Big 12: Frank Kee

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring. We continue today with TCU, which released an official two-deep after wrapping up spring ball. After its recent addition at QB, here’s our take on what the Horned Frogs’ depth chart now looks like:

OFFENSE (projected starter in bold)

QB: Matt Joeckel (Sr.) OR Trevone Boykin (Jr.), Zach Allen (RFr.)

Joeckel announced last month he will transfer from Texas A&M to TCU, but the paperwork isn’t officially done so TCU has made no formal announcement. When he does arrive in Fort Worth, expect Joeckel to become the frontrunner for the QB spot due to his experience running the Air Raid offense. Boykin will fight for his job but is versatile enough to be a legitimate contributor at receiver. Freshmen Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein arrive in the summer.

[+] EnlargeCatalon
Jim Cowsert/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Getty ImagesB.J. Catalon is the most experienced player in a crowded, unsettled TCU backfield.
RB: B.J. Catalon (Jr.) OR Kyle Hicks (RFr.) OR Aaron Green (Jr.) OR Trevorris Johnson (RFr.)

The three-OR move isn’t about Gary Patterson refusing to tip his hand. It’s more a sign that the Horned Frogs will rely on a committee of backs, and by the end of spring Catalon, Hicks and Green had all suffered injuries. The competition to find that No. 1 back continues in the fall, and freshman Shaun Nixon will be in the mix then, too.

WR-X: Ja'Juan Story (Jr.) OR Kolby Listenbee (Jr.)

WR-H: Ty Slanina (So.), Deante' Gray (Jr.)

WR-Y: David Porter (Sr.), Cameron Echols-Luper (So.), Griffin Gilbert (So.)

WR-Z: Josh Doctson (Jr.), Jordan Moore (Jr.)

TCU will need several of these guys to step up to make the high-speed passing game thrive. Two-year starter Brandon Carter is not listed on the post-spring depth chart but is still a member of the program. The athletic Moore might’ve finally found his position after moving over from running back. Gilbert moved over from tight end and could be a factor, while Cliff Murphy and Buck Jones are now the options at tight end in short-yardage situations. This group gets better and deeper in the summer when touted signees Emanuel Porter and Corey McBride show up.

LT: Halapoulivaati Vaitai (Jr.), Tayo Fabuluje (Sr.)

LG: Jamelle Naff (Jr.), Bobby Thompson (Jr.)

C: Joey Hunt (Jr.), Brady Foltz (Jr.), Patrick Morris (So.)

RG: Frank Kee (Jr.), Matt Pryor (RFr.)

RT: Joseph Noteboom (RFr.), Aviante Collins (Jr.)

Patterson felt much better about the strength and depth of this group following spring ball. Noteboom was the surprise of the group, and Kee made a big impression coming out of junior college. Collins was listed as the starter at left tackle entering the spring, but “Big V” Vaitai impressed, and Fabuluje should contribute again after leaving the team last fall. Don’t be surprised if Thompson eventually wins the job at left guard. TCU adds four freshmen, and each one could redshirt if the depth holds up.

DEFENSE

LE: James McFarland (Jr.), Josh Carraway (So.), Bryson Henderson (RFr.)

DT: Chucky Hunter (Sr.), Mike Tuaua (Jr.)

DT: Davion Pierson (Jr.), Tevin Lawson (So.)

RE: Devonte Fields (So.), Terrell Lathan (Jr.)

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsNow healthy, Devonte Fields is working to returning to his All-Big 12 form of 2012.
Fields is listed as the backup right end on TCU’s official post-spring depth chart, but that’s more a measure for motivation. The former Big 12 AP Defensive Player of the Year is healthy and hungry. Hunter and Pierson forms one of the Big 12’s better defensive tackle combos. McFarland, Carraway and Lathan will all compete for the left end job, and Lathan and Tuaua can play several spots on the line.

MLB: Jonathan Anderson (Sr.), Paul Whitmill (RFr.)

SLB: Marcus Mallet (Sr.) OR Paul Dawson (Sr.), Sammy Douglas (So.)

The Horned Frogs bring back their entire linebacker corps this fall and have some nice pieces for these two starting spots. Dawson will continue to push Mallet and let the team with 91 tackles in 2013. It’ll be interesting to see what Douglas, a special teams contributor last season, and Whitmill can provide in their second year in the program.

CB: Kevin White (Sr.), Travoskey Garrett (Jr.)

CB: Ranthony Texada (RFr.), Cyd Calvin (RFr.)

SS: Sam Carter (Sr.), Denzel Johnson (So.), George Baltimore (RFr.)

FS: Derrick Kindred (Jr.), Geoff Hooker (Sr.), Steve Wesley (RFr.)

WS: Chris Hackett (Jr.), Kenny Iloka (Jr.)

With Jason Verrett gone, White is the leader of the corners now, and TCU needs several others to be ready to contribute by August. Texada was consistently praised by his coaches this spring and is the favorite to take the vacant starting spot after redshirting last season. Carter, Hackett and Kindred form a talented safety trio, but don’t sleep on Iloka and Johnson. Both are expected to see the field a lot in 2014.
With spring ball done, we’re reexamining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Thursday with the offensive line. These outlooks will probably look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. Oklahoma (pre-spring ranking: 1): The Sporting News has listed the Sooners as its preseason No. 1 team in the country, due in large part to Oklahoma’s offensive line. That might be going overboard, but the Sooners have a wealth of experience and depth returning up front, which includes four starters. They’ll get even deeper once guard Tyler Evans is cleared this summer, as expected (he was running this spring). Evans has missed the past two seasons with knee injuries but was a three-year starter before getting hurt.

[+] EnlargeCody Whitehair
John Albright/Icon SMIAfter losing both offensive tackles from last season, Kansas State is switching All-Big 12 guard Cody Whitehair to left tackle.
2. Kansas State (2): K-State responded to losing both tackles from last season by swinging All-Big 12 guard Cody Whitehair to left tackle and slotting juco transfer Luke Hayes at right tackle. With B.J. Finney entering his fourth year as the starting center and more juco offensive line help arriving in the summer, the Wildcats should be more than solid up front.

3. Texas (3): The Longhorns will feature one of the eldest lines in the Big 12, with its projected starting front comprising two seniors and three juniors. Right guard Taylor Doyle emerged this spring at the biggest question spot, but Texas has other options inside with Rami Hammad, Curtis Riser and the versatile Kent Perkins. Center Dominic Espinosa is the anchor of this group, which will be asked to establish itself with the running game in Charlie Strong’s first season.

4. Baylor (4): The Bears are still waiting for left tackle Spencer Drango to return from last season’s back injury, but right tackle Troy Baker showed no lingering effects of the knee injury he suffered last spring. With the depth inside and with Kyle Fuller locking up the center job, there are no weaknesses with this cast -- provided Drango gets healthy and gets back to the field.

5. Oklahoma State (5): The Cowboys are also waiting for their left tackle to return from an injury he suffered last season. Devin Davis has NFL potential but has been slow to recover from an ACL tear last preseason. The Cowboys seemed to also be in a fix at center with their top-two players at the position from last fall moving on from the program with eligibility still remaining. But Paul Lewis slid over from guard this spring and stabilized that spot. Daniel Koenig is an All-Big 12 caliber player and capable of playing tackle or guard. He’ll continue to man left tackle, at least until Davis returns.

6. Texas Tech (6): Tech received some welcome news during spring ball with starting right tackle Rashad Fortenberry being granted an extra year of eligibility. The Red Raiders have one of the best returning tackles in the league on the left side in Le’Raven Clark, and two juco tackles they’re high on in Shaq Davis and Dominique Robertson. With Jared Kaster and Alfredo Morales also returning as starters inside, Tech’s offensive line should be much better than last season's.

7. West Virginia (7): The Mountaineers have the league’s most reliable one-two punch at guard in Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski, who have 38 career starts together. The rest of the line, however, is a question. Left tackle Adam Pankey impressed coach Dana Holgorsen early in the spring and won a starting job before the Gold-Blue Game. If Pankey pans out, the Mountaineers could be a load up front.

8. Iowa State (8): The Cyclones had disastrous luck with the health of their offensive line last season, but that should pay off in 2014 with so many different players having gotten experience. Left tackle Brock Dagel has immense upside, and center Tom Farniok is an All-Big-type player. But the Cyclones were especially pumped with the development of sophomore right guard Daniel Burton, who is physical and one of the smartest players on the team. If they get better luck with good health, this could wind up being a very a tough and balanced unit.

9. TCU (9): The Horned Frogs welcomed the return of tackle Tayo Fabuluje, who left the team before the start of the season last fall. Fabuluje, however, missed several practices with an ankle injury, allowing redshirt freshman Joseph Noteboom to move ahead of him on the depth chart. Fabuluje will have a chance to earn his spot back in the spring opposite Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who replaced Fabuluje last season. But the way the 2013 season went, the Horned Frogs can’t have too many reliable offensive tackles. Juco transfer Frank Kee impressed during the spring and should lock down a starting spot at guard next to center Joey Hunt, who did a nice job of adapting to the new offense during the spring. With 6-foot-7, 350-pound Matt Pryor also likely to fit in somewhere in the rotation, the Frogs will definitely be bigger up front than they were in 2013 -- and probably better, too.

10: Kansas (10): Because he can get in and out of the pocket, Montell Cozart winning the starting job should help the offensive line. The fact that new offensive coordinator John Reagan is also an offensive line coach should be a boost, as well. The Jayhawks have several battles up front that will continue into the fall, including center, where walk-on Joe Gibson made a huge impression during the spring.
FORT WORTH, Texas -- For years, TCU stuck to an offensive philosophy built around trying to out-physical foes and trick them with play action. That style won the Horned Frogs five conference titles while in the Mountain West and Conference USA. They have not won many Big 12 games.

After two years in his new league and a 6-12 record in Big 12 play, TCU coach Gary Patterson knew it was time for a new approach.

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsTCU coach Gary Patterson brought in new coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie to change the team's offense.
“We’re going to a style of offense that I thought evened the playing field,” Patterson said.

He went out and landed a pair of offensive coordinators who know Big 12 ball to design a hybrid Oklahoma State-Texas Tech scheme that Patterson says will still have “some of the old TCU” in the run game.

But this is the new TCU. No playbook, no huddle, no looking back.

The struggles of 2013 weren’t the lone motivator for Patterson’s change of plans, but the evidence was hard to ignore. Last season, TCU’s offense hit 10-year lows in points per game (25.1) and yards per play (5.03) and 10-year highs in turnovers (30) and three-and-outs (49).

The Horned Frogs had an offense that averaged 8.8 points in the first half of games, behind an offensive line that Patterson admits got “pushed around” at times due to injuries and departures. You can’t keep up with high-speed Big 12 offenses that way.

Another motivator? Patterson’s belief that a seemingly unexciting Horned Frogs offense wasn’t helping his cause in recruiting.

“I had watched too many skill players leave the city. Right now, they don’t know what this offense is about,” Patterson said. “Right now, they think TCU has a defensive coach. But to be honest with you, I have no problem winning 45-31.”

He’s putting his full trust in Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie to build up the new-look offense, so much so that Patterson says he’s taken a hands-off approach to the transition. He just tried to defend it in spring practice, and that wasn’t fun.

Meacham spent eight years learning and teaching one of the nation’s finest spread offenses at Oklahoma State, then left to run his own at Houston in 2013. TCU’s new playcaller has already served as an OC at five other schools in his career.

He’ll collaborate with Cumbie, a Mike Leach disciple who coached the past four years at Texas Tech and will oversee the TCU quarterbacks.

As Tech’s quarterback in 2004, Cumbie put up 70 points on the Frogs -- two touchdowns more than a Patterson-led TCU team has ever given up. And yes, that came up in the job interview.

Both are respected offensive minds and recruiters in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and previous coordinators Rusty Burns and Jarrett Anderson are still on staff and have a say in game plans.

“Their relationship is awesome,” Patterson said. “I think the whole group has meshed real well. They’ve brought a lot of energy and new ideas.”

[+] EnlargeTy Slanina
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsHorned Frogs receiver Ty Slanina caught 19 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown as a freshman last season.
Installing the new attack meant coming up with new terminology, since at least three other Big 12 programs run similar sets, and new answers to how to outsmart opponents.

“It’s not so much you don’t know what’s coming, but can you out-execute it?” Patterson said. “It’ll be very important for us to be able to run the football, because I think going in that’s where our strengths are -- our offensive line and our running backs and our quarterback can run, especially Trevone [Boykin].”

The offensive line should be better and much, much bigger. Six of TCU’s best exiting spring ball -- Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Tayo Fabuluje, Frank Kee, Matt Pryor, Joseph Noteboom and Aviante Collins -- average 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds.

TCU’s top running backs all got hurt in spring ball -- literally -- but there are options there with B.J. Catalon, Aaron Green, Kyle Hicks, incoming freshman Shaun Nixon and a few others.

At receiver, Patterson says TCU has the guys needed to stretch a defense. Whether or not Brandon Carter returns, the staff is excited about speedsters like Deante' Gray and Kolby Listenbee and incoming freshmen Emanuel Porter and Corey McBride to go along with David Porter, Josh Doctson, Cameron Echols-Luper, Ty Slanina and Jordan Moore.

“I think we’ll have enough weapons to be able to move the football,” Patterson said.

Quarterback is still the question mark, especially if the versatile Boykin isn’t the choice. No matter who runs the show, the initial goal will be simple: first downs, points and a tempo that causes trouble.

“They’ve been awfully fast this spring,” Patterson said. “The biggest thing is to go fast enough to make people uncomfortable.”

That, after all, is the goal here: An offense that can prove as challenging as Patterson’s stingy defenses. The Horned Frogs’ mission for transformation isn’t guided by some sort of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” sentiment.

No, this is adaptation, and it’s necessary. After its first two Big 12 seasons ended in frustration, TCU is working on a new way to beat ‘em.
With TCU eyeing a run at the Big 12 title this fall, the Horned Frogs hit the practice field to kick off spring football last weekend. Here are some things to keep an eye on during TCU’s spring drills:

[+] EnlargeDavid Porter
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsA productive spring could lead to a big season for David Porter.
Offensive returner ready to take next step: TCU’s new up-tempo offense will need as many quality receiving targets as possible. Senior David Porter came on down the home stretch of the 2013 season with 17 receptions for 236 yards and four touchdowns during the month of November. He was a key target with 14 of those 17 receptions going for first downs, while his 82.4 first-down percentage was third in the Big 12 in November. If he uses the spring to prove he can be that consistent, he could rank among the Big 12 leaders in receptions this fall.

Defensive returner ready to take the next step: Derrick Kindred has never been "the guy" at either safety spot during his first two seasons, but he started at least one game in 2012 and 2013. The junior should make a seamless transition into a starting safety spot, particularly after starting the final three games of 2013 and finishing seventh on the squad with 48 tackles. He's an active playmaker who is always around the ball and should help TCU's secondary continue to rank among the conference's top units.

Redshirt freshman to watch: Several eyes will be on cornerback Ranthony Texada, who opened the spring as Jason Verrett’s replacement opposite Kevin White. A three-star prospect out of high school, Texada is known for his speed but faces a tough task as the player sliding into Verrett’s spot. This spring will be key for Texada to show he can match the competitiveness and desire that Verrett brought to the table each Saturday.

Most significant position battle: The quarterback battle might not be decided during the spring but its easily the most important competition in this program. New offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie need to find a signal-caller with Trevone Boykin, Tyler Matthews and Zach Allen taking reps this spring. If Matthews or Allen steps up during the spring, it gives the coaching staff the freedom to move Boykin to receiver, where he excelled after Casey Pachall returned to the lineup late in the 2013 season.

Key midterm enrollee: The Horned Frogs are hoping Frank Kee’s arrival at the guard position can help solidify the offensive interior and spur competition among TCU’s offensive front. Kee, a junior-college signee, brings bulk and athleticism at 6-foot-4 and 345 pounds. He’s set to battle Jamelle Naff at left guard this spring.

Question that could be answered: How will Boykin be used? That question could be as important as who wins the starting quarterback job. Matthews or Allen’s emergence during the spring would be the best-case scenario because Boykin looked like TCU’s best receiver when he lined up on the outside in 2013. If Meacham and Cumbie aren’t worried about the quarterback spot, it opens up ways to use Boykin all over the field and, more importantly, it gives the coaching staff the summer months to devise the best ways to use Boykin without worrying about the quarterback position. The talented junior has the most experience at quarterback, but it could be his least effective position in the offense in 2014.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: Can TCU count on Devonte Fields to return to his freshman form? Even if Fields has a stellar spring and looks like the dominant force he was as a freshman, the Horned Frogs are going to make him earn his starting spot back. Fields begins the spring listed with the second-team defense, a sign that he will have to regain the trust of the coaching staff. Fields will need to carry any momentum he creates during the spring into August practices and September games before he re-establishes his name among the Big 12’s best defenders.

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