Big 12: Joseph Noteboom

Since last week, we’ve been examining the strongest and weakest positions for each team in the Big 12 going into the fall.

On Tuesday, we continue the series with TCU.

Strongest position: Safety

The Horned Frogs are in terrific shape at the safety position with Chris Hackett, Sam Carter and Derrick Kindred returning after contributing for the Horned Frogs in 2013.

Add spring star Kenny Iloka and TCU could field the best group of safeties in the Big 12 this fall.

Hackett is one of the Big 12’s best safeties. He averaged 7.3 tackles per game while adding three forced fumbles and three interceptions as a sophomore. The Tyler, Texas, native is active and aggressive for Gary Patterson’s defense.

Carter joined Hackett as a second-team All-Big 12 performer in 2013 after recording a team-high five interceptions and adding four sacks. He brings 26 games of starting experience to TCU’s secondary as a senior.

Kindred worked his way into the lineup late last season, starting TCU’s final three games. He had 48 tackles, including 19 total stops in the three games he started.

Iloka joined the program in January and made an immediate impression during spring football. Even though the Horned Frogs return plenty of experience in the secondary, Iloka appears like he will carve himself a role in the defense during his first season in Fort Worth.

TCU’s combination of star power, quality depth and experience at safety is unmatched in the Big 12.

Weakest position: Offensive line

Getting its offensive line in order is one of the keys to TCU’s hopes of an offensive turnaround under new coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie.

Junior tackle Aviante Collins and center Joey Hunt provide a solid foundation, having started a combined 35 games at TCU. Collins has the ability to play right or left tackle but has plenty of room to improve and become more consistent. Hunt is on the Remington Award watch list after starting 11 games at center in 2013 and is likely the lone certain starter among the front five.

The overall depth and quality of TCU’s offensive line is on the rise particularly with the addition of February signees including junior college guard Frank Kee who could end up starting in the interior for the Horned Frogs. Additionally, tackle Tayo Fabuluje, tackle Joseph Noteboom, guard Bobby Thompson and tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai are battling for playing time and should help boost the overall depth and competitiveness among the offensive line.

TCU's offensive line isn't struggling to find talent, but the group as a whole needs to be much more productive and deeper than last year's group if the Horned Frogs hope to return to a bowl game.
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.
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.
Every year, a few hundred players sign letters of intent to play out their careers in the Big 12. Many of them have spectacular names, for one reason or another. Here are the best names of the 2013 recruiting season across the Big 12.

MVP: Stone Underwood, C, West Virginia: This is, quite simply, perfection. First off, you've got an offensive lineman named Stone. Where'd West Virginia find him? Let's just say you don't have to turn over too many logs to figure that out.

Co-MVP: Poet Thomas, DT, Texas Tech: True poetry in the Red Raiders' new defensive lineman here. Here's hoping he drops a soliloquy on us after he gets to Lubbock.

Dreamius Smith, RB, West Virginia: The one-time Kansas commit makes another appearance on our All-Name team, but he wasn't far from being an MVP, too.

Joseph Noteboom, OT, TCU: I really wish he was a linebacker, but any name with a "boom" in it gets an automatic invite to the All-Name team.

DeMarquis Polite-Bray, WR, Texas Tech: Three names, each more fabulous than the one that preceded it.

Johnny Jefferson, RB, Baylor: Some names just roll off the tongue. This is a key example, not unlike his future teammate, WR Robbie Rhodes.

Cassius Sendish, CB, Kansas: I feel bad for any of his big fans who also have to deal with lisps, but Cassius is a great name and KU would love for him to be a great player.

Hatari Byrd, S, Oklahoma: I'm not sure which name I like better here. And a safety with the name "Byrd" is nothing short of amazing.

Montrel Meander, S, Texas: Texas would love it if he didn't meander at his new position, but I'm a sucker for the double matching consonant names. Add the significance of a strong last name that's also a verb and you've got an easy All-Namer.

Ranthony Texada, CB, TCU: Just awesome for reasons I can't quite explain. Never seen either of these names any other place.

Naim Mustafaa, DE, Oklahoma State: When I see this, I think of one of my favorite basketball names of all-time, Mustafa Shakur, at Arizona. Can't forget Simba's father, either.

Kamari Cotton-Moya, ATH, Iowa State: Another classic example of three great names all outstanding in their own right. Kamari's just lucky enough to have all three.

Ahongalu Fusimalohi, G, Kansas: It takes a little verbal gymnastics to correctly pronounce some of the players' names with island ancestry, but I love the challenge and the uniqueness.

Judah Jones, WR, Kansas State: Another double consonant, another great name that rolls off the tongue.

Dakota Austin, CB, Oklahoma: Two names of geographical locations is always strong.

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DE, Oklahoma: The name brought up memories of the protagonist of the novel, Things Fall Apart, but ignore how that story ended. A bright future ahead of the Houston native.

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