overall, with the journey, even with the bumps along the road.
As for the rest, well, the excitement is still building. “So far Sonny and Doug have done a great job with the chemistry,” he said.
About the changes to the pace of the offense, “Our kids are excited about it, and sometimes that's half the battle,” he said.