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2007 Syracuse Preview - Defense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 31, 2007


Preview 2007 Syracuse Orange Defense

Syracuse Orange

Preview 2007
- Defense

- 2007 Syracuse Preview | 2007 Syracuse Offense Preview 
-
2007 Syracuse Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Syracuse Preview 


What you need to know: It might take a little while, but the D will improve as the season goes on, It struggled in every area but getting into the backfield, and with a strong defensive line returning, led be end Jameel McClain, generating pressure won’t be much of a problem. The linebacking corps will be a work in progress with three new starters, but the excellent safety tandem of Dowayne Davis and Joe Fields should clean up plenty of messes.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Joe Fields, 76
Sacks: Jameel McClain, 9.5
Interceptions: Joe Fields, 4

Star of the defense: Senior DE Jameel McClain
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior LB Jake Flaherty
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Brandon Gilbeaux
Best pro prospect: McClain
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McClain, 2) FS Joe Fields, 3) SS Dowayne Davis
Strength of the defense: Safety, pass rush
Weakness of the defense:
Linebacker

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The ineptitude of the 2006 Syracuse offense overshadowed the play of a defense that couldn’t stop the run and uncharacteristically ranked among the nation’s worst.  The Orange will attempt to rebuild the unit around a defensive line that features all-league candidates in seniors Jameel McClain and Tony Jenkins.  McClain’s first season at end was a rousing success that included 69 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and a Big East-best 9.5 sacks.  Just 6-1 and 256 pounds, he explodes off the edge in a Dwight Freeney impersonation which is too much for most tackles to handle. 

A rock on the interior, Jenkins is coming off the best season of his college career.  Using a hot motor and his trademark quickness off the snap, he led all interior linemen with 41 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. 

The other openings on the line will be filled by a couple of sophomores that saw extensive action last year.  Brandon Gilbeaux is a 6-3, 270-pound end who earned Freshman all-Big East honors for picking up 21 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks a year ago.  He’s bulked up significantly since arriving on campus, yet still has a pretty quick first step. 

At tackle, 6-4, 289-pound Arthur Jones is being counted on to build substantially on a debut season that was uneventful.  A former state wrestling champ with good technique, he needs to improve his upper body strength to handle the rigors of facing some of the league’s tougher interior linemen.         

Projected Top Reserves: Powerful junior tackle Nick Santiago will play a key part in the Orange rotation this season.  At 6-3 and 302 pounds, he’s easily the team’s biggest lineman and the type of plugger that can be an asset to Syracuse’s quest for a tighter run defense. 

Sophomore Mike Owen was moved from linebacker to defensive end before the 2006 season in order to make better use of his speed and ability to get penetration.  Now at 6-4 and 255 pounds, he’s being viewed as a situational pass-rusher after mainly appearing on special teams a year ago. 

Adding to the Orange’s suspect depth at end will be redshirt freshmen Andrew Lewis and Jared Kimmel, both of whom spent 2006 putting on muscle and learning the system in the hopes of earning spots on the second unit.            

Watch Out For… the academic grades of Lee Williams and Cornelius Campbell, former Syracuse linemen that combined for 13 starts in 2006.  Both are academically ineligible, but trying to get back in good standing at local community colleges.  Neither exactly lit it up last year, however, retaining two experienced seniors would give a huge boost to a unit that now lacks depth.
Strength: The inside-outside combination of Jenkins and McClain.  For all the dire news about the defense, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Jenkins and McClain were the disruptive catalysts for a group that finished 19th nationally at almost three sacks a game.
Weakness: Depth.  Losing Williams and Campbell hurts most because it forces two kids to contribute right away that probably don’t belong on the field just yet.  After the two staples on the line, the Orange is relying on too many players that have yet to accomplish anything of significance at this level.
Outlook: With McClain ringing up double-digit sacks, the pass rush will be a team strength, but the problems with the run defense won’t disappear until Jenkins gets more help from Jones and Santiago on the inside.
Rating: 6.5

Linebackers

Projected Starters: Although three starters are gone from last year’s team, the Orange still feels cautiously optimistic at linebacker because of the presence of three juniors that have taken plenty of reps over the last two seasons.  Jake Flaherty, Vincenzo Giruzzi and Ben Maljovec are poised for promotions after serving as valuable reserves in 2006. 

Although just 6-1 and 228 pounds, Flaherty is a sensational all-around athlete with the toughness, intensity and instincts to excel in run defense and the speed to cover backs swinging out of the backfield.  He’ll be Syracuse’s man in the middle with a chance to ring up 100 tackles in his first season as a starter. 

Giruzzi is a fifth-year player who redshirted in 2003 and missed all of 2004 with a broken leg.  After two years playing on special teams, he’ll take over on the weakside where his size-speed combo will be especially useful on blitz packages.  A former safety that picked off two passes in 2006, Maljovec hasn’t lost the pass coverage skills that used to be a necessity when he was a member of the secondary.  Now 6-3 and 223 pounds, he’s athletic, intelligent and about to begin his first season as the starter at strongside.        

Projected Top Reserves: In any other season, redshirt freshman Parker Cantey would have been brought along more slowly, but with the turnover at linebacker, he’ll be thrown into the deep end of the pool.  A superb athlete at 6-3 and 216 pounds, he’s a little more muscle and some game reps away from being a major contributor. 

Sophomore Mike Stenclik will be the backup to Flaherty at middle linebacker after appearing in three games.  Undersized at 6-0 and 225 pounds, he relies on his lateral quickness and reading of offenses to make plays. 

Watch Out For… the incoming freshmen.  The shaky situation at linebacker creates an immediate opportunity for heralded newcomers Jermaine Pierce and Romale Tucker.  A major get for the Orange, Pierce is a 6-3, 240-pound menace that’ll be very hard to keep away from the two-deep.
Strength
: Athleticism.  The new linebackers may not have a single start among them, but that’s no indictment on their collective ability to move rapidly to the ball and make plays.  Flaherty, Giruzzi and Maljovec are athletes first with the range and quickness to make plays all over the field.
Weakness: Depth.  Not only will Syracuse be breaking in a whole new starting three, but not one of the second or third teamers has ever even made a tackle at this level.  Any injuries to the starters might quickly stretch this group to its breaking point.
Outlook: The Orange will recover surprisingly well from the turnover, getting a fringe all-Big East season from Flaherty and solid years from Giruzzi and Maljovec.  The linebackers might actually wind up being an asset if they don’t have to rely too heavily on the backups.
Rating: 6

Secondary

Projected Starters: If there’s one single most pressing need on defense, it’s replacing two starting corners, especially current pro Tanard Jackson.  On a defense pining for a shut down corner, junior Nick Chestnut is ready to fill the order.  A playmaking athlete who caught three touchdown passes as a true freshman receiver, he had 56 tackles to go along with two picks and a forced fumble in 2006.  Although just 5-11 and 185 pounds, Chestnut is physical, fast and on the verge of becoming a game-changer in the secondary.  On the opposite side, the situation will be far more fluid. 

Senior Jason Tanner has the edge at right corner based on seniority, however, he played sparingly last year for a reason.  A 5-11, 200-pound former JUCO transfer, he’ll need to step up this summer to hold off a couple of the eager young kids that have more physical ability. 

The safeties are set with the return of starting seniors Dowayne Davis and Joe Fields.  Davis is a 6-0, 200-pound strong safety about to begin his third season as the starter.  He’s a hard-hitting all-Big East candidate that’ll be one of the leaders of this defense.  Fields’ first season after moving from quarterback went better than anyone could have guessed.  A naturally gifted athlete with good size, he had 66 tackles and led the defense with eight break ups and four interceptions in 2006.  With the awkwardness of that first season on defense now behind him, Fields is looking to emerge as an even more productive defender in his final year.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior A.J. Brown nearly won the free safety job a year ago before picking off three passes as the Orange’s steadiest reserve.  At 6-0 and 200 pounds, he has the agility of a corner, making him an asset on passing downs.  With continued development from Brown, Davis may move to corner in order to open space in the starting lineup. 

Junior Bruce Williams is the heir apparent to Davis at strong safety.  A former star high school receiver with great ball skills, he missed half of last season with a hand injury and is still learning the finer points of playing defense. 

Like Williams, the staff hopes it can transform senior Quinton Brown from a fluid pass-catcher to a feisty pass defender.  After playing offense his first two years, he’ll bolster the secondary depth at cornerback. 

Redshirt freshman Nico Scott made enough of an impression on the scout team last year to warrant a real close look at cornerback in 2007.              

Watch Out For… true freshman cornerback Matt Reid.  Physically and emotionally, he has the right makeup to soar past a few upperclassmen en route to immediate playing time in 2007.  A superb athlete with deft ball skills, he will not shy away from contact despite holding just 165 pounds on his 6-1 frame.
Strength: The safeties.  Davis and Fields are a couple of seniors that play like linebackers in run defense, yet don’t sacrifice much when playing the pass.  Brown and Williams are veteran backups who’ll be auditioning this fall to start in 2008.
Weakness: Cornerback depth.  Chestnut is on the fast track, however, Tanner is a big question mark on the other side and the reserves inject precious little experience or confidence to the equation.
Outlook: While building depth and developing a capable rotation at cornerback will be important tasks for the defense, there are enough veteran holdovers to feel confident about this group heading into the season.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: When an offense labors to score as much as Syracuse’s does, it’s a godsend to have a reliable kicker like junior Patrick Shadle, a Groza Award semifinalist in his debut as the starter.  Although he’s yet to get a chance to show off his distance, inside 50 yards, he was near-automatic in 2006, nailing 16-of-18 field goal attempts and all 21 extra point tries.  All is not so stable at punter where the Orange will be auditioning replacements for big Brendan Carney who also handled kickoffs and was the team’s holder. 

A pair of walk-ons, sophomore Kyle Muir and junior Niko Rechul will go toe-to-toe before being joined by incoming freshman Rob Long in August.  Muir has a slight edge that could easily evaporate between now and the opener.  On a team that endures plenty of three-and-outs, the punter is especially important at Syracuse.          

Projected Top Reserves: Junior John Barker is no threat to Shadle, however, he does offer a nice insurance policy in the event of an injury.  Barker connected on 8-of-12 field goals in 2005, most from close range, and is also expected to supplant Carney as the holder.                  

Watch Out For: Long.  The punting job is wide-open with no clear favorite, opening the door for Long to start immediately as a true freshman.  He was recruited to contribute right away and it won’t hurt his case that he and Carney are close friends.
Strength: Shadle.  He won’t get as much attention as the Big East’s more prominent kickers, but Shadle proved last year that he’s one of Syracuse’s steadiest offensive weapons and about to carry on the tradition of solid Orange placekickers.
Weakness: Punting.  Even in a best case scenario, the drop-off from Carney figures to be precipitous which is going to put even more pressure on an Orange D that can ill-afford any more obstacles.
Outlook: The special teams glass is half full.  Or half empty, depending on your perspective.  While Shadle will build on his sophomore season, the Orange could spend the entire year struggling with its punting situation.  Syracuse can also use a boost from its return teams which ranked in the bottom half of the league in 2006.
Rating: 6

  

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