For the first time in five years, the Troy Trojans will be heading out onto Larry Blakney Field with a new head coach in charge as Chip Lindsey takes over for former coach Neal Brown.
Lindsey is no stranger to Troy, however, after spending the 2010 season as quarterbacks coach with the Trojans. Lindsey returns to Troy after spending time as the offensive coordinator at Southern Miss (2014-2015), Arizona State (2016) and Auburn (2017-2018) and brings a philosophy and offensive system very similar to that of Brown’s.
“One of the things with the transition that was big for me was bringing back two coaches on offense and two coaches on defense,” Lindsey said. “One thing we try to remember is that the players are the most important thing in anything we’re doing, and when you have a transition, if you have similarities on both sides of the ball, it speeds up that learning curve.
“We will be similar in what we do on the offense and overall I don’t think our players feel the stress of having to learn a completely new offense and defense.”
Lindsey will continue to run the modified “Air Raid” style of offense that was prevalent under Brown and new defensive coordinator Brandon Hall – who spent last season as linebackers coach at Troy – plans to keep the defense very similar, as well.
One issue that the Trojans won’t be able to get around this season, however, is the number of losses that have occurred across the team, especially on defense.
“We have seven returning starters (on offense) from a group that was very effective down the stretch, even after losing a quarterback, last year,” Brown continued. “We have four returning starters on defense but we obviously took some hits on the defensive line and in the secondary (with players leaving) but I really like our younger players.
“I think we have a lot of really good young players that are going to have an opportunity to play this season.”
Among those players that left in the offseason are All-Sun Belt cornerback Marcus Jones, safety Tyler Murray and linebacker Tron Folsom.
Of those returning on defense, sophomore linebacker Carlton Martial will be called on to lead after a Freshman All-American season in 2018.
“He’s a guy that was a Freshman All-American and we are really excited about him and the opportunity for him to become a leader for our team,” Lindsey said of Martial.
Along with Martial, only senior defensive tackle Marcus Webb, “bandit” Jarvis Hayes, cornerback Will Sunderland and cornerback Terence Dunlap earned starts in 2018. Defensive end Zo Bridges was a starter in 2017 but was unable to play in 2018. Also, senior safety Melvin Tyus got plenty of playing time as a junior in 2018.
On the offensive side, quarterback Kaleb Barker returns after tearing his ACL midway through the season last year. According to Lindsey, the Trojans are a different offense completely with Barker on the field.
“He’s back full speed and 100 percent after being limited in the spring,” Lindsey said of Barker. “I thought he really did a great job (in the spring) and when he’s in there the offense just feels different.
“He’s a mature kid and one of our leaders. We’re really excited about him.”
While Barker returns to Lindsey’s “Air Raid” offense, he made sure to point out that he doesn’t plan to get away from the game plan that was successful in 2018 with running the ball.
“At Southern Miss we had two 1,000-yard rushers in the same offense and we’re running that same offense here,” Lindsey said. “The ‘Air Raid’ is who we are and we’re always going to have quarterbacks that can air it out, but at the end of the day I think what Neal (Brown) and those guys did (last year) is a great example of putting the ball in the hands of your best playmakers.
“A lot of times that’s a running back but you don’t just have to hand it to your running back either. You can throw screens or flex them out wide and I think with BJ (Smith), DK (Billingsley) and Jabir (Daughtry-Frye) we have a group of guys that are all capable of doing those things.”
Smith was picked by the media as the preseason Sun Belt Offenisve Player of the Year after a big 2018 campaign in which he rushed for 1,186 yards and 13 touchdowns. He and his fellow running backs also have the benefit of playing behind an offensive line that includes returning starters Kirk Kelley, former Enterprise star Dylan Bradshaw and Tristan Crowder.
While Kelley was named to the Outland Trophy Watch List this offseason, Lindsey pointed to Bradshaw as one of the players he’s most excited about in 2019.
After serving as a backup center for his redshirt freshman season in 2017, Bradshaw started a number of games at guard in 2018 before taking over the center position in the Dollar General Bowl. He returns this season as the starting center to anchor the Trojan offensive line.
A strength for Troy this year should again be the kicking game with kicker/punter Tyler Sumpter returning after a stellar season in which he converted 75 percent of his field goals and averaged 45.1 yards per punt. His season was so strong that he earned All-Sun Belt honors as both a kicker and a punter as a sophomore in 2018.
While Jones was a stellar defender for the Trojans, he was also an All-American kick returner and replacing him will be key for the Troy special teams. Jabir Daughtry-Frye was also a Freshman All-American kick returner in 2016 before injuries sidelined him in 2017 and 2018.
Troy kicks off the season on Aug. 31 with a home matchup against Campbell at 5 p.m.