Troy defensive backs pressing for improvement following lackluster 2013

Published 8:46 pm Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Troy defensive backs have heard all of the phrases – Achilles’ heel, weakest link, the chink in the armor – and are on a mission to drown out the noise going forward.

The Trojan corners and safeties readily admit 2013 was a struggle. Troy gave up over 313 yards a game in the air, and a whopping 28 passing touchdowns. Those numbers put the Troy DBs as the worst in the Sun Belt Conference and third worst unit in the nation.

“We took a step back to look at things going in to spring,” said Troy safeties coach Dustin Landry. “We wanted to say ‘Who are we’ and ‘What identity are we.’ Last year we have up a lot of yards.. explosively. That is definitely something we want to eliminate this year.”

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The 2014 defensive backfield returns a few familiar faces, including Ethan Davis and Keion Payne. However, Troy will be without the two leading tacklers from last year’s team, safeties Camren Hudson and Chris Pickett, as well as veteran corner Chris Davis.

With the departure of the three veteran players, starting jobs are available; the competition between the players seeking to earn the spots has been high.

Femi Odaibo and T.J. Fuller, a transfer from Butler Community College, are battling for the nickel position.

Payne, Davis, Tray Hall and Montres Kitchens will see action at the corner spots.

Fuller said the learning curve has been steep, but feels he is progressing.

“I am learning a lot of things from the older guys,” Fuller said. “I am going to the film room early trying to get some things done. They had a mediocre season last year, but we can’t settle for that.”

Odaibo says the position battle between himself and Fuller will make both players better and thinks the defense is more prepared.

“T.J. Is a great athlete,” Odaibo said. “He pushes me to be better. I feel like we have gelled better and know the schemes more. We can all fly around and make plays.”

It wasn’t just the amount of yards a team gained or the touchdowns they scored that left a sour taste in the mouth of the Troy defensive backs. The unit also average giving up over 13 yards per completion in 2013.

Only one team in the nation, UTEP, averaged giving up more yards per completion.

To combat teams that like to take advantage of man or zone coverage, Troy has installed certain packages where the coverage will shift from one to the other after the ball is snapped.

Landry likes having options for his players.

“We have got some stuff where we will play some man-to-man stuff,” Landry said. “We also have some coverages that are true zone coverages and we have a set of progression pattern read stuff. That is where something will change from man to zone or zone to man based off of where their eyes are and what their eyes tell them to do. We have a mixture of all three.”

But even the best schemes won’t work unless the players on the field are up to the task at hand. One of the defensive backs feels the Trojans have a secret weapon on defense: the Troy offense.

Ethan Davis feels the unit is getting better preparation than most units, due to the regular competition against an extremely talented and deep receiving corps.

“It is definitely a blessing to have those new cats in here,” Davis said. “They push every day and you have to be on your stuff. We have some great receivers and we are definitely going to be ready by the time the season gets here. It is a new year, and we don’t think about last year a lot, but it pushes us to be better. We will be better.”

Troy continues fall practice Friday at 8:30 a.m., and will hold a public scrimmage inside Veterans Memorial Stadium Saturday at 10:30 a.m.