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January 16, 2014

Previewing TCU's new offense: Quarterbacks

This week, we're finishing our position-by-position analysis of TCU's new offense.

TCU hired new offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie in the offseason. The new coaches bring a new scheme in which each position group's role and responsibilities will be different than before.

We've already looked at how the new playbook will affect the offensive line, receivers and tight ends, and last week we previewed the running back position.

This week, we finish with the position of greatest importance in college football today, and the one where TCU has the greatest uncertainty heading into 2014:

4) Quarterbacks

Quarterback seemed like the position where the Frogs had the fewest questions entering 2013.

They had Casey Pachall, the nation's No. 1 rated passer, returning to lead the offense. They had a talented backup in Trevone Boykin who had won big games against West Virginia and Texas in 2012. And they had Tyler Matthews, a highly touted prospect out of high school, who appeared to be the heir apparent.

Fast-forward to 2014, and the Frogs have nothing but questions at the position. Boykin played poorly in 2013, but Gary Patterson has always been high on the rising junior's athletic ability, so he could still be the starter come fall camp.

Matthews has thrown only three passes in his collegiate career (none of them were completions). The coaches were reluctant to put him on the field behind a porous offensive line last season, lest the experience shake his confidence. But the fact that he didn't even get a chance to replace Boykin has led many fans to question if the coaches truly believe that he's the answer.

The Frogs also have Zach Allen, a three-star recruit out of high school who redshirted his freshman season, and two freshmen in Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein that will be on campus for summer practice.

Whoever starts at quarterback for TCU should have an easier time in the Frogs' retooled offense than Pachall and Boykin had in 2013. Cumbie and Meacham will likely use short routes and screen passes to get the quarterback in rhythm and neutralize the opposing pass rush, two things that seldom happened for the Frogs last season.

The play design should also help the passer look good. Both coaches' schemes at their previous schools had well designed plays that got the ball in the hands of the teams' best playmakers in the open field. That allowed them to get yards after the catch.

The end result will be an offense that will let the quarterback put up great numbers. Meacham brings a background in offenses at Oklahoma State and Houston that can run the ball to take pressure off the passer and can also throw the ball vertically.

Cumbie comes from Texas Tech, where the quarterbacks always have gaudy numbers because of how much they pass and how the scheme creates opportunities for skill players to make plays in space.

But the question of who will be throwing passes on Saturdays in Fort Worth probably won't be answered until TCU's first game against Samford, Aug. 30.

Boykin and Matthews will likely enter camp as the frontrunners. Patterson loves the potential that Boykin has as an athlete, and is unlikely to give up on him as a quarterback just yet. Matthews, however, will finally have the chance to have a head-to-head competition with Boykin for the starting role.

Many fans and media have said that Sawyer or Muehlstein will take the reins. That isn't out of the question, as Patterson has started a freshman before in Andy Dalton. But since the Frogs are still rebuilding their offensive line, he may not want to put the young guns behind an unproven front at first.

However, if the line proves itself, one of the freshmen could step into the starting role during the season. Sawyer played in a similar type of spread offense in high school as the one Meacham and Cumbie are bringing to TCU. Muehlstein is the dynamic dual-threat that Patterson likes to recruit.

Cumbie certainly did well preparing two freshmen at Texas Tech in 2013 with Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb. Both put up impressive numbers under his tutelage in their first year on campus.

He'll be working closely with all of the quarterbacks at TCU, and last year certainly showed that he could design an offense that helps even inexperienced quarterbacks have success.

The Frogs have the same problem at the quarterback position as they do with the offensive line and the receivers: plenty of potential, but they need someone to step up and set himself apart. We'll see in the spring and summer if anyone will be able to do that.


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