A few more fortunate bounces and breaks and may have gone bowling in Neal Brown's first season as head coach. Instead, Brown and his coaching staff welcome back 14 starters from a team that went 4-8 last season and is looking to take the next step forward this fall.
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Previewing Troy’s Offense for 2016
When he was on in 2015, quarterback Brandon Silvers was on: In Troy’s four wins, Silvers connected on 13 touchdown passes without an interception, and the Trojans scored at least 41 points in all four games. The rest of the time? Not so much. In his other seven starts, Silvers managed just five touchdowns against seven picks, and the Trojans exceeded 21 points just once. This time around, Silvers will be a junior with 22 career starts under his belt, much too far along to write off as growing pains the kind of turbulence that plagued him as an underclassman.
With more consistency under center, the pieces are in place for an attack that’s at least efficient, if still not very explosive. Running back Jordan Chunn, who accounted for more than 1,000 yards and 20 touchdowns rushing in 2013-14 as a backup, is healthy again after missing almost all of 2015 to a broken collarbone. Four regulars from last year’s wide receiver rotation (John Johnson, Emanuel Thompson, Deondre Douglas, and Clark Quisenberry) were pushed in the spring by three new arrivals from the junior college ranks. Five linemen are back who logged at least six starts as part of an ever-evolving front, including implacable left tackle Antonio Garcia, who’s logged 24 straight.
Even without a proven big-play threat, there are too many options to expect a rerun of last year, when Troy finished next-to-last in the Sun Belt in total offense.
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Previewing Troy’s Defense for 2016
All-conference defensive end Tyler Roberts is gone, leaving a pass-rushing vacancy the Trojans will attempt to fill by moving fifth-year senior Terris Lewis from middle linebacker to Bandit. The new middle backer is senior Justin Lucas, whose promotion will place him alongside a pair of former junior college teammates, William Lloyd and Demetrius Cain, who played together (and won two national championships) at East Mississippi Community College prior to transferring to Troy last year.
Between the linebackers, linemen Rashad Dillard and Baron Poole II, cornerbacks Josh Marshall and Jalen Rountree, and incoming safety Kris Weatherspoon, as many as eight potential defensive starters arrived via the juco route.
In addition to Weatherspoon, the secondary will also benefit from the talents of newly eligible Auburn transfer Kamryn Melton, who wasted no time assuming a starting cornerback role in the spring after sitting out 2015.
Previewing Troy’s Specialists for 2016
The incumbent punter, Ryan Kay, is poised to add placekicker duties as well, a role he held as a sophomore before yielding last year to the departed Jed Solomon. That ought to work out just fine: Kay connected on 10-of-14 field goal attempts in 2014, including 5-of-5 from beyond 40 yards. The bigger concern is replacing All-SBC return man Teddy Ruben.
Troy hasn’t posted a winning record since 2010, and its first season under coach Neal Brown offered only fleeting hints of progress. The Trojans were 0–3 in games decided by six points or fewer, suggesting that all that separated them from the postseason was a handful of plays at the margins. The biggest key to closing that gap in 2016 is continued growth by Silvers, who has a chance to put up gaudy numbers in a system that, given Brown’s roots in the Air Raid, is specifically designed to produce them. But that will also mean identifying a go-to option or two from a fairly pedestrian group of backs and receivers, none of whom has given much indication (yet) of progressing beyond his status as a role player. Perhaps Chunn will emerge with the backfield to himself for the first time, or one of the new junior college receivers. Otherwise, narrowly qualifying for a mid-December bowl game might be the best-case scenario.