TROY — It was evident as Troy football coaches discussed a strong signing class last Wednesday that the Trojan staff valued versatility in a class of 24 signees.
Whether it’s the ability for corners to also play safety or safeties to be also to play nickel or spear, or for an interior offensive lineman to be able to play either guard position and even center if needed, the days of one Trojan playing just one role are limited.
Nowhere was that more evident than the secondary, which became a weekly chore to field five healthy players as a crazy season of injuries unfolded. Troy signed five defensive backs, including three — Zion Williams, Markeis Colvin and T.J. Jackson — from the junior college ranks.
The scars from last season are still fresh from a 5-7 campaign.
“When you go through a season like we did, you hope you never have to go through that again,” head coach Chip Lindsey said. “You bring in some depth or a better player. That was important for us.”
Defensive coordinator Brandon Hall said it wasn’t just numbers the Trojans needed.
“The biggest thing as much as anything for us was just to sign some guys with some experience,” Hall said, referring to the JUCO signees. “What we found out last year, as you guys know, is all of a sudden you look out and you’ve got four and five freshmen on the field at the same time. That’s not fair to those guys.
“We tried to sign some guys that have some JUCO experience. At the end of the day, the No. 1 thing we were looking for is good people. For us it was very important that we did our work into the background piece and make sure that all their coaches and people were vouching for them, not just as football players but as people. I think we did that.”
Williams is one of the most dynamic players in the class, Hall said.
“He also returns punts and kickoffs. We needed all three,” the coordinator said. “He can play anywhere in the secondary. We also signed a true corner, Josh Brown.”
Lindsey said the defensive backs at least signed some needed depth.
“We’ll all compete in the spring and see how it all shakes out,” the head coach said. “Some kids will improve that played this year. I think by the end of the year you saw a lot of our guys improve. Dell Pettus comes to mind. O’shai (Fletcher) comes to mind.
“We had a lot of guys that took steps forward. Unfortunately, they had to learn on the field in a lot of cases. Again, we needed some more depth and I’m really pleased with how we did that.”
Troy also addressed a big need on the offensive line, where three full-time senior starters — left guard Kirk Kelley, right guard Tristan Crowder and right tackle J.L. Gaston — have departed. Another senior, interior offensive lineman Bobby Klemm, had a couple starts this season as injuries mounted.
Two of Troy’s six offensive line signees are junior college transfers — 6-foot-7, 292-pound Toryque Bateman and 6-3, 270-pound Jordan Chapman.
“Anytime you lose four really experienced seniors in the offensive line you’re going to always look to reload there,” offensive coordinator Ryan Pugh said. “We were able to do that in various ways, bringing in a couple older guys in Jordan and Toryque. Toryque originally signed with Louisville out of high school. Both guys, their best football is ahead of them.”
Troy added four high school signees — Derrick Graham of Lake Minneola (Fla.), Chase Little of Montgomery Catholic, Gage Saint of Town Creek and Logan Self of Trussville.
Each of those players will be developed at different positions. Pugh, who played all five offensive line spots in his college career at Auburn, said it’s crucial to cross-train.
“Some guys have to know all five. You definitely have to be able to play both sides,” Pugh said. “I think being able to play one position, I equate it to the NFL rosters. They’re going to carry seven, eight offensive linemen at the most into a football game.
“Well, you’re not two deep. That’s my philosophy. Young in my career, I saw the game that way. I saw the game as finding the best five offensive linemen and finding six, seven, eight, nine, 10. You figure out how to get the best five players on the field in the right seats and you go from there.
“That’s why we cross-train so many guys. Injuries. Other things are going to happen throughout the course of the season. So if you look at a season, typical offensive lines are going to play eight, nine guys. You’re not truly playing 10 and it’s not like hockey, where you line change. I think you’ve got to be able to plug and play guys wherever.”
Lindsey said a player adds value to himself if he can play more than one role.
“We want to try to put the best five offensive linemen on the field. If you can play multiple spots, it actually builds depth within your depth,” Lindsey said. “Multiple guys that can snap, or multiple guys smart enough to play tackle and guard — and maybe even center. …
“It’s really important to be as versatile as you can. In the secondary, Brandon and Ray (Brown, cornerbacks coach) are trying to find guys that may be a corner, but can maybe be a spear on third down. … I’ve tried to emphasize to our staff, we want to get the best football players that we can get on the field at the same time. That’s what we’re looking for. In our recruiting needs, that’s something that we’ve really emphasized and feel really good where we are right now about that.”