This is no way to begin play in the Sun Belt Conference. Troy State, entering just its fourth season at the Division I-A level, has 17 returning starters, but seven missed all or most of spring drills due to injuries. Several others on the two-deep were in the same condition.
OffenseSeveral players on Troy State's offense have credentials -- but they have casts and braces and scars as well. Three key players are on the mend, including DeWhitt Betterson, who rushed for 1,161 yards last season. Betterson, who needs only 771 yards to become Troy's all-time leading rusher, missed spring practice while recovering from back surgery. He's expected to be ready by August, but his backup, walk-on Joel Whinghter, went down with a shoulder injury and is likely out for the season.
Last year's youthful but error-prone receiving corps now is an experienced unit that is anxious to move from the "liability" to "asset" category. Jason Samples started all 12 games and was the team's leading receiver a year ago but was limited to two practices this spring while recovering from hernia surgery.
Four starting offensive linemen return, but center James Gardner missed spring drills with a broken leg. Last year's starter at center, Lee Milliner, shifts to right guard. The entire left side returns with guard Junior Louissaint and tackle Henry Tellis.
Quarterback Aaron Leak led Troy State to a 6-4 record as a starter over the final 10 games. By the way, he's healthy.
DefenseNine starters return on defense, but the infirmary treated three projected starters -- tackle Eric Thomas (shoulder), middle linebacker Leverne Johnson (broken arm) and cornerback Freeman White (knee strain). All three missed spring practice but are expected to be back in the fall. Thomas will likely move to nosetackle to make room for Georgia Tech transfer Alfred Malone. Ends Demarcus Ware and Cedric Sullivan are proven pass rushers.
Enemy ballcarriers will encounter what many consider to be Troy State's most dynamic trio of linebackers ever. Bernard Davis and Robby Farmer will flank Johnson in the middle. Davis should be one of the Sun Belt's most athletic defensive players.
Three starters, including leading tackler Derrick Ansley, return to a secondary that helped the Trojans rank 40th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. Ansley, who had nine interceptions, could contend for all-conference honors at free safety. There's experience on the corners with Johnny Faulk and White, but redshirt freshman Clint Coe replaces Rayshun Reed at strong safety.
SpecialistsThomas Olmsted is a big-time punter and an erratic kicker. He'll hold down both jobs. Olmsted ranked 34th nationally in punting average and dropped 20 punts inside the 20. He has distance as a placekicker but has struggled with his accuracy. He's slated to handle field goal attempts longer than 30 yards, while redshirt freshman Greg Whibbs could get the call on PATs and field goals inside 30 yards. Toris Rutledge will open as the lead return man.
Final AnalysisCoach Larry Blakeney's Trojans are catching no breaks in the scheduling department either. Still, there is enough primetime talent and experience on hand for Troy State to make life difficult for its Sun Belt brethren -- provided the Trojans' key players are on the field and not in the training room.