Back Troy has Instituted a No Fly Zone

Troy has Instituted a No Fly Zone

By Jim Johnson
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Troy's secondary will headline a talented defensive group for the Trojans.

The atmosphere above Larry Blakeney Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium, in Troy, Alabama, will be restricted airspace in 2017.

Vic Koenning's defensive backfield is arguably the best in the Sun Belt and they have instituted a strict no-fly zone, with any infractions punishable by interception.

Only San Diego State picked off more passes in 2017, and the Trojans finished fourth, nationally, in turnovers gained.

"I think Kris Weatherspoon and Cedarious Rookard are two of the better safeties in our league," head coach Neal Brown told the media, in New Orleans. "But we didn't defend the pass great last year. What we did last year that set us apart was we got interceptions, created turnovers."

Still, what makes the Troy secondary's opportunism even more impressive is the relative lack of quarterback pressure from the front seven. That's not to say that the front seven is bad, just that most teams in the elite tier of turnovers forced have a more positive correlation between interceptions and quarterback pressures.

For example, San Diego State, the only team with more interceptions in 2016, finished 21st in adjusted sack rate, last year. Meanwhile, Troy finished 63rd.

"We're going to be able to cover better," Brown continued. "We've got some true freshman that are going to come in and compete for playing time right away, but to make their life easier, we've got to be able to get to the quarterback. That's probably the biggest question mark on our football team."

Most terrifyingly, for the rest of the conference, Troy returns all but one of the key members from last year's elite defensive backfield.

Standout signal caller Brandon Silvers described his secondary as, "ball hawks. If they're not picking it off, they're swatting it away. We've gotten better actually."

Cornerback Blace Brown ranked seventh in the country with six interceptions, last season, and his ten passes defensed fell just shy of the top five in the Sun Belt.
In regards to Brown, running back Jordan Chunn said, "He's a guy that's going to stick to you like glue and then run with you."

Opposite Brown, Kamryn Melton had ten passes defensed, as well, and garnered preseason All-Conference honors, ahead of Sun Belt Media Day.
"Kam is a really good zone-technique player," Silvers stated, giving a scouting report on his teammate.

At free safety, Cedarius Rookard is tied as the team's leading returning tackler, and had three picks of his own a year ago, all while being one of the league's two most effective punt returners.
"I think him and Kris (Weatherspoon) played around 95% of the snaps last year. They're warriors. They're always around the ball," said Silvers of Rookard and his partner at safety.

And last, but far from least, is the uber-versatile Kris Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon is not only the most integral part of the secondary, but of the defense, as a whole, and arguably of the entire team, aside from Silvers.
He was one of only eight players last year to have at least 7.5 tackles for loss and eight passes defensed. Only a handful of athletes, across the entire sport, have the ability to make plays in both the opposing backfield and the secondary to the extent that he does.

"He's a guy that can hit you," Chunn grinned, talking about Wetaherspoon. "He's got alligator arms."

Even though he earned a second team All-Sun Belt selection, Weatherspoon is still underrated, both within the conference and even nationally.

"I think he is underrated," Brown agreed. "Defensive backs are sometimes hard to evaluate. Especially when you're putting together an all-conference team, so much is stat-driven. As an offensive playcaller myself, oftentimes I'm trying to steer clear of some of the strengths of defenses."

"He's a physical presence in the backend. He does a really good job of coming down and making tackles in the box. He sets the tone for our defense."

Last year, there was, admittedly, some success to be had in the passing game against Troy. That is, if you were willing to play the odds against a defense that forced a turnover on 17% of opposing drives.
This year, there's no sense even trying.

With the Trojans' defensive backfield, it's run the ball or punt. Don't put the ball in the air.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP