2009 Troy Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 29, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Troy Trojan Defense

Troy Trojans

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 Troy Preview | 2009 Troy Offense
- 2009 Troy Defense |
2009 Troy Depth Chart
- 2008 Troy Preview |
2007 Troy Preview | 2006 Troy Preview

What you need to know: The defense dominated last season with one of the nation’s best pass rushes and a swarming front six that always got into the backfield. There are four superstars to build around in defensive ends Brandon Lang and Cameron Sheffield along with linebackers Bear Woods and Boris Lee. But that’s where the sure-things stop. The secondary loses three all-stars (Terence Moore, Sherrod Martin and Tavares Williams), and while there are good prospects waiting to step up, there’s no one as good as last year’s playmakers. The question will be style as the coaches often like to go with a 4-2-5 lineup to get all the good defensive backs on the field, but this year there might be more from a strongside linebacker with David McDowell coming off a redshirt. This will still be one of the Sun Belt’s best defenses, but it won’t be the dominant force of last year.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Boris Lee, 126
Sacks: Brandon Lang, 10.5
Interceptions: Jorrick Calvin, Donnell Golden, Boris Lee, 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Boris Lee
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior FS Chris Bowens
Unsung star on the rise: Senior S Kedric Manning
Best pro prospect: Senior DE Brandon Lang
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Lee, 2) Lang, 3) LB Bear Woods
Strength of the defense: Boris Lee & Bear Woods, pass rush
Weakness of the defense: Veteran defensive backs, tackle

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: While the loss of Kenny Mainor early last year to a knee injury was hardly a positive, it allowed senior Brandon Lang to step in and take over in a full-time role. The 6-4, 249-pounder finished with 69 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 17.5 tackles for loss, and 28 quarterback hurries as he came back from a knee injury of his own to be a first-team Sun Belt all-star. Originally a Georgia Bulldog, he ended up going the prep school route before joining Troy, and now he’s one of the nation’s best pass rushers.

Back on the other side after starting every game at right end is Cameron Sheffield, a 6-2, 237-pound senior who made 66 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss and 25 quarterback hurries. He stepped in when Lang went down in 2007. While he’s not the pass rusher that Lang is and Mainor was, he’ll clean up with all the attention paid to Lang and will earn first-team All-Sun Belt honors again.

The big loss on the line is on the inside where second-team all-Sun Belt tackle Dion Gales is gone. In his place will be Kevin Dixon, a 6-3, 285-pound senior who transferred from Garden City CC. He’s not a huge inside presence like Gales was, but he’s an active tackle who should get into the backfield on a regular basis.

Taking over for Steve McLendon at the other tackle spot will be Rashad Roussell, 6-2, 255-pound undersized nose tackle who made 33 tackles, three sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss as a key part of the rotation. The former JUCO transfer is lightning quick off the ball and a terror in the backfield when he’s asked to do nothing but get to the quarterback.

Projected Top Reserves: The next great Troy defensive end will be Antonio Harper, a 6-4, 230-pound transfer from Miami with tremendous speed, great pass rushing ability, and a great motor that’ll get him into the backfield early and often. He won’t win a starting job this year, but he’ll be a key part of the rotation.

Another instant option for the inside will be Riley Flowers, a 6-2, 270-pound JUCO transfer from Mississippi with good athleticism and decent experience in his one year at Jones County CC, but it’ll be 6-2, 290-pound junior Emmanuel Dudley who could make the bigger impact. He has the size the interior of the line is missing, bringing 35 more pounds than starting nose tackle, Rashad Roussell.

Yet another pure pass rusher is 6-4, 238-pound Mario Addison, who comes over from the JUCO ranks after making 45 tackles with 21.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks Northeast Mississippi CC. A phenomenal blur into the backfield, the junior should be a factor as the understudy behind Lang on the left side.

Watch Out For ... the new guys. As always, Troy cleaned up in the JUCO ranks and will be able to restock the shelves with players like Harper and Dixon.
Strength: Pass rush, pass rush, pass rush. How good is the Troy pass rush? Kenny Mainor was a possible Sun Belt defensive player of the year, was knocked out for the year in the second game of the season, and Troy still finished third in the nation in sacks with 37. Lang and Sheffield are special.
Weakness: Sure thing tackles. Losing Gales hurts and not having McLendon back isn’t a positive. Dixon, Roussell Dudley, and James Searcy are all good tackle prospects, but they’ll have to prove they can hold up against the run on a regular basis.
Outlook: Brandon Lang is on the short list for Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year honors, Cameron Sheffield will be an all-star, and the tackles will get into the backfield on a regular basis. The line won’t be as good as last year, but there’s excellent depth tremendous pass rushing ability, and the potential to once again be the Sun Belt’s dominant front four. While the production against the run will be average, the line will make up for it by making a ton of plays behind the line.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: Senior Boris Lee has been one of the Sun Belt’s best players for the last few seasons with 265 tackles and seven interceptions. The 6-0, 231-pound man in the middle has bulked up in a big way over the last few years and no longer is like a safety playing linebacker. He’s a great all-around playmakers who’s all over the field against both the run and the pass, and while he’s not always being sent into the backfield, he can get there with 4.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss last year, to go along with a team-leading 126 stops. The star of the defense, he’s always around the ball and always coming up with the open field stop.

Working again on the weakside is senior Bear Woods, a 6-0, 228-pound guided missile who was second on the team with 108 tackles with two sacks and seven tackles for loss. While he didn’t do enough against the pass, he more than made up for it by holding up against the run, the big question mark for him coming into last season. Boris Lee got all the attention, but Woods still earned second-team All-Sun Belt honors. He could be a first-teamer this season.

Back on the strongside after missing all of last year is senior David McDowell, a former JUCO transfer who originally started out working in the middle and now should get his shot to be a star stat-filler in his new home. Injuries have been an issue, but he’s healthy now, is back in the mix, and should hover around the 75-tackle mark and be a rock against the run with 6-1, 249-pound size and good quickness.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Donnell Golden was a good backup behind Woods on the weakside in his redshirt freshman season with 31 tackles and two interceptions. He hit the weights hard to get up to 223 pounds, but he still has excellent speed and the toughness to play on the strongside if needed. He’s a phenomenal athlete having spent most of his high school career at running back while setting Georgia track records in the 400-meter dash

Working behind Lee in the middle will be Xavier Lamb after seeing time in 11 games last year. A mauler for his size, the 5-9, 249-pound sophomore made 27 tackles and an interception in a reserve role. He’s a huge hitter.

Getting a look early on behind McDowell on the strongside is Johnny Thompson, a 6-1, 210-pound true freshman who was a Alabama high school first-team all-star and defensive player of the year after making 167 tackles for Valley High. While he needs to hit the weights, he’s a great hitter, can move well in pass coverage, and is good enough to spend plenty of time in the backfield.

Watch Out For ... McDowell. The Troy linebacking corps was so loaded, and the defense used a nickel back more often than not, so McDowell took a redshirt last year rather than spend half his time on the bench. Now he’s healthy after having problems early in his career and he’ll be on the field. The defense will make sure he’s used.
Strength: Lee and Woods. It’ll be hard to find two more productive, active linebackers in America. These two combined for 234 tackles last year, and if they’re healthy, they’ll do it again.
Weakness: Being physical against the run. Lee and Woods make every tackle imaginable, but the defense didn’t always use a third linebacker last season, choosing instead to go with a nickel back, and it showed as the run defense struggled when the two star linebackers weren’t making all the plays. McDowell has to be a difference maker.
Outlook: Thanks to the emergence of Bear Woods, the Troy linebacking corps went from a concern to a major strength last season. Woods and Boris Lee are big-time playmakers who can hang with anyone in America. This year there’s nice depth to count on if needed with Donnell Golden and Xavier Lamb ready to step in if needed. If David McDowell is on the field and has a decent year, the linebacking corps could be the strength of the team.
Rating: 7.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: Who’s going to replace all-star free safety Sherrod Martin and nickelback Terence Moore? Martin’s shoes will be the tougher of the two to fill with senior Chris Bowens, a 6-0, 184-pound speedster ready to be one of the team’s new stars. He saw time in nine games last year making 14 tackles, but he couldn’t fight his way into a starting spot. With a little more time he should be a statistical star.

While not technically a starting position, Troy likes to keep a nickelback on the field to roam and make plays like a fourth linebacker at times or a third safety. That was Moore’s spot. Looking to take over the job is 5-10, 186-pound senior Kedric Manning after making 13 tackles and a sack. The former JUCO transfer is versatile enough to play any spot in the secondary.

5-11, 197-pound senior strong safety Courtland Fuller will likely have to do more than his predecessor, second-team All-Sun Belt star Tavares Williams did. Fuller made 20 tackles and two sacks in his part-time role, and while he doesn’t have the pass-coverage ability of Williams, he’s a good tackler.

Working as the team’s No. 1 corner is the lone returning starter to the secondary, 5-10, 181-pound Jorrick Calvin. The senior is a great open-field tackler finishing fourth on the team with 76 stops last season to go along with two interceptions and nine broken up passes. The former JUCO transfer is a tough, physical corner.

Getting the nod on the left side will be sophomore KeJuan Phillips after seeing time in every game last year. The 5-10, 180-pounder only made three tackles, but he picked off a pass against Alcorn State. Strong for his size, he should grow into a decent tackler, but first he’ll have to get used to being picked on with teams staying away from Calvin.  

Projected Top Reserves: Ready to see time right away is 5-11, 195-pound JUCO transfer DeMarcus Robertson. One of the team’s fastest players, he’ll push KeJuan Phillips hard for the starting job on the left side, but he could play either safety spot. Originally a UMass Minuteman, after first signing with Rutgers, the cousin of former Michigan State running back Lorenzo White ended up at Garden City CC in Kansas where he picked off four passes and made 44 tackles. He’s a playmaker.

Daniel Sheffield
is an athletic, tough free safety who made 22 tackles in a backup role. His problem is that he’s average in coverage, but the 6-4, 210-pound junior is a big hitter who doesn’t miss a stop. The former JUCO transfer is one of the team’s biggest hitters.

6-2, 210-pound junior Bryant McKissic has been a reserve over the last few years seeing time in 23 games and making nine tackles last year. Mostly a special teamer, he’s one of the team’s biggest defensive backs and will see time behind Fuller at strong safety.

Watch Out For ... Bowens. The team needs to fill the star void and Bowens could do it. He has the talent, the size, and just enough experience to be Troy’s next all-star safety. At least that’s the hope.
Strength: Options. The Trojans used five defensive backs so they’ve loaded up over the years on prospects. There are plenty of players to fill all the spots with decent competition to provide a few battles for jobs.
Weakness: Starters. Jorrick Calvin is the only returning starter with four slots needing to be filled. Troy always patches up the holes, it did last year, but it’s asking a lot for lightning to strike again for a pass defense that was among the best in the country.
Outlook: The coaching staff has liked to go into a nickel defense as much as possible to get all the good defensive backs on the field, but that might change this season with a good third linebacker option in David McDowell ready to see the field. The problem is the loss of all the star power. If losing
Leodis McKelvin and Elbert Mack from the secondary two years ago wasn’t bad enough, losing all-stars Terence Moore and Sherrod Martin, along with Tavares Williams, would make it hard for anyone to reload. The Trojan secondary gets plenty of help from a phenomenal pass rush, and it should also benefit from having several good prospects battling for the job openings. The pass defense won’t be 29th in the nation again, but it won’t fall off the map.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Senior Sam Glusman stepped up in place of Greg Whibbs and had a nice year hitting 20-of-29 field goals including a whopping 7-of-9 from 40-to-49 yards. There were some problems from shorter range, missing five kicks inside the 39, and he didn’t show a huge leg missing his two kicks from beyond 50, but he’s good enough to rely on.

Will Goggans is back to handle the punting duties after helping Troy lead the Sun Belt in net average. He was a bit of a question mark coming into the season, but the high school all-star came up big. While he only averaged 39.2 yards per kick, he put 18 inside the 20 and forced seven fair catches.

Corner Jorrick Calvin will handle the punt return duties again after averaging a decent 9.9 yards per return. Jerrel Jernigan will help out with the punt returns, averaging 10.8 yards per try last year on four returns, and he’ll be one of the main kickoff returners. However, Calvin is the star on kickoff returns after averaging 25.7 yards per try. 

Watch Out For ... the special teams to be the best in the Sun Belt again. They were stunningly good last year and everyone is back.
Strength: the coverage teams. The kickers have a lot to do with it, but the Trojans are terrific when it comes to covering kicks allowing a ridiculously low 2.5 yards per punt return and 17.9 yards per kickoff return.
Weakness: A big leg on field goals. It’s nitpicking considering Glusman nailed a 48 yarder, but he’s pushing his range beyond 45. Again, nitpicking.
Outlook: The Sun Belt's best special teams of 2007 were starting from scratch last year, and they became the league’s best in 2008 leading the conference in punting, kickoff returns, and yards allowed. They were third in punt returns. Everyone is back, so expect more of the same. Troy will win at least two games because it’ll be better, far better, here.
Rating: 8.5