It didn’t take long for Neal Brown to get this program back to its winning tradition as the Trojans had a breakout season in 2016. Troy collected a 10-3 overall record to go along with a 6-2 mark in Sun Belt play. The season was highlighted by taking Clemson to the wire in Death Valley, beating Appalachian State at home, and knocking off MAC East division champ Ohio in the Dollar General Bowl.
Now Troy returns nearly all of it’s production on offense from last year and this appears to be a group that should score a ton of points. Meanwhile, the defense returns some solid pieces off a unit that was ranked in the top 50 per S&P+. It’s conference title or bust for the Trojans in 2017.
Brandon Silvers returns behind center and the Orange Beach, Alabama native has been running this offense for an eternity. Silvers has really developed nicely under Brown as he’s completed over 60% of his passes while tossing for 43 touchdowns the last two seasons. He’ll leave campus as the program’s second all-time leading passer and will be the frontrunner to be the Sun Belt’s best quarterback again. Silvers has a chance to be one of the better QBs in the G5.
In the backfield, Silvers will be joined by bruising tailback Jordan Chunn. After sitting out 2015 due to injury, Chunn posted his second thousand yard season of his career as he led the Sun Belt in rushing last year by a wide margin. However, the big guy wore down towards the end of the season as Troy did not have a valuable second option. Power back Josh Anderson and scat back Jabir Daughtry-Frye both return. However, the answer they’ve been looking for could be Memphis transfer Jamarius Henderson. The Alabama native set all kinds of records in high school and put up solid numbers in backup up duty as a true frosh in the American. I expect him to emerge as a legit sidekick to Chunn and could be the best newcomer in the Sun Belt this fall.
On the outside, Troy gets nine of their top ten pass catches back and this appears to be the biggest strength of the 2017 roster. Emanuel Thompson and Deondre Douglas combined to catch 140 passes last year. This will be the best WR duo in the Fun Belt. Meanwhile, senior Tevaris McCormick will be an excellent option out of the slot and look for Brown to use the former JUCO a lot in screens and jet sweep actions. It appears that this group is getting even stronger with addition of East Mississippi product Damion Willis. Willis, 6-foot-4, will provided the offense with a tall target and should make an immediate impact. This is one of the best wide receiving groups in the G5.
It’s been talked about nonstop this offseason, but Troy has to find a way to replace stud left tackle Antonio Garcia. I’m not as worried about it as most as either Steven Rowzee or Kirk Kelley should fill in just fine. Deontae Crumitie is very solid at center and I believe this group will be just fine. Offensive line coach Matt Moore received recognition for being one of the best assistant coaches in the country last fall and I believe he’ll again have one of the best lines in the Sun Belt.
The Trojans had an outstanding +10 turnover margin last season as the Trojans lived off of turnovers as they produced a top 50 finish under long time coordinator Vic Koenning. And the biggest strength of this defense was their front four. Troy now loses Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year Rashad Dillard but senior starters Jamal Stadom and Baron Poole II return on the interior. Seth Calloway is being slid outside and the Trojans will really need him to produce as a starter. Expectations are high for incoming JUCO transfer Rasool Clemons. Trevon Sanders is a very nice option at nose. I like the depth here, but Troy must find a way to produce a pass rush with their front.
There are some big worries at the linebacker spots. In this 4-2-5 scheme, the inside backers from last season are gone and they were two of the top five tacklers. Expectations are high for senior Sam Lebbie as he slides inside. At the bandit position (hybrid LB/DE) sophomore Zo Bridges takes over and the staff has high expectations for the Opelika, Alabama native after flashing as a true frosh. There is talent here but the lack of experience is a bit alarming.
The secondary will be the strength of the defense and they’ve got some dudes in the back end. I love the safety duo of Cedarius Rookard and Kris Weatherspoon after they combined for 104 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 12 pass breakups, and 4 interceptions. This is the backbone of the defense and the main reason I believe they have the best secondary in the Sun Belt. At corner, Blace Brown and Kamryn Melton both return after combing for 12 pass breakups and eight INTs last fall. That’s strong. Tyquae Russell returns for his senior year at the spear position(nickel/hybrid DB) and he’ll be solid. This is a very experienced group and I believe they’re do for big things in 2017.
Ryan Kay is gone and he did it all for Troy last fall as he hit 18-23 field goals as well as five from 40+ yards out. Add in that he averaged nearly 41 yards per punt and he was one of the most valuable players on the 2016 Troy roster. Now there are questions to be answered. Bratcher Underwood seems to be the answer at kicker after serving as the kickoff specialist last fall. Redshirt frost Tyler Sumpter appears to be the favorite at punter.
In the return game, Daughtry-Frye put up a healthy 27.9 average including one kick return for six. While Rookard hovered around eight yards per return. Troy should once again be strong in the return game.
On offense the passing game has been very good under Brown as Silvers has been very accurate from the pocket as the Trojans have been able to efficiently move the football. The passing game has made a living in the quick game and intermediate areas. However, the vertical threats have not been there very often. The addition of Damion Willis should change that.
The East Mississippi transfer was, perhaps, the biggest addition of the 2017 class. Checking in at 6’4” and 194 lbs., Willis gives Troy size on the outside it has not had recently. I expect Willis to emerge as the go-to vertical threat for the offense and as a nice option in the redzone. Willis led EMCC in receiving last year and posted six touchdown grabs. Expect the Meridian, Mississippi to make an immediate impact.
In a limited role last season, true freshman Zo Bridges was able to produce right away from his bandit spot. Now after an offseason in the strength and conditioning program, Troy will have high expectations for the sophomore. Bridges collected 15 sacks as a senior in high school and could become Troy’s next dependable contributor in the pass rushing department.
It’s been a quick rebuild under Brown as the visor sporting head coach has gotten this proud program back to competing for league titles very quickly. Troy has not brought home a conference championship since 2010 and that will be the main goal for the program.
I believe this is the most talented roster in the Sun Belt and Troy should be a solid favorite in all league games except for the finale in Jonesboro against Arkansas State. The offense is loaded with experience at all the skill positions and with some transfer additions I could envision this attack becoming one of the best in all of the G5. The defense may have some bend-but-don’t-break moments, but they should be able to lean on an experienced secondary to make a lot of plays. If a consistent pass rush develops, this will be another double-digit win season for the Trojans and Neal Brown will be one of the most talked about coaches in all of the G5.