TROY — As Troy began the first of 14 spring practice dates on Tuesday morning, many eyes were focused on finding a replacement for Kaleb Barker, the Trojans’ record-setting quarterback who has graduated.
Sophomore Gunnar Watson, the only QB in the mix who has taken snaps in a game for the Trojans, is considered the frontrunner. He is a lot more comfortable in the system going into this season.
“It just feels natural to me, all the communication and codes and everything,” Watson said. “I feel like I know the playbook a lot more.
“I felt like I had to work a lot harder (in offseason), just because I want to win the job. I busted my tail and I’m ready to go.”
Watson is joined in the starting QB battle by junior college transfer Parker McNeil, former Brantley and Vanderbilt quarterback Jacob Free, redshirt freshman Gavin Screws and sophomore walk-on Jacob Cendoya, who transferred from Ole Miss. Highly-regarded true freshman Kyle Toole of Lee County (Ga.) will join the group this summer.
“We have a competition for sure,” Troy coach Chip Lindsey said. “We won’t name a starter until fall.
“Kyle Toole comes in the summer. We’re excited about him. I think they (ones already here) have an opportunity to separate themselves somewhat and we’ll see how it plays out.”
Lindsey was pleased with what he saw from the quarterbacks during the first day of work. Free was out with the flu.
“Just off the naked eye without watching the film, I thought they all had flashes of doing well,” Lindsey said. “It’s the first time Parker has been through our install, so for him, I was really excited about how well he picked up the communication part of everything. He made a few nice throws and you can tell he has some arm talent.
“I thought Gunnar was solid. Jacob Cendoya, I thought, was a bright spot. He’s a guy that’s a walk-on here that’s got some talent. I was really pleased with him. Overall, I think they all showed some good signs.”
The offense will also be trying to fill some big holes across the offensive front following the loss of starters J.L. Gaston, Kirk Kelley and Tristan Crowder.
Returning starter senior center Dylan Bradshaw, a former Enterprise star, is expected to anchor the offensive line and is eager to continue in a leadership role.
“Last year was big for me learning how to step into that leadership phase,” Bradshaw said. “I learned from some guys who had been doing it a while. I’ve really worked my tail off to earn the respect of my teammates.”
Bradshaw is coming off an ankle injury, but said he is progressing well.
“I got a little nicked up the second to last game last season,” Bradshaw said. “I’m fine; it’s just a little precautionary. We’ve had to take some measures this offseason as far as rehabbing it, but I feel as close to 100 percent as I’ve been the whole offseason today.
“I’d say I’m 95 percent and hopefully good to go in a couple of weeks.”
This year’s signing class had six offensive linemen, including talented JUCO transfers Toryque Bateman and Jordan Chapman.
Bradshaw was encouraged with what he saw on Tuesday.
“We have some new faces across up front and I think those guys did well,” Bradshaw said. “Jordan Chapman, the first few periods he was a little flustered, but we settled him down and he started playing his best football of the day towards the end.”
Bradshaw said the team has benefitted from the work under new strength and conditioning coach Rusty Whitt.
“Usually after that first day of spring, I don’t care if you’re not in pads yet, everybody is kind of winded, but I feel great today,” Bradshaw said. “You can see our tempo today as far as conditioning that we were moving around fast. Coach Whitt and his staff are the real deal as far as building toughness around here and creating that mental toughness to really be good at the game of football.”
Defensively, Lindsey liked the tempo the unit was displaying. Defensive end Richard Jibunor, who sat out last year after transferring from Auburn, and linebacker Jayden McDonald, who transferred from Iowa, are among the new faces expected to make immediate contributions.
“I thought defensively we ran to the ball well and we competed in the 7-on-7 drills,” Lindsey said. “You can tell some of the guys we’ve got in here now, I think, will have an opportunity to help us. I think that was an area of need for us in the secondary and we addressed that in recruiting.
“I thought our big guys moved around well, too. We’ll go watch the film. It wasn’t clean all of the time, but it wasn’t bad, either.”
The Trojans practice again on Thursday and Saturday mornings this week. The annual T-Day scrimmage concludes spring drills is April 4