TCU football: Horned Frogs still waiting on answers at quarterback

By Joe Perez

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ARLINGTON -- During Big 12 media day on Monday, I stood up and asked TCU coach Gary Patterson about Ohio State transfer and former Lake Travis star Matthew Baldwin, and the state of the six-man quarterback competition in general. 

“Have you heard back about the status of Matthew Baldwin’s transfer wai–”

“NO!” Patterson said, cutting me off. 

It was an amusing moment, but one also rooted in frustration. Later, Patterson admitted that Baldwin is actually dealing with a lower body injury and won’t even be ready for the start of fall camp after surgery. In some ways, TCU is just as curious about the state of its quarterback competition as the rest of the world. 

Junior Michael Collins, who missed multiple games last season with various injuries, was out for the spring. Baldwin just arrived on campus and won’t go through practices until after fall camp starts. At this point, it’s unclear whether he’ll even be eligible to play. Redshirt freshman Justin Rogers couldn’t play a year ago because of a drop foot injury. He’s about 90 percent now, nearly two years after his injury. 

“[Rogers’] injury is one of those where one of these days, the nerve just wakes up,” Patterson said. “It’s not completely woke up, but it’s a lot farther along than it was a year ago.”

When it comes down to it, there were only three quarterbacks in the six-man competition who could participate fully in the spring. Kansas State grad transfer Alex Delton is considered the leader in the clubhouse because of his experience, but has completed 56 percent of his career pass attempts. Max Duggan is a true freshman. Georgia transfer Matthew Downing is a walk-on. 

Player Games Pass Yards Pass TDs INTs Played in spring?
Matthew Baldwin 0 0 0 0 No (new enrollee)
Michael Collins 8 1,059 6 2 No (injury)
Alex Delton 20 1,202 5 4 Yes
Matthew Downing 4 88 0 0 Yes
Max Duggan 0 0 0 0 Yes
Justin Rogers 1 1 0 0 Yes (90%)

If you expect Patterson to give you any hint of his direction, you don’t know Gary. 

“I would handicap it like my golf game – I wouldn’t handicap my golf game,” Patterson said. 

All six quarterbacks on campus come with their own skill sets and question marks. Collins, Baldwin and Duggan are pure pocket passers. Delton was a run-first option at Kansas State, where he compiled 868 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on 4.1 yards per carry under center. Rogers and Duggan are somewhere in between – they’re passers first, but ran the ball effectively in high school. 

“For me as a receiver, I’m glad an adaptable receiver,” wide receiver Jalen Reagor said. “I adapt to whoever is back there and I don’t make excuses.” 

But still, working through a young wide receiver room without a solidified option under center makes for at least some complications. For that reason, Patterson has been open about wanting to cut down the competition soon. 

“I judge quarterbacks on Saturdays, but at some point in time, out of that group, we will have to get down to three pretty quickly because you can’t give guys enough reps to get where you need to without doing that,” Patterson said. 

It’s obvious talking to TCU’s players that all the talk about quarterback is quickly growing tiresome. The Horned Frogs boast one of the nation’s best defenses, and should get better with the return of Ross Blacklock. Offensive tackle Lucas Niang and Reagor are among the best playmakers in America. 

But ultimately, it’s pretty simple. SB Nation’s S&P+ ranked TCU No. 43 overall after the 2018 season; the Horned Frogs were No. 16 on defense and No. 91 on offense. The passing game specifically ranked No. 87 nationally, despite having one of the best receivers in program history. It took Reagor scoring four touchdowns in the final two games just to scrape bowl eligibility. 

If TCU wants to compete for the Big 12, this defense is built to do it. The offense has to get there, and it starts under center. Rogers, Duggan and Baldwin were all high-end four-star recruits. Delton and Collins have experience. Downing has time learning from Jake Fromm. Offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie has options, but the Horned Frogs can’t afford another repeat of last season. 

“I always found when you have a high competition level as a general rule, you end up with a better product,” Patterson said. “Our competition level this year is going to be at a high level and the best part is that they all get along.”

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