2012 Syracuse Preview - Defense
Syracuse LB Marquis Spruill
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Syracuse Orange Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The Orange linebackers better be very, very good in 2012 because the first and final lines of defense are going to be very, very suspect. First, the good news. Syracuse returns three quality starters to the second level, Dyshawn Davis, Marquis Spruill and Dan Vaughan. Spruill was an All-Big East second-teamer in 2011, and all three of the regulars do an excellent job of covering the field with the range of a safety. However, the Orange is far from complete on this side of the ball. Starting defensive ends Chandler Jones and Mikhail Marinovich are no longer in Upstate New York, forcing the staff to move former nose tackle Deon Goggins to one of the outside positions. The tackles, Cory Boatman and Jay Bromley, are small and quick, but lack the needed girth to stuff the run the way the program would like. The secondary has one potential star and a whole lot of question marks. SS Shamarko Thomas is a tremendous all-around athlete who'll get a chance to play on Sundays. Syracuse could use a couple more just like him. Instead, though, the unit is mostly comprised of mediocrity a year after it ranked 98th nationally in pass defense, and picked off just 10 passes.
Star of the defense: Senior SS Shamarko Thomas
Tackles: Dan Vaughan, 72
Sacks: Dyshawn Davis, 4
Interceptions: Jeremi Wilkes, 1
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE Brandon Sharpe
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DT Jay Bromley
Best pro prospect: Thomas
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Thomas, 2) Junior LB Marquis Spruill, 3) Senior LB Dan Vaughan
Strength of the defense: Run defense, the linebackers, red-zone D
Weakness of the defense: The defensive ends, the secondary, third-down D
Parting with starting DE Mikhail Marinovich and backup tackle Torrey Ball was a body blow. Losing DE Chandler Jones, a first-round pick of the New England Patriots, a year earlier than hoped to the NFL Draft was a knockout punch for the Orange D. Syracuse needs to mine replacements on the outside—in a hurry—for the sake of the pass rush. For senior junior Brandon Sharpe, it's suddenly a case of now or never. The 6-2, 245-pound linebacker-turned-end has played plenty during his career, but primarily as a backup, making 45 tackles, 9.5 stops for loss and 7.5 sacks as a situational pass rusher over the past three seasons. However, now he must prove he can contribute on all three downs.
The staff is excited about the potential of DE Donnie Simmons, the three-star recruit form the 2011 class. While built like a linebacker at 6-2 and 226 pounds, the redshirt freshman has the get-off and explosiveness to beat opposing tackles off the snap and into the backfield. He's played well enough in the offseason to maintain a spot atop the depth chart.
The veteran off the bench will be Deon Goggins, the end who played tackle in his first season out of Cerritos (Calif.) Community College. He actually started all 12 games a year ago, making 43 tackles, 7.5 stops for loss and 1.5 sacks. He's active for a 6-1, 272-pounder, and gives the line some much-needed girth on the outside.
Set to take over at the nose is 6-1, 281-pound senior Cory Boatman, a reliable veteran of three career letters. However, he has just one career start, peaking in 2011 with 13 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss and a sack. He's quick off the snap, but is prone to getting overpowered by more physical opponents.
Next to Boatman at defensive tackle will be 6-3, 280-pound junior Jay Bromley. The late-bloomer started 10 games in 2011, making 32 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss and 1.5 sacks. He has been making up for lost time with the Orange, showcasing terrific leverage and upper body strength en route to becoming the program's best interior lineman. Bromley is still evolving as a defender, and has a trajectory that could wind up on the All-Big East Team over the next two seasons.
Watch Out For … Sharpe to struggle at the point of attack, but still put up decent numbers as a pass rusher. While he's not really a three-down defensive end, he does have certain qualities that a staff looks for in a pass rusher. He's quick, hard-working and experience, which could equal about a half-dozen sacks this season.
Strength: Clogging running lanes. With Bromley heading the charge, the Orange did a solid job versus the run last season, ranking 32nd nationally, and yielding just 3.5 yards a carry. The ends could be a little vulnerable at the point of attack, which is why the offseason shift of Goggins makes so much sense.
Weakness: Proven commodities on the outside. Of the five Orange defenders who had at least two sacks in 2011, three were linebackers and two were departing ends. The program is putting an awful lot of faith in a first-time player, Simmons, and a career reserve, Sharpe, who has been used as third-down specialist up to this point.
Outlook: Syracuse was a different team when Jones was injured and missed time last season. Time will tell how well they handle his permanent absence now that the program has had an entire offseason of preparation. The Orange should be quick on the perimeter, but at what expense? The front four averages less than 260 pounds, a concern when facing some of the more physical teams in the Big East.
Unit Rating: 6.5
Last year, the Syracuse linebackers were forced to rebuild. This year, it enjoys the fruit of its labor. The Orange returns three starters and a handful of other letterwinners to a unit that hopes to be the strength of the D. It's been a particularly busy offseason for 6-1, 216-pound junior Marquis Spruill who has been feverishly rehabbing a lower body injury following surgery. Health aside, he's one of the leaders of the entire defense, successfully shifting to the middle in 2011. An explosive defender, who changes direction in a snap, he turned 62 tackles, 8.5 stops for loss, three sacks and two fumble recoveries into a spot on the All-Big East Second Team.
While Spruill sat out the spring, 5-10, 210-pound senior Siriki Diabate took the first-team snaps at middle linebacker. He was an instant contributor in his first season out of Nassau (N.Y.) Community College, earning two starts, and making 24 tackles, three stops behind the line and a sack. He plays with the right pad level to be an effective run stopper.
Holding down strongside will be 6-2, 219-pound junior Dan Vaughan, a starter for the second straight year. He's one of the intense, emotional leaders of the D, laying the lumber, and always playing to the whistle. Impressive in his debut as a regular, he ranked second on the team with 72 tackles, including 6.5 behind the line and a couple of forced fumbles.
At weakside, there's a battle brewing that won't be decided until the summer. The incumbent is 6-3, 213-pound sophomore Dyshawn Davis, who turned head in his first fall removed from high school. He started 10 games, finishing with 43 tackles, a team-best 10.5 for loss and four sacks. He plays the game very fast from sideline to sideline, but also needs to add more strength, and improve his overall consistency. Maybe a push from fellow sophomore Cameron Lynch will provide the needed motivation. The 5-11, 223-pounder, too, played extensively as a rookie, chipping in 35 tackles, three stops for loss and a pair of sacks. He's in this race for the long haul, and will do no worse than getting a ton of reps off the bench.
Watch Out For … Spruill's health. He's talented, but still very young, so that missed spring session is actually a really big deal. The program has been somewhat coy about the extent of the injury and the timetable, so breaths are being held that he'll be at full-strength in time for the start of fall camp in August.
Strength: Range and athleticism. At a base level, the Orange linebackers are simply good athletes, who get off the snap quickly, and move with all of the lateral explosion of some safeties. They cover ground in a hurry, which is not only beneficial to the run D; it's a boon to the pass defense as well.
Weakness: Size. Being fast and nimble can sometimes come at a price. In the case of the Syracuse linebackers, they're painfully small across the board and will spend yet another offseason trying to pack on added muscle. If unsuccessful, it's going to show when other teams run directly at the defense in the fall.
Outlook: The Orange took a positive step forward last season, improving a unit that needed to be rebuilt following the graduations of Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith. The unit remains young after using a bunch of underclassmen in 2011, but that also means that their ceilings are high. The keys between now and the opener are to get everyone stronger, and to get Spruill healthy.
Unit Rating: 7
A year after playing to mixed reviews in pass defense, the secondary will be lifting the curtain on a couple of new starters. The fulcrum of the unit will once again be senior SS Shamarko Thomas, a fourth-year starter. He's posted 67 tackles in each of the last two seasons, displaying a tremendous work ethic, versatility and good instincts for the position. A workout warrior, he's one of the inspirational leaders of the Orange, constantly looking to go the extra mile to improve his strength, and increase his value to the team.
The opening at free safety appears as if it'll be filled by 5-9, 189-pound junior Jeremi Wilkes, who has lettered in each of the last two seasons, including five starts in 2011. The former cornerback had 41 tackles after being pressed into duty, playing bigger than his size might indicate.
Junior Keon Lyn is expected to regain his starting cornerback once he returns from an injury that sidelined him in the spring. There were some dicey moments, when he hinted toward leaving the program, but he's back, and itching to return to action in the summer. The long and lean 6-1, 190-pounder started the first nine games of his career a year ago, making 23 tackles, and breaking up three throws.
Challenging Lyn is 5-10, 179-pound sophomore Brandon Reddish who looked in the offseason as if he's evolved since his first season on campus. As a reserve and special teamer, he made six tackles, but blanketed receivers in the spring as if he doesn't plan on coming off the bench for much longer.
The team's other projected starting cornerback is 6-1, 189-pound junior Ri'Shard Anderson. The former top recruit from the 2009 class began to approach his high school hype last fall, starting six games, and making 22 tackles and a pair of fumble recoveries. He still needs work fine-tuning his coverage skills, but has the size and natural athletic ability to gradually evolve over his final two seasons with the program.
Watch Out For … Thomas to finally start getting some of the regional—and national—attention he deserves. The senior's days of being overlooked by all-star voters are about to come to an end. He was saddled by nagging injuries a year ago, but now that he's at full strength, he's capable of having the kind of finale that sheds what's left of his anonymity.
Strength: Hitting . With Thomas as the front man, the Orange is capable of intimidating opposing receivers who cross through the final line of defense. The defensive backs are well-schooled in the art of lowering their shoulders, wrapping up in the open field and drilling the opposition into the turf.
Weakness: Coverage skills. Despite playing in a Big East not littered with Davey O'Brien Award candidates, the Orange were last in the league in completion %, next to last in picks and touchdowns yielded and last in pass efficiency D. The secondary has a long way to go before even achieving an acceptable level of mediocrity.
Outlook: Thomas aside, the defensive backfield harbors far more question marks than answers heading into 2012, a situation exacerbated by concerns over the team's pass rush. This sketchy group will survive against the likes of Connecticut and Temple, but should be easy pickings for USC, Louisville and Missouri.
Unit Rating: 6
The Orange special teams unit will once again be bolstered by its placekicker, junior Ross Krautman. Though undersized, with average leg strength, he has pinpoint accuracy, connecting on 33-of-38 career field goal attempts. The 5-7, 155-pounder will also handle kickoff duties.
Reprising his role as the team's punter is sophomore Jonathan Fisher. As a rookie fresh out of high school, he beat out older holdovers. However, he averaged less than 40 yards a boot, which he'll be looking to beef up in Year 2 on campus.
While sophomore Jeremiah Kobena put a jolt into the kick return team, averaging 22.8 yards an attempt, junior Steven Rene will be looking to ignite a group of punt returners who were AWOL in 2011.
Watch Out For … Fisher to display considerably more consistency and pop this fall. Yeah, he was a little overwhelmed in his first crack at college ball, but he has enough talent to go from being a wide-eyed liability to a special teams asset.
Strength: Krautman. He's been Mr. Automatic for the Orange, two years running. Although he may not be the guy to boom a game-winner from 53 yards out, when inside the 40, he's one of the country's most precise placekickers.
Weakness: Field position. Whether it was the necrotic punt returners, who averaged a mere three yards an attempt, or the inconsistent kickoff coverage team, Syracuse labored to establish good field position throughout last season.
Outlook: Syracuse has Krautman, an all-star-caliber placekicker, and a lot of question marks. Punter, the return game and the coverage teams all need to set a higher standard after wallowing in mediocrity in 2011. The Orange need to do the little things better this fall, beginning with this often overlooked group.
Unit Rating: 6.5
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2012 Syracuse Defense |
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