Trojans continue to show improvement during the spring

Published 11:11 am Thursday, April 6, 2023

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Troy completed a third straight day of spring practices on Thursday, as the Trojans will now set their sights on the final week of spring.

Typically, spring practices don’t use back-to-back days, let alone three straight, but the Trojan coaching staff decided to throw that curve ball at their players this week, ahead of next week’s T-Day game.

“We were smart about it, we went hard on Tuesday and pulled back a little bit on Wednesday in just helmets and then put the ball down and played (like a scrimmage) today.

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“I think we got some good work in this week and made sure we’re keeping things moving forward and progressing. I liked their mindset all week.”

Sumrall continues to be impressed with the progress from year one to year two that he’s seen in his team.

“We’ve done all the situational work that you really want to get done (in spring),” he said. “Goal line, short yardage, two minute, red-zone, backed up coming out; situationally, we’re much farther ahead than we were a year ago. A year ago, I was just trying to make sure we could function at the line of scrimmage offensively. Situational football is how you win games.”

Sumrall has also been pleased with the back-and-forth between the offense and defense. Last season, the defense dominated the offense in spring camp and this season, the offense was winning each day early on in camp.

“The offense won the first couple of segments (in practice) but then the defense responded really well,” Sumrall continued. “There was a lot of give and take, which is exciting. You don’t want to see one side completely dominate the whole thing. I reference this a lot but it felt like last year the defense wouldn’t give the offense an inch, which is great but it’s more fun now because I think we’re more complete as a team.”

The Troy secondary made some big plays in Thursday’s practice, including senior Reddy Steward returning an interception for a touchdown.

“Reddy is a proven player, we know what we have there and he’s done a really great job of building upon what he did last year,” Sumrall said. “O’shai (Fletcher) is doing a fine job and is very consistent. Damaje (Yancey) has come out and stepped up and shown some flashes. Caleb Ransaw is out right now but he’s a guy we’re counting on.”

Still, Sumrall expects to add some more players to that unit in the summer.

“We need to get more depth in the secondary,” he said. “I like our front line guys, but behind there we have to probably add a guy or two to be able to play the whole year the way we need to.”

The offensive line is a point of interest for Trojan fans in the spring with the loss of three starters from last season and that unit seems to be coming together nicely.

“I’ve seen some really good things there,” said Sumrall. “Eli Russ has stepped in and done a nice job at center, I’ve been very pleased with his performance so far. At left guard, MarKendrick Beall is everything you hoped he would be. He’s physical, has a great attitude and plays the game the right way. He’s just a fun guy to be around.

“Derrick (Graham) has stepped in and played at left tackle and (Elijah) Philipe has been in there some, too. Carson Burt has been in at tackle. All of those guys have had an impact.

“We’re just trying to figure out who our best 8-10 guys are. We were fortunate to be able to play with the same five guys predominantly last year but I think we’re better depth wise. We still need to improve but I like what’s going on there. I think we’re getting better. Losing Jake (Andrews), Austin (Stidham) and Deandre (Butler) is a big deal but I think our depth is improving.”

Quarterback Gunnar Watson has been no stranger to competition since arriving at Troy and while West Virginia transfer Goose Crowder is yet another high level of competition that Watson will have in the quarterback room, Sumrall was quick to point out the improvements that Watson has made.

“Gunnar has worked his tail off,” he flatly said. “I think he has taken plenty of criticism in his time here but athletically, he’s improved a ton because he changed his diet. A year ago, his body and my body looked a lot alike. He looks like a Division I quarterback right now. He changed his nutritional habits and weight room work and he’s committed himself to being a pro.”

Those changes have led to other improvements, including an impressive increase in his speed.

“He hit 18.5 MPH on the GPS running (system) we have at practice the other day,” Sumrall emphasized. “That’s moving pretty good. That’s a good runner. We have some receivers that will hit 19.5 and if you hit 20 you’re really rolling. I’m excited about seeing his growth and development.”

For reference, Sumrall said that defensive back Keyshawn Swanson is probably the fastest player on the team and he typically hits a little more than 21 MPH. Receiver Jabre Barber also hits that range.

The addition of Crowder – while adding more competition for Watson and others – only improves the Trojan quarterback room, according to Sumrall.

“Those guys are both great for each other, similar to how we had Gunnar and Jarret last year,” Sumrall said. “Goose has done some great things, too. It’s everybody’s team, not just one guys. They’re in there supporting each other and doing a great job of competing with each other, not against each other.

“I empathize that a lot. We’re on the same team, so we compete with each other and not against each other. They’re encouraging each other and making each other, and everyone in that quarterback room, better.”

Troy has three more practices, beginning next Tuesday night, including the April 15 T-Day Game.