By David Fong
TROY — Matt Burgbacher’s decision to have three of his starting offensive linemen — senior tackles Jared Bair and Chris Linville, along with senior center Dallas Shamblin — also start along the defensive line was born out of necessity.
It’s not that the Troy football coach wanted those three playing in the trenches for 48 minutes every Friday night — it’s just that he didn’t necessarily have a whole of of other experienced options. Four weeks into the season, however, Burgbacher thinks he’s found some answers to his dilemma.
“We have much better depth on the defensive line now than we did at the beginning of the season,” Burgbacher said. “We’ve had some guys step up, which has allowed us to rest Bair, Linville and Shamblin on defense and save them more for offense. All three of those guys still play some defense — especially Bair — but it’s not as much as they did at the beginning of the season.”
Three Trojans — senior Dameek “On Fleek” Baker and sophomores Joah Schricker and Christian Nation — have emerged as suitable fill-ins along the defensive line for Troy, which has left the trio of Bair, Linville and Shamblin fresher on offense.
“We’re rotating several guys in there on the defensive line, but those are the three who have really stepped up the past few weeks,” Burgbacher said. “They’ve done a nice job for us.”
The 5-foo-9, 255-pound Baker has recorded six tackles at nose tackle, where his responsibilities include taking up blockers and freeing up others to make plays more than recording gaudy defensive statistics of his own. The fun-loving Baker also is one of the emotional leaders on the team.
“Dameek is great,” Burgbacher said. “I love that kid. His teammates love him. He’s definitely emerged as a leader on this team. He plays with a lot of passion. With him playing the nose for us, we don’t need him to make a lot of plays. We need him to take up two blockers and keep people off of our linebackers. If you are playing nose and getting blocked by one person in our defense, you are doing something wrong. That’s not Dameek.”
Both Schricker (6-1, 199 pounds) and Nation (5-10, 235 pounds) are young and relatively undersized to be playing defensive line, but make up for their lack of size in other ways. Schricker has 10 tackles — including a career-high five against Wayne last week — and a fumble recovery. Nation has nine tackles and a fumble recovery.
“Schricker is a kid we started out playing at linebacker, but we’ve since moved to a down position and he’s down a really nice job for us,” Burgbacher said. “He’s certainly not the biggest kid around, but he makes up for a lot of that with his speed and quickness. He does a good job coming off the ball and making plays. Nation is a wrestler. He’s got that low center of gravity, which makes him hard to move.”
• Trojans Fully Healthy: Troy’s linebackers will receive a boost this week with the return of senior Ryan Daum. Daum — who started as an offensive lineman for the Trojans as a sophomore before moving primarily to defense last season — had been penciled in as a starter at inside linebacker for the Trojans, but broke his hand in a scrimmage.
He’s out of his cast and has been cleared to play.
“We’re as healthy now as we have been all year,” Burgbacher said. “Getting Daum back will be big for us. He hasn’t been able to practice, so we’ll have to get him up to speed now.”
• Quest for 2,000: Junior quarterback Hayden Kotwica’s quest to break Tom Myers’ 55-yard old single-season passing record took a bit of a hit last week against state-ranked Wayne’s vaunted defense, but — statistically speaking — he still is within striking distance four weeks into the season.
With 77 passing yards against the Warriors, Kotwica now has 798 passing yards on the year. Should he continue at the current pace the final six weeks of the season, he’ll throw for 1,995 yards this year. Myers set the school record with 2,009 passing yards in 1960.
Should Kotwica hit the 1,000-yard mark in the next week or two, he’ll become just the fifth quarterback since 1985 to do so, joining Aaron Johnson, current Troy assistant coach Tyler Wright, Cody May (who did it twice) and Matt Barr.
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong