This is the fourth in a group of position previews heading into the season, with the aim to get all done before the July 16 Sun Belt Media Day.
OVERVIEW (because you can't say 'the skinny' when referring to either line): This is a group that, when they take the field, could look a lot like last year in terms of names, or totally different. Troy brings back several contributors from a group that was poor at getting to the quarterback last year, finishing seventh in the league in sacks with both starting defensive ends now having moved on - one of which is in the NFL. Troy was last in the Sun Belt by a wide margin with 57 tackles for loss and when you have a bad defense, it usually starts with the defensive line not being able to get much pressure. Troy signed several players to help fill the void and will be counting on some to become starters and perform at a high level right away. Troy made a change from its basic 4-3 to a 4-3 that uses a hybrid end/linebacker, termed a "bandit" end.
PROJECTED STARTERS: This is a tough one to call. Two things seem very certain in that senior Tony Davis will start at defensive end and senior Jacoby Thomas at the bandit end. Davis started for two years at tackle and played some end last year. He's athletic and a leader and should fit well at end. The bandit spot fits Thomas to a "T" and he should have a good senior season. Theoretically, Davis could play tackle if someone else steps up at end, but two guys who were brought in to play right away were junior college tackles Xavier Melton and Derrek Upshaw. Both will be ready for fall practice. Melton started his career at Purdue and Upshaw at Middle Tennessee. They'll compete with some holdovers in juniors John Clark, Aaron Williams and Shermane TeArt and senior Kyle Lucas. There's reason to think those guys will improved because they've played throughout the last two years, but coordinator Jeremy Rowell mentioned to me late in spring how they were counting on the new defensive tackles because the returning group had yet to really separate itself.
YOUNG GUY TO WATCH: Remember the name Tyler Roberts, as the redshirt freshman really made some plays in the spring. He's the backup bandit end and will get some opportunities this year.
DEPTH: There are bodies I listed at tackle, and Troy also has redshirt freshman D.J. Johnson, another guy I'm intrigued to see how he develops. Defensive end Marty Stadom is a guy who signed in 2011, but was ineligible last year and he's projected to be an impact player. Another defensive end, Brandon Timmons, came from junior college this spring and will be ready. Walk-on redshirt freshman Juwan James is in the mix. Redshirt freshman Deon Lee has bulked up and could be ready to play some snaps at end. Put the name Lonnie Gosha aside a year, as the Arkansas transfer is a very good one but not expected to be eligible until 2013 as he sits out as a transfer.
BOTTOM LINE: There are some bodies here, and what looks to be more depth. They'll have to put up better numbers for the defense to be better, and I think they will. How much? That remains to be seen. There's plenty of potential but right now it's inexperienced or unproven.
TOP MOMENT OF MY ERA (since 2005): I love it when defensive linemen get interceptions or pick up fumbles. Of course Tony Davis' fumble return at FIU for a score last year and Chris Bradwell's fumble recovery for a score at WKU in 2007 come to mind. Two game-changing plays, though, top the list. In 2010 in the season opener against Bowling Green, the Falcons were at the Troy 35 trying to go for the game-winning field goal. Tony Davis, then a sophomore playing extensive snaps for the first time, made a diving interception off a tipped pass with 1:07 left in the game. Troy later won on a field goal in the final seconds. In 2008, in the season opener at Middle Tennessee, Troy was up 14-3 near the end of the first half. MTSU had 4th and goal at the Troy 3. Cameron Sheffield stripped QB Dwight Dasher of the ball and big Steve McLendon, who is still with the Pittsburgh Steelers, scooped it up and ran it 67, yes 67! yards to the MTSU 21, setting up a field goal at the end of the first half. Instead of it being possibly Troy just up 14-10, Troy took a 17-3 lead into the locker room and won the game 31-17. It would have been neat to see McLendon run it in from 88 yards out, but that was a fun play to watch.