TCU may have the best pair of starting linebackers in the Big 12, yet both could see significant snaps at other positions this season.
Travin Howard and Ty Summers both earned All-Big 12 honors last season at linebacker after finishing No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the league in total tackles. But this season, Summers could play some defensive end while Howard could see time at safety.
While that might be a challenge for other players, both Horned Frogs defenders have already switched positions once.
Safety to linebacker and back again
Howard was recruited to TCU to play safety. He moved to linebacker in 2015 because of the Frogs’ lack of depth at the position. Then he led TCU in tackles with 105 on the season.
Now a senior, Howard said he wouldn’t even give himself a specific position anymore.
“I was just happy to be on the field,” Howard said. “And now I don’t really think about it. I can go from safety to linebacker in the midst of a game.”
Howard occasionally played strong safety last season. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 213 pounds, he said he avoided adding weight this offseason so he could play both positions.
Former starting linebacker Montrel Wilson is coming back from an injury and could play alongside Summers, which would allow Howard play safety more often in 2017. But if that’s part of Gary Patterson’s game plan, Howard’s not giving it away.
“I’m not sure,” Howard said with a smile. “Coach P, he writes up the defense, and I do what he says.”
Kind of weird, but whatever works
Summers said he had never played linebacker before coming to TCU. He actually was a quarterback at San Antonio Reagan. However, Patterson has a history of turning high school quarterbacks into contributors on defense, and Summers is his latest success story.
Summers recorded double-digit tackles 11 times over the last two seasons. And as a former quarterback, he’s had no problem taking on a leadership role for the defense.
Now Patterson is training Summers for another possible position switch. The Frogs lost their top two defensive ends from last season in Josh Carraway and James McFarland. So the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Summers started spending some time at that spot in spring practice to give the Frogs more depth.
That transition has been a little tougher, but Summers isn’t backing away.
“You go from playing quarterback, and then three years later you’re putting your hand in the dirt. It’d be kind of a weird thing,” Summers said. “But I feel like for [some] packages, it could be something that could be really unique and really help us out.”
Willing to do anything
By not getting tied to a specific position, both players give Patterson flexibility to mix up his formations and get the best combination of athletes on the field.
Summers may not have the speed to stay on the field as a linebacker against five-receiver sets, but he could get on the line and rush the passer. Howard is slightly undersized, but he can easily switch between filling gaps as a linebacker to covering space as a safety.
That’s ultimately what matters to both guys: getting on the field and helping the team.
“At the end of the day, I just want to play,” Summers said. “So whatever puts me on the field, and helps me make plays that will help our team, I’m fine with doing it.”