This is a preview of the Trojans linebacking corps. To see how the defensive line stacks up, click here.
Hunter Reese - SR - 13 games, 6 starts, 35 tackles, 14 TFL, 6.5 sacks
Zo Bridges - JR - 13 games, 7 starts, 14 tackles, 6 TFL, 2.5 sacks
The only question mark with this group will be health. Hunter Reese was a preseason first team Sun Belt selection. He also missed most of 2016 and all of spring practice due to injury. Zo Bridges is an experienced speed rusher who’s seen significant action every year since getting to Troy.
Bridges was hampered throughout last season with an ankle injury, missing a couple of contests late in the season. Regardless of who will be on the field, the result will be the same - terrorizing opponent’s backfield. Reese will likely enter the season as the starter, but expect plenty of rotating and times when both players get on the field at the same time in long distance downs.
Tron Folsom - JR- 13 games, 13 starts, 80 tackles, 9TFLs, 1 INT
AJ Smiley - JR- 13 games, 10 tackles
Tron Folsom ended the season as a second team conference player, and enters 2018 as a first teamer on the preseason ballot. Last year’s leading tackler, Folsom will look to build on last season’s success. AJ Smiley received good reports in the spring after getting little playing time last fall. With Folsom manning the Will, he’ll continue to be a special teams contributor with the occasional backup snaps.
Justin Whisenhunt - SO - 13 games, 3 starts, 34 tackles, 2.5 TFLs
Kevin Nixon - SO - 13 games, 17 tackles, 0.5 TFLs, 0.5 sacks
Carlton Martia - RSFR - redshirted
The battle to fill the vacated middle linebacker spot is the competition to watch in camp. Whisenhunt filled in well and started two of the final three games, including the bowl win.
However, Whisenhunt missed spring practice with an injury, and that opened the door for redshirt freshman Carlton Martial. Coach Brown raved about Martial on several post-practice interviews and challenged him to show up in the spring game, and boy did he. Martial finished with a sack and an interception, providing competition for the starting spot. Kevin Nixon saw action in every game last season, and may rotate around to see more of the field.
Tyler Murray- SO- 13 games, 15 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 1 sack, 1 INT
Jeremiah Jones- SO- 6 games, 5 tackles
Murray made his case for the starting job in 2018 by closing the season in style. Given extensive playing time in the bowl game against UNT, Murray responded with 5 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, a sack and a forced fumble. Following it up with a strong spring, mixed with the lack of experience behind him, makes Murray the first man up to play Spear. Jones saw more action as the season progressed and figures to be used a special teams and backup player throughout the season.
Projected Depth Chart
Bandit - Reese/Bridges
Will - Folsom/Smiley
Mike - Whisenhunt/Martial
Spear - Murray/Jones
Before the bowl game, questions about the future of several linebacker spots existed. However, Whisenhunt and Murray put exclamation points on their end of season runs to give the defensive staff confidence to secure their spots as first choice defenders.
There’s unproven but talented depth backing up the linebackers, but barring injuries, this unit will end the season as one of the best in the conference.