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Between snorkeling excursions and relaxing on the beach, Gary Patterson had an opportunity to pick the brain of several legendary college football coaches during a week-long Nike coaches gathering in Aruba. He came back with a revelation. Everybody does things differently," Patterson said. "To me, that means you've got to stick with what got you where you are."
Rather than opting for a program overhaul following last season's 5-6 record, Patterson returns this season resolved to fix last season's miscues with the plan that worked in his four previous campaigns.
The Horned Frogs return a ton of offensive weapons and seven defensive starters from a team that missed out on a bowl last season for the first time in seven years.
Patterson expects to begin a new bowl season and compete for the Frogs' first league title in the Mountain West by playing the hard-nosed football fans are accustomed to seeing in Frog Alley.
"We just need to get back to doing what we do well," Patterson said.
Senior quarterback Tye Gunn will probably spend the majority of the preseason fielding questions about his medical history, but he doesn't think he could possibly have another doctor's office visit waiting for him this season. "I don't see how I could have any more bad luck," Gunn said.
Gunn, who is 10-2 as a starter, has missed 21 games over the past three seasons because of injuries ranging from a sprained right ankle in 2004 to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in '02. The TCU offense can't afford for him to miss any time this season; there is little experience behind him, and the Horned Frogs need Gunn's decision-making to return to a bowl.
Gunn will have a slew of playmakers around him. Senior Lonta Hobbs and junior Robert Merrill form one of the nation's best returning running back tandems. The duo has combined for 4,195 career rushing yards and 41 touchdowns, and both are capable of producing 1,000-yard seasons.
At receiver, Gunn has a bushel of speedy receivers. Cory Rodgers caught a school-record 61 passes last season and emerged as the offense's go-to receiver, while converted cornerback Donald Massey has shown no fear of catching passes across the middle in practice.
The biggest concern on offense is who will be protecting Gunn. The Frogs have only two returning starters -- right tackle Herbert Taylor and left guard Shane Sims -- and there is little depth behind the starting five.
When Patterson designed TCU's 4-2-5 defensive scheme, he built it on the idea that his front four would stuff the run and put pressure on the quarterback.
He found out last season what happens when that doesn't work. The Frogs didn't stop much in '04, and Patterson is counting on a more experienced defensive line to reverse that trend this season. Sophomore David Hawthorne and LSU transfer Darius Ingram are slated as the starting linebackers after impressive showings on the practice field, but both are returning from injuries.
The coaches are hoping more experience will improve the nation's worst pass defense. Free safety Jeremy Modkins returns after dealing with a list of minor injuries last season, and strong safety Elvis Gallegos is back after making seven starts in '04.
Kicker Peter LoCoco, who made 9-of-15 field goal attempts last season, held off Cincinnati transfer Chris Manfredini in the spring but he'll have to prove he's still worthy of the spot in preseason camp. Junior college transfer Brian Cortney arrives on campus as the school's only true punting prospect, hoping to improve what has been a shaky punting game over the past two seasons.
TCU has enough offensive talent and athleticism on defense to go bowling. But the Frogs need Gunn to remain healthy, and the defense can't allow the same air shows as last season. TCU also has to be mentally tougher. Patterson said his team didn't recover from a 70-35 debacle at Texas Tech last season, and the Frogs can't let that happen again if their season opener against Oklahoma gets ugly.
TCU could sneak into the conference title chase, but a bowl game will appease the fans.