On a newly renovated surface at Veterans Memorial Stadium, Troy fans are waiting anxiously to see who will be named the starting quarterback for the Trojans. Although rising senior Kaleb Barker is expected to be the favorite to top the depth chart, it is still unknown as to who will get the first crack at a home win against the Campbell Fighting Camels on August 31.
Barker started the first six games for the Trojans before suffering a torn ACL against Georgia State. Barker was efficient for the Trojans, going 5-1 and losing only to Boise State in week 1. Sawyer Smith finished the season filling in for Barker, going 5-2 in games he started including a 42-32 shootout win over Buffalo in the 2018 Dollar General Bowl.
Since then, Smith has transferred to the University of Kentucky and the Trojans welcome freshman Gavin Screws and JUCO transfer Jacob Free into the QB room for 2019. Rounding out the Trojans’ gunslingers are Barker, still working his way back from injury, and redshirt freshman Gunnar Watson.
Now nine months removed from injury, Barker is still practicing in a somewhat limited fashion. Head Coach Chip Lindsey, in an effort to keep Barker healthy going into the season, has not allowed Barker to participate in any scrimmages including the Trojans’ spring game back in April. The guys who did play were Smith (transferred afterwards), Free, Screws, and Watson.
Smith aside, Gunnar Watson had the best spring game. The 6’3” 205 lb redshirt freshman was 12-20 for 198 yards and a TD. As a reserve quarterback for the Trojans in 2018, Watson appeared in two games (Florida A&M and Liberty) throwing for 45 yards on 8 of 12 passing.
Jacob Free, the 6’4” 220 lb JUCO transfer, was not able to take advantage of his limited action in the spring game throwing for just 31 yards on 4 of 10 passing. In 2018, Free started for Northwest Mississippi CC where he earned second team All-MACJC honors behind 2,036 yards with 14 scores and 4 picks. Free has an impressive frame but the concern is whether he can compete at this level.
The 6’2” 200 lb true freshman Gavin Screws did not dazzle either in Troy’s spring game as he went 5-8 for 60 yards. Although I do not like to put too much weight into high school stats, Screws did receive all-state honors three times and was rated as a top 60 QB in the country by ESPN. There is no doubt that the kid is talented. However, as a true freshman with little experience at this level, it is difficult to earn the starting bid over the rising senior, Barker, who was more than competent for the Trojans in 2018.
Speaking of Barker, in six games for Troy last season, he was 92-126 passing, good for a 73.0% completion percentage. Barker also threw for 1,013 yards with 10 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions. Listed at 6’1” 206 lb, Barker was able to do some damage on the ground as well. He rushed for 261 yards and three touchdowns, including a 111 yard rushing game against Georgia State thanks to a 75-yard TD run.
So, the question remains, why has Head Coach Chip Lindsey not named a starting quarterback for the week 1 home opener? 1) An open QB battle is common amongst head coaches at every level because it inspires competition within the group. 2) The health of Kaleb Barker is likely still in question.
Not necessarily in terms of the physical health of his knee. Instead, players recovering from season-ending knee injuries often face the ‘jitters’, if you will, surrounding the ability for him to cut and take hits to his knee. Barker demonstrated that he can be efficient as a passer as his completion percentage was good for 2nd in the nation. That said, Barker proved that he can be dangerous on the ground and that is important to keep defenses honest whenever he drops back.
Coming off of a 10-3 season (7-1 in conference), the Trojans have high hopes for 2019. With the staff in place for Lindsey, the focus now turns to the players on the field. With August 31st right around the corner, Chip Lindsey will be finalizing the depth chart. With that, be on the lookout for who Lindsey decides to name as QB1 for the Troy Trojans as they open the 2019 season at The Vet against the Campbell Fighting Camels.