TCU has time to heal after spring without many key players

FILE - In this Sept. 15, 2018, file photo, TCU coach Gary Patterson directs his team against Ohio State during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Arlington, Texas. Patterson said TCU went through much of spring practice with only about half of an 85-player scholarship roster. That gap was created by injuries and about 20 spots that will be filled when the rest of the 2019 recruiting class and some graduate transfers arrive in the summer. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth, File)

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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — TCU speedy playmaking receiver Jalen Reagor was sidelined when the Horned Frogs ended spring practice, along with one of their top running backs and two of their quarterback candidates. Several key defenders were there with them.

“Everything’s about preparing for August,” coach Gary Patterson said.

Reagor, a 1,000-yard receiver who caught a touchdown in seven consecutive games as a sophomore, had what was described as a “minor cleanup” of a nagging ankle issue. The Frogs prefer having him ready to go for the regular season than going through all those spring drills, the same as for running back Darius Anderson after he missed the final two games last season.

There is now plenty of time for everybody to heal before the Aug. 31 opener against Arkansas-Pine Bluff that will open Patterson’s 19th season.

Patterson said TCU went through much of spring practice with only about half of an 85-player scholarship roster. About 20 of those spots will be filled when the rest of the 2019 recruiting class and some graduate transfers arrive in the summer.

“We’ve got a long way to go to win a championship, and that’s what your whole goal is. We’ve got to get healthy and guys that are out here have got to grow up,” Patterson said. “The guys that practiced, are we better? We are. But there were a lot of younger guys and we’ve got a long ways to go. We showed a lot of promise, but we’ve got a lot of good players who are going to come back.”

The Frogs dealt with significant injuries all of last season — starting with standout defensive tackle Ross Blacklock‘s season-ending Achilles injury even before the first game. Since-transferred quarterback Shawn Robinson, breakout safety Innis Gaines and Anderson were among many others who got hurt during the season.

Even with all the injured players, including No. 2 quarterback Mike Collins down the stretch that led to a fifth-year senior making his first career start in his final home game, TCU won its last two games in the regular season to get to .500 and in a bowl game. The Frogs then beat California 10-7 in overtime at the Cheez-It Bowl .

Instead of a traditional spring game — Patterson has never really liked those anyway — the Frogs wrapped up spring drills with a couple of hundred fans watching an hour-long controlled scrimmage missing many of the standout players.

Sewo Olonilua, the offensive MVP in the bowl when his first career 100-yard rushing game was a TCU bowl-record 194 yards against Cal, was limited in spring drills, like Anderson.

Collins missed all of spring while recovering from the foot injury he suffered at Baylor. Grad transfer quarterback Alex Delton from Kansas State was there and practiced until having a scheduled procedure the day of the scrimmage.

“He did fine, it’s something he’s had,” Patterson said. “It hasn’t bothered him. He’s practiced, he’s done everything.”

Dual-threat quarterbacks Justin Rogers and Max Duggan took most of the snaps with the first group in the spring-ending scrimmage.

Rogers, a redshirt freshman, got only a few snaps in the bowl game after dealing with a foot issue that developed when coming back from a knee injury that took away the top recruit’s senior season in high school. Duggan graduated high school early and was able to take part in spring drills.

As for who will be TCU’s third different season-opening quarterback in four years, Patterson said it will be “a guy that doesn’t turn it over. … They all have strengths, all of them.”

With so many experienced players missing time in the spring, there were more reps for some youngsters.

During one of the final practice sessions, Patterson said sophomore LaKendrick Van Zandt took part in about 190 plays when the team was in shorts. Van Zandt took every snap with the No. 1 defense at strong safety, then was at linebacker for every snap with the No. 2 defense.

The Horned Frogs, who made the Big 12 championship game two seasons ago, just hope to keep building on the momentum of how last year ended after a 3-5 start.

“I think what it told you was what kind of foundation we have here,” Patterson said. “We’re going to get all of these other guys back. … I’ve got the guys who were here that fought their tails off.”