The older I get, the more I realize the truth of the maxim “no news is good news.” There is news this week. None of it good. Injury gremlins from last season continue to tap on Coach Gary Patterson’s window like so many cicadas on a scorching Texas night. The first and strangest case involves Cole Bunce, who was hit by a car while riding his scooter to practice. Police cited the driver for failure to yield, but it’s little consolation as TCU is down a senior kicker. Bunce wasn’t stellar rotating at place kicker last season but was expected to handle kickoff duties and preserve senior Jonathan Song for extra points and field goals.
What was not long ago a six-man quarterback battle has been weaned quickly to three contenders. Junior Mike Collins wore a walking boot earlier this week. Patterson praised K-State transfer Alex Delton for his experience over freshman Max Duggan and sophomore Justin Rogers, who is still not fully recovered from knee surgery. Delton seems the likely starter with Collins out of commission. The final injury of note was suffered by sophomore cornerback Noah Daniels, who underwent season-ending surgery due to an undisclosed injury suffered during camp. Daniels was expected to serve as the third cornerback and appeared in every game last season. The loss of depth is somber news but provides a segue to analyze who will be patrolling the greenery on defense in the run-and-shoot Big 12 this season.
TCU corners are old men by college football standards. Jeff Gladney (No. 12) and Julius Lewis (No. 24) are both redshirt seniors and were ranked the two best at the position last season by Pro Football Focus. Lewis played immediately upon arriving in Fort Worth via Mansfield High School but missed most of his sophomore season because of injury and re-injured himself early enough the next season to utilize a redshirt. Lewis started every contest last season and nabbed two interceptions and 30 tackles. It would have been welcome insurance to retain Daniels considering Lewis’ history of injury. Gladney is receiving the most national attention of any Frog defender and is a preseason All Big-12 selection. He tied Lewis with two interceptions last season and logged 41 tackles. The senior redshirted his first year on campus but has seen significant playing time every year since. No. 12 is the stalwart of the secondary and will be lined up against the most dynamic outside receiver that opponents can offer. Baby-faced backups are behind these salty vets with the exception of senior transfer Keenan Reed (No. 4), who played safety at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M before transferring to Funkytown for his senior season. Pray to the football gods that Gladney and Lewis stay upright, or we may need to seek shelter from carpet-bombing on Saturdays.
Patterson’s defense is configured in a unique 4-2-5 arrangement that sacrifices a linebacker in favor of a third safety or weak-side safety. Strong safety Innis Gaines (No. 6) is returning after missing the final seven games of last season from injury. The senior started 2018 on fire with an interception in the opening game and forced a vital fumble in the Frogs’ close win against Iowa State. He downed the ball carrier 31 times in only six appearances, and it is essential he remain on the field. Weak safety Vernon Scott (No. 26) is a latecomer to a starting role. The senior appeared regularly since enrolling but primarily on special teams. He has started only two games in his career but broke up a pass to seal the victory versus Oklahoma State and logged his first interception in the Cheez-It Bowl. Scott’s biggest sell is he has no overarching injury history and is schooled in Coach P’s complex defensive system. The sole projected-starting underclassman in the purple secondary is Trevon Moehrig (No. 7). The sophomore’s teammates voted him most valuable special teams player last season. He started his first game against Oklahoma and the other at Baylor, where he hawked his first interception. His 6-foot-2-inch frame will aid in closing off centerfield at the free safety spot.
We’ll finish our roster stalking with linebackers and specialists next week and review TCU’s syllabi – schedule – for this season.