2011 Syracuse Preview – Defense
Syracuse FS Phillip Thomas
Syracuse FS Phillip Thomas
Posted May 16, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Syracuse Orange Defense

Syracuse Orange

Preview 2011 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: Smoke and mirrors. That might be one way to describe how Syracuse was able to piece together some of the best defensive numbers in the country without a lot of top-rate talent. Heck, just one Orange defender was drafted in April, which is one more than might get selected next spring. Puffing the smoke and tilting the mirrors was coordinator Scott Shafer, who arrived determined to get the program's best athletes on the field and allow them to roam with few limits. It worked. Syracuse ranked in the top 20 nationally in total defense and scoring D. Maintaining those numbers, however, will require the staff to search a little deeper up its sleeve. The Orange will be breaking in two new starters at defensive tackle, linebacker, and cornerback, a daunting task for a unit with limited overall depth. There's talent, such as DE Chandler Jones and safeties Phillip Thomas and Shamarko Thomas, but this group will continue to rely on teamwork, good fundamentals, and a mindset that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Phillip Thomas, 92
Sacks: Chandler Jones, 4
Interceptions: Multiple players, 1

Star of the defense: Junior DE Chandler Jones
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior CB Kevyn Scott
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Marquis Spruill
Best pro prospect: Jones
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Jones, 2) Junior FS Phillip Thomas, 3) Spruill
Strength of the defense: The ends, fundamentals, safeties, pass defense, limiting the big play, red zone D
Weakness of the defense: Cornerback, defensive tackle, linebacker, inexperience on the second team, takeaways

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: Both starting ends are back, but the Orange's tackles are gone, making it obvious which position will get the most attention during the offseason. Syracuse will need to generate more of a push at the point of attack, especially since a rebuilt corps of linebackers won't be able to provide its usual support. The defense did a nice job against the run last fall, but maintaining that level of play will fall on the shoulders of the D-line.

The Orange might be harboring a next-level defensive end in 6-5, 247-pound junior Chandler Jones . Steadily improving as a pass rusher, he's entering his third season as a starter, turning 57 stops, 9.5 tackles for loss, and four sacks into a spot on the All-Big East second team. An explosive player, with good speed and long arms, he needs to turn the corner and become more productive at getting the quarterback in his grasp.

For a second straight year, Jones will be paired up with 6-5, 250-pound senior Mikhail Marinovich , a starter in 25 straight games. An agile athlete for a player his size, he keeps adding weight, yet has been able to maintain his speed, get-off, and quickness. While he has the measurables, the production hasn't quite matched them, making just 30 tackles, four stops for loss, and three sacks in 2010. The veteran ends giving breathers to the starters are 6-2, 237-pound junior Brandon Sharpe and 6-4, 252-pound senior Torrey Ball . Ball is a heady, well-traveled veteran who had 14 stops last season and has lettered in both years since transferring from Georgia Military College. Sharpe is a pure speed rusher off the edge, making 20 tackles and 3.5 sacks for the second year in-a-row.

At defensive tackle, the situation becomes a little hazy. At the conclusion of spring, 6-1, 274-pound junior Cory Boatman and 6-3, 269-pound sophomore Jay Bromley were at the nose and tackle, respectively. A former defensive end, Boatman gets off the snap fast, but is prone to getting engulfed by blockers. He's played sparingly since arriving in 2008. Bromley is no less of a project, another undersized interior lineman with limited relevant experience. Pushing for playing time on the inside are 6-2, 279-pound junior Ollie Haney , who missed 2010 with an injury, and 6-1, 280-pound junior Deon Goggins , a JUCO transfer who's yet to play for the Orange.

Watch Out For … Jones' numbers to begin to improve. At the midway point of his career, he's about to turn the corner and turn all of his physical skills into more sacks and pressures. He's worked hard in the offseason at watching film and finishing his pursuit, looking to become one of the Big East's more prolific pass rushers.
Strength: The ends. In relative terms, the ends are way ahead of the tackles entering the 2011 season. Jones is already an all-star and Marinovich has his sights set on continuing his career on Sundays. Together, the duo should be good for double-digit sacks this season.
Weakness: The tackles. This is a trouble spot that could haunt the Orange D all season long. The interior linemen lack size, reps, and any track record of clogging up running lanes. It's a pedestrian group that could wind up being among the Big East's weakest in 2011.
Outlook: While the Syracuse D-line brings back last year's only all-conference player, Jones, it's still going to be a mixed bag and a potential liability. The Orange should be able to pressure passers off the edge, but that weak underbelly is a real problem. The defense could see last season's success versus the run dissipate quickly if the tackles are getting mauled at the line of scrimmage on a weekly basis.
Unit Rating: 6.5


State of the Unit: No position on the Syracuse squad needs a new look more than the linebackers. Not only are two starters out of eligibility, but Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith were All-Big East performers and influential members of the run defense and pass rush. Their departures will be felt throughout the defense as the program attempts to regroup around much younger players and some newcomers.

Just one season on campus and 6-1, 221-pound sophomore Marquis Spruill is the new leading man of the unit. In fact, he's relocating from strongside to the middle in an attempt to fill Smith's shoes. He played very well in his first season on campus, starting every game and making 51 tackles, nine stops for loss, and a pair of sacks. He has excellent range, but will need to take on more of a leadership role.

Exiting spring, it looked as if Spruill will be flanked by 6-2, 210-pound junior Dan Vaughan and 6-3, 208-pound true freshman Dyshawn Davis at strongside and weakside, respectively. Vaughan lacks ideal size, but plays the game with a great motor and will bring a veteran feel to this group. He hasn't played much, making just five tackles a year ago. Davis was one of the breakout players of the spring, rising up the depth chart shortly after enrolling in January. While still a pup in terms of his feel for the position, he pursues well and possesses the speed that the defense covets at this position. Behind Spruill in the middle is 6-1, 221-pound sophomore Lewellyn Coker , the rare rookie to play last season. He made six stops, primarily as a special teamer, showing a great work ethic and desire to get better with each practice.

Watch Out For … Vaughan to emerge as the emotional leader of the group. Now in his fourth season with the program, he knows the system and is eager to become the face of the unit. He plays the game with passion and a level of intensity that's going to rub off on the younger Orange defenders.
Strength: Range and athleticism. Even without Hogue and Smith, Syracuse is still going to get to the ball very quickly. The linebackers are designed to play the game very fast, diagnosing the play immediately and possessing the quickness to go from sideline-to-sideline to make stops.
Weakness: Size. Being fast and nimble can sometimes come at a price. In the case of the Orange linebackers, they're painfully small across the board and will spend the offseason trying to pack on extra muscle. If unsuccessful, it's going to show when other teams run directly at the defense in the fall.
Outlook: While the potential is there, the comfort level with this unit clearly is not. The decline from a year ago will be immense, with the Orange spending much of the year in a rebuilding phase. The linebackers are going to make plays, but will blow assignments and miss their fair share of tackles as well.
Unit Rating: 6


State of the Unit: Syracuse was outstanding in pass defense a year ago, ranking No. 7 nationally, but can it maintain that level of efficiency with the insertion of two new cornerbacks? It's a critical question for a defense that's been gutted by graduations in the back seven. The safeties will form one of the cornerstones of the D, but those corners will need to be nurtured and watched very closely over the next couple of months.

First, the good news. The safeties are going to be terrific, a pair of returning starters with plenty of upside potential. At free safety, 5-11, 196-pound junior Phillip Thomas plays with the mindset of a linebacker and the cover skills of a cornerback. Although he needs to manage his emotions a little better, it's his intensity and passion which have helped fuel his success with the Orange. Third on the team with 92 tackles, he added four stops for loss in another season learning on the job.

At strong safety is another budding star of the secondary, 5-10, 208-pound junior Shamarko Thomas . A versatile performer, who has already earned starts at three positions since arriving, he's the enforcer of the Orange secondary and one of its hardest workers. In the lineup since midway through his rookie season, he contributed 67 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss, and a couple of sacks last season.

All eyes will be on the cornerbacks in the summer. At the end of April, 6-1, 195-pound sophomore Keon Lyn and 5-11, 206-pound senior Kevyn Scott sat atop the depth chart. More will be expected from Scott, the veteran and three-timer letterwinner. A starter in 13 games of his first two seasons, he missed more than half of last year with an injury, finishing with just seven tackles. Lyn has good size for a corner and has come a long way since playing sparingly in nine games as a rookie. Right behind Scott is 6-1, 191-pound sophomore Ri'Shard Anderson , who's returning to action after missing all of 2010 with a shoulder injury.

Depth at safety will come from 5-10, 201-pound senior Olando Fisher and 5-9, 189-pound sophomore Jeremi Wilkes , who both had 18 tackles a year ago and played a key role on special teams.

Watch Out For … the Thomas' to spend the early part of the year inching over to help out in coverage as much as possible. The corners are going to require a helping hand in September, support from the two defensive backs with the most experience and talent of the group.
Strength: The safeties. And not just relative to the rest of the secondary. Both of the Thomas', Phillip and Shamarko, are gifted athletes, with the wheels to cover and the right frame of mind to pack a punch against the run. Now juniors, they'll continue to pile up the tackles and contend for All-Big East honors.
Weakness: The rebuilt cornerbacks. Although the healthy return of Scott helps, it says a lot that he has yet to lock down a job and keep Anderson at bay. The graybeard of the position, he'll be surrounded by a bunch of underclassmen spending much of 2011 feeling their way through the process.
Outlook: The Orange did a nice job against the pass last year without any all-stars, so maybe there's hope for this season's secondary. The safeties will provide a solid foundation, but the cornerbacks will be picked on until they prove that they can stand up to the pressure. A lot will depend on the pass rush, which can help the defensive backfield ease into the transition if opposing quarterbacks are dishing on the run.
Unit Rating: 7

Special Teams

State of the Unit: In a case of good news-bad news, the Orange found a potential four-year starter at placekicker a year ago, but must replace All-Big East P Rob Long. It won't be easy. Sophomore Shane Raupers is hoping that second chances work in his favor. A former scholarship athlete and member of the track and field as a javelin thrower, he left the football team shortly after arriving in 2009. Back as a walk-on, he was the only punter on hand in the spring.

The team will once again rely on sophomore Ross Krautman as the placekicker and kickoff specialist. A revelation in his first year out of high school, he connected on 18-of-19 field goals attempts, including a long of 48 yards. Undersized, he'll need to improve on his pop and distance.

Sophomore Prince-Tyson Gulley will be the team's primary return man after averaging 21.8 yards on 29 kickoff returns. On punts, sophomore Steven Rene is a jackrabbit with an edge at this point.

Watch Out For … Raupers to get pushed by true freshman Jonathan Fisher in the summer. Raupers didn't do enough in the spring to padlock the punting job, which means he'll be vulnerable when competition arrives in the coming months.
Strength: Krautman. Who could have guessed that a player who wasn't on campus until last summer is now the strength of the special teams unit? More steady than spectacular, it's hard not to get excited about a kicker who missed just one field goal attempt in his debut.
Weakness: The return game. Gulley had a rough first season as the primary kick returner, and Rene is a complete question mark. In general, this sector of the special teams unit lacks much flash, a concern for field position and the rest of the offense.
Outlook: The Orange has a kicker it can rely upon, but after Krautman, there are plenty of question marks and unresolved issues. A capable punter needs to be developed and both the return game and coverage teams can use a little fine-tuning before the start of the season.
Unit Rating: 6

- 2011 Syracuse Preview | 2011 Syracuse Offense
- 2011 Syracuse Defense | 2011 Syracuse Depth Chart
- Syracuse Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006