TROY — In the patchwork quilt that is the Troy secondary, Craig Slocum was ripped from one square and sewn into another.
Slocum started the season with a different position (then cornerback, now safety) and a different number (then 17, now 4). Things like that happen to walk-ons like Slocum, a 6-foot, 186-pounder from Lake Butler, Fla. He doesn’t take it personally.
Besides, he was on the field last Saturday night against Georgia State, although the circumstances weren’t ideal. True freshman free safety Dell Pettus, who himself started the season as a backup, got dinged up and left the game in Troy’s concussion protocol.
A thin safety group was further stretched with Pettus’ departure. Senior Melvin Tyus and junior Kyle Nixon started at safety when the season began. Nixon made two starts and has been injured since. Jaquez Dunmore, a redshirt freshman, has started three of Troy’s seven games in place of Tyus.
When Pettus went down, on came Slocum, a third-year sophomore, for his first extended playing time.
“He was a corner until about three or four weeks ago,” defensive coordinator Brandon Hall told reporters on Tuesday. “He really hadn’t played until this game. He doesn’t know the position. He’s been a corner since he’s been here.
“But losing Kyle, we had to have somebody start learning the role. We took Craig. … We’ve only got, like, three corners, and took him because he was one of the bigger corners and we moved him to free safety. He’s been practicing there for about 2½ weeks now. Glad we did that.
“Obviously, when Dell went down he had taken the most reps at that position. Had he gone down one of you guys were probably going to go in.”
The third-year walk-on said he was ready.
“It kind of hurt me to see one of my teammates go down, but it was a good opportunity for me to show that I can play safety, too,” Slocum said. “I was blessed to have that opportunity. … When my number got called I was super excited.”
He said the transition isn’t easy, particularly because he’s played corner since before he went to Union City High School.
“I was really comfortable at corner. I played it all throughout high school. It was easy playing corner,” Slocum said. “When I first moved I was nervous about it because it was a new position. But when I got everything down I got used to it.”
To be sure, neither Slocum nor Hall is saying the sophomore has “everything down.”
“The toughest part is making all the calls. You’re like the quarterback of the defense,” Slocum said. “You’re switching coverages. When they go to empty out of motion, it was just adjusting to (things like) that.”
For his first time out, Slocum said he graded out “very high.”
“I thought Craig did some good things for his first time to play free safety,” Hall said.
When Pettus is ready, however, the job is his. He started the last five games there.
“Dell is OK,” Trojan head coach Chip Lindsey said. “He hasn’t been released yet. He is actually making a lot of progress. We are hopeful. He is in the protocol. There is a way they go about testing these guys.
“They do baseline tests early. They have to pass these guys or they can’t participate. Our training staff will do a great job. (He may play) if he is available — and the thing about him is that he wants to.”
Lindsey could only shake his head as the number of injuries have mounted. He acknowledged Pettus’ absence leaves a hole in the defense.
“You drop off for sure,” the coach said. “Dell, I would say, has really improved since week one and two. I think he has gotten caught up with the speed of the game. Great kid, too. We love him, he’s smart and tough.”
Lindsey said getting the twos and threes ready to play along with the starters is a big lesson he’s learned as a first-year head coach.
“I’ve learned really quickly that you need to prepare multiple players to fill each role because they need to be ready when their number is called,” Lindsey said. “Getting the young guys ready is something that I learned this year and will serve us well going forward.”
That includes Slocum, thrown against a Georgia State offense that gained 390 yards on the ground and 579 yards total. This week’s road trip to Coastal Carolina is next for Troy.
“It was surprising. We have one of the best run defenses in the nation,” Slocum said. “It was pretty tough, but I know we are going to bounce back this week against Coastal. I know coach (Hall) and the defensive coaching staff will have a good plan for us. I feel like we are going to go out and execute it.”