2013 Syracuse Preview - Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Syracuse Orange Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The Syracuse D was just average a year ago. Average isn't going to cut it for the Orange, especially as the team starts play as a member of the ACC. Now that Scott Shafer has been promoted to head coach, he needed to find a replacement for himself at defensive coordinator, a job that went to Chuck Bullough, who wants to dictate the tempo, much the way Shafer did when he was an assistant. Applying pressure, though, could require blitzes from the linebackers and safeties, because the ends are unproven and relatively untested. The Orange, in fact, has concerns on the perimeter of the secondary as well, lacking the stoppers to shut down opposing quarterbacks. The strength of this defense will be up the middle, where the tackles are stout, and the linebackers play with the desired range. At 6-4 and 290 pounds, unit leader Jay Bromley is by far the smallest defensive tackle on the two-deep. Dyshawn Davis and Marquis Spruill will once again set the tone from the second level, flying all over the field in order to leave an imprint on the offense.
Star of the defense: Junior LB Dyshawn Davis
Tackles: Dyshawn Davis, 69
Sacks: Cameron Lynch, 4
Interceptions: Keon Lyn, 3
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Trevon Trejo
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore SS Durell Eskridge
Best pro prospect: Senior DT Jay Bromley
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Davis, 2) Senior LB Marquis Spruill, 3) Bromley
Strength of the defense: The tackles, linebacker, veterans in the secondary
Weakness of the defense: The defensive ends, pass defense, yielding big plays
Graduations and dismissals have the Orange rebuilding along the D-line for a second consecutive year. The 2012 edition got a big boost from the senior year of Brandon Sharpe, but is there another Sharpe on the 2013 roster? The group's new physical and emotional leader will be senior DT Jay Bromley. The 6-4, 290-pound third-year starter is moving off the nose for the first time in his career. He's improved every season with the program, and as a big man, he does a nice job of getting penetration. In 2012, Bromley collected 39 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss and 2.5 sacks.
Now that Bromley has vacated the nose, junior Eric Crume is poised to fill the opening. At 6-0 and 325 pounds, Crume can fill plenty of openings, using his leverage and lower body strength to become an immovable object on the interior. He started the Cincinnati game in 2012, winding up with 15 stops and a couple of tackles for minus yards.
The ends are going to be a concern in Upstate New York. It figures to be an important year for year Cleveland native Micah Robinson, who'll be given an opportunity to showcase all of his skills this fall. The 6-4, 273-pound junior lettered off the bench the last two seasons, making 18 tackles and 2.5 stops for minus yards in 2012. The biggest of the ends will be a key cog in run defense this season.
Junior Robert Welsh is hoping to become the smaller, quicker end for the Syracuse pass rush. The 6-3, 259-pounder appeared in 13 games a season ago, but was only in on four tackles. He'll need to continue honing his moves and working on his hand placement in order to remain atop the depth chart throughout 2013.
Hovering just behind the starting ends is 6-4, 256-pound redshirt freshman Ron Thompson, a convert from the offensive side of the ball. He arrived out of Michigan as a four-star tight end, but missed his rookie year to an injury. Thompson has a lot of natural ability that the coaching staff must now mold into a consistent and versatile defensive end prospect. The backups on the interior are a couple of beefy transfers, 6-4, 315-pound NT Zian Jones from West Los Angeles (Calif.) College and 6-5, 319-pound DT John Raymon from Iowa. Jones lettered for the Orange last season, coming off the bench for eight tackles.
Watch Out For … the newcomers to challenge for playing time right away. The Orange signed a pair of three-star JUCO transfers, DE Trevon Trejo and DT Wayne Williams, both of whom are being counted on to fill slots on the depth chart. Trejo is a long and athletic pass rusher, who chose Syracuse over Michigan State.
Strength: Clogging running lanes. The Orange is going to feature considerable girth on the interior of the D-line, ideal for creating traffic jams for opposing running backs. Not only will Bromley and Crume be counted on as run-stuffers in the fall, but powerful backups Jones, Raymon and Williams will be as well.
Weakness: Edge rushers. This is an area of gloominess that could hover around the defense right through the regular season. Robinson and Welsh are unproven, and not a single returning defensive end had more than two sacks a year ago. If Syracuse is forced to attack the pocket by unconventional means, some area of the back seven is going to suffer.
Outlook: It's a tale of two disparate stories for the Orange D-line. On the one hand, the team is excited about its tackles, a deepening collection of wide-bodies eager to support the run defense. However, who is going to collapse the pocket from the flanks now that Chandler Jones and Brandon Sharpe have departed the last two years, respectively? Trejo is an intriguing addition, with a Jones-like frame and a great opportunity to become a first-year starter in the ACC.
Unit Rating: 6.5
If the Orange D survives wholesale changes this season, it'll likely be due to the play of the linebackers. Junior Dyshawn Davis has played well in his first two seasons out of high school, freelancing the field from his weakside position. The 6-2, 212-pounder is a nice all-around athlete from the outside, with the range and closing speed to make stops from sideline to sideline. Of his 69 tackles, 14 were for minus yards, an indication of his burst and instincts on running downs. Davis also recovered two fumbles and pick off his first career pass, laying the foundation for the second half of his career.
Next to Davis in the middle will be 6-1, 224-pound senior Marquis Spruill, one of the graybeards of the entire D. He's about to begin his fourth year as a starter after collecting a career-high 64 stops, nine tackles for loss and two sacks in 2012. Spruill plays tougher than his size might indicate, taking on and shedding much bigger blockers. He's also a regular candidate to be called upon on blitzes, timing his attack before exploding into the backfield. The Orange need No. 11's leadership and intensity on the field from start to finish this season.
Completing the starting unit from strongside is junior Cameron Lynch, a two-game starter in 2012 about to get promoted. Even when reps have been hard to come by, the 5-11, 234-pounder has shown a penchant for making plays behind the line, collecting 42 tackles and four sacks in 2012. Lynch is one of the team's hardest workers in the weight room, packing on more than 10 pounds of muscle since last season.
Behind Lynch at strongside is 6-1, 227-pound senior Lewellyn Coker. He's contributed on special teams and defense, earning three career letters, while topping out with nine tackles in 2012. At 6-2 and 253 pounds, junior Luke Arciniega, a first-year transfer from Sierra (Calif.) College, gives the Orange much-needed size and strength in the middle.
Watch Out For … Lynch to fit right in. Yeah, he's a newcomer to the starting lineup, but it'll hardly be noticeable. The junior is smart, experienced and determined to prove he belongs in the same huddle with Davis and Spruill. Lynch has spent the last two seasons preparing for this chance to be a full-timer on defense.
Strength: Range and athleticism. At a base level, the Syracuse linebackers are simply really good athletes, who get off the snap in a hurry, and move with the lateral explosion of some safeties. From left to right, they cover ground in a hurry, which is going to benefit the pass defense as well as the run D.
Weakness: Size. Being fast and nimble can sometimes come at a price. In the case of the Syracuse linebackers, they're noticeably small across the board, and will spend yet another offseason trying to pack on added muscle. The starters average about 6-1 and 220 pounds, which leaves them vulnerable when matched with physical opponents.
Outlook: The 2013 defense is strongest at the second level … and it might not even be a close competition. Davis and Spruill are a couple of quality playmakers, roaming the field with speed, intensity and keen instincts. Lynch is not the typical newcomer to the starting lineup, something he'll prove very early in the season. The backups are mediocre, but that won't matter as long as the regulars can remain healthy from wire-to-wire.
Unit Rating: 7.5
The Orange is only missing one of last year's starters, but it's a key one, All-Big East SS Shamarko Thomas. Filling Thomas' large shoes this fall will be sophomore Durell Eskridge. No stranger to the field, the 6-3, 202-pound athlete started a pair of games at free safety in 2012, closing the year with 36 tackles, three stops for loss and a pair of sacks. While still a little raw, Eskridge has the size, speed and ferocity as a tackler to gradually bloom into a very productive defender.
Returning to free safety is 5-9, 189-pound senior Jeremi Wilkes, who has started 18 games over the last two seasons. The former cornerback plays bigger than his size, making 61 tackles in 2012, while finishing second on the team with 47 solo stops. Wilkes is one of the feisty leaders of the last line of defense.
Syracuse will be experienced at cornerback entering the 2013 season. Senior Keon Lyn
has started 19 games since 2011, including 10 a year ago. The 6-1, 200-pounder has terrific size for the position, keeping him from getting outmuscled by bigger receivers. He also possesses the team's best cover skills, concluding his junior season by 46 tackles and team-highs with three interceptions and seven pass breakups.
Fellow senior Ri'Shard Anderson will be joining Lyn in the lineup at cornerback. Like Lyn, Anderson has also started 19 games over the past two seasons, including each contest in 2012. He's an agile 6-0, 189-pound defender who lacks consistency when the ball is in the air. Anderson chipped in 41 tackles last season, but had just one pick and a pair of pass breakups.
Anderson's biggest challenge at cornerback will come from 5-11, 185-pound junior Brandon Reddish, a quality cover guy to have in the rotation. The two-time letterwinner started three games last season, showcasing his playmaking ability by making 35 stops, 4.5 tackles for loss, one sack, a pick and two forced fumbles. Former corner Wayne Morgan lined up at free safety in the spring, and will back up Wilkes. The 5-10, 191-pound Morgan came off the bench to make 14 tackles in 2012. Challenging Eskridge at strong safety will be 5-11, 190-pound junior Ritchy Desir. Though built like a cornerback, Desir is a good open-field tackler who notched a career-high 24 stops in 2012.
Watch Out For … Eskridge to not look like the lone new starter to the secondary. On pure physical ability alone, he ought to make a relatively smooth transition from reserve to starter in 2013. Eskridge looks the part, which is something he'll attempt to showcase to pro scouts over the next three seasons.
Strength: Leadership. The defensive backfield will have the luxury in 2013 of being led by three seniors, Lyn, Anderson and Wilkes. The presence of the trio, which has logged a lot of minutes in the Carrier Dome, is not only good for the starting secondary, but also the younger Orange players representing the future in 2014.
Weakness: Coverage skills. It's a basic knock pertaining to a secondary, but it's a nagging issue that's dogged the program for the past few years. The Orange just gets burned too often through air, as evidenced by last year's results. Even when Thomas was still the warden on the last line of defense, Syracuse still finished near the bottom of the Big East in just about every category pertaining to pass D.
Outlook: Syracuse labored to remain afloat as a member of the Big East. Life will not get any easier for the defensive backs as the program transitions to the ACC. The Orange is experienced and physical out of the secondary, but consistently blanketing opposing receivers is a problem. One silver lining for 2013 is that half of the team's on Syracuse's will be breaking in new hurlers.
Unit Rating: 6.5
Senior Ross Krautman may be the incumbent at placekicker, but that hasn't kept sophomore Ryan Norton from mounting a challenge this offseason. Krautman has been in charge for the last three years, connecting on 48-of-61 career field goals and all but three extra point attempts. However, his accuracy has steadily declined, from 95% as a rookie to 79% in 2011 and a disappointing 65% last fall. Plus, in 2012, Norton took control of kickoffs duties, averaging 61.2 yards.
Like Krautman, junior P Jonathan Fisher has been a special teams fixture, but needs to polish up his act in order to keep his job. The regular over the last two seasons averaged just 39.3 yards in 2011 and 38.4 yards a year ago. He did, however, improve his directional kicks, placing 18-of-53 inside the 20-yard line.
The Orange will continue its search for playmaking special teamers in the return game during the summer. Junior Jeremiah Kobena, senior Steven Rene and junior Ritchy Desir all contributed a year ago, but no one came close to impressing.
Watch Out For … Norton to keep the pressure on Krautman throughout the summer. While the trend has not been good for the incumbent, the challenger has showed off his leg strength and improving accuracy since March. The fact that Krautman has held this job for three years won't guarantee much.
Strength: Depth at kicker. Krautman or Norton. Norton or Krautman. It doesn't really matter as long as the starter kicks with accuracy. At the end of the day, Syracuse is going to house more than one placekicker capable holding down this job.
Weakness: The return game. The Orange was absolutely dreadful on returns last season, ranking 108th on punts and 106th on kickoffs. Now more ever, as a new quarterback is broken in, the offense will be pining for better field position and additional support from the special teamers.
Outlook: The Orange staff will be busy this summer as it attempts to right the wrongs of a sketchy special teams unit. While the placekickers certainly have potential and experience, every other area of the group is underwhelming. Fisher needs more distance, and both the return games and coverage units are works in progress.
Unit Rating: 6
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