- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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FORT WORTH, Texas -- The highs of 2012 were as good as it gets. The lows of 2013 were a frustrating test. And now, finally, Devonte Fields is back.
TCU coaches aren't ready to say the former Big 12 AP Defensive Player of the Year is playing his best football just yet, but there's little rust on a pass rusher who conquered the conference as a freshman in 2012.
"We’re cautiously optimistic about him,” TCU defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas said Tuesday on the Big 12 teleconference.
After racking up 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss in his debut season, Fields' follow-up was no doubt frustrating. He was suspended for the opener against LSU and was held out for most of the following game. He suffered a foot injury in the third game against Texas Tech, tried to give it a go against Oklahoma State, and then he was done.
He'll receive a medical redshirt for the time missed in 2013 after electing to have foot surgery, but what can Fields make of his second chance as a sophomore season?
"We’ll have to see. He had a good spring, really came on at the end of spring," TCU coach Gary Patterson said to ESPN.com this month. "School-wise and everything, he’s just understanding when much is given, much is asked. Now he needs to finish the semester and needs to have a great summer."
What Bumpas finds encouraging is the fact that TCU's strength and conditioning coach says Fields is indeed stronger today than before the injury.
"He's not only back to where he was, he's past where he was," Bumpas said. "He's getting his strength back, his foot feels good and he's starting to show up and make plays again."
Patterson is excited about pairing Fields with junior Terrell Lathan and redshirt sophomore Josh Carraway, giving the Frogs an experienced trio at end to go along with one of the league's best defensive tackle combos of Chucky Hunter and Davion Pierson.
Following up what he did as a freshman put serious pressure on Fields, and Patterson could see that in his play.
"Last year I think he was trying to do too much," Patterson said. "For him, staying below the water with nothing going on, going to school and also becoming a pass rusher, all that stuff will come together. But he needs to do the things that are important."
Right now, that's staying healthy, taking care of his business off the field and, in time, getting even better than the lineman who tore up the Big 12 two years ago.