2008 Syracuse Preview |
Syracuse Defense |
2008 Syracuse Depth
2007 Syracuse Depth Chart
2006 CFN Syracuse Preview
What you need to know:
The Orange D
was abysmal in every facet requiring a complete overhaul.
Unfortunately, the talent is suspect and not likely to get much
better since allowing 35 points and 468 yards a game. Opposing
offenses moved the ball at will, and now the D will lean more on
NT Arthur Jones and rising underclassmen, such as CB Mike Holmes
and LB Parker Cantey, to try to change things around. As if the
unit couldn’t get more unsettled, coordinator Steve Russ left
for Wake Forest in February leaving Derrick Jackson to share the
duties with the head coach. Somehow, the front seven must
generate more pressure after getting to the quarterback just
nine times in 2007.
Tackles: Jake Flaherty,
Several with 1
Interceptions: A.J. Brown, 2
Star of the
Junior NT Arthur Jones
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Mike Holmes
Best pro prospect: Jones
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Jones, 2) Senior LB
Jake Flaherty, 3) Holmes
Strength of the defense: The middle of the defense
Weakness of the defense: The secondary, stopping the run,
getting to the quarterback
A year ago, junior NT Arthur Jones was a complete unknown
outside the program. Today, he’s the anchor of a line that must
assert itself after getting routinely abused. Jones emerged
with 51 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, and a sack as he earned
a spot on the All-Big East Second Team. The 6-4 and 291 pounder
has an outstanding work ethic and the technique to navigate
through double teams.
On the inside, Jones will be joined by senior Nick Santiago,
a three-time letterwinner that’s finally getting an opportunity
to be a regular. One of the line’s strongest players at 6-3 and
294 pounds, he’s a high motor guy that won’t wow anyone with his
explosion or upfield burst.
In order to generate more pressure off the edge, the Orange has
moved senior Vincenzo Giruzzi from linebacker to
defensive end. Actually, he played the position last November,
finishing the year with 41 tackles and a couple of tackles for
loss. Now in his sixth year with the program, the 6-3,
241-pound Giruzzi shows the speed and intensity the defense is
looking for from its pass rushers.
On the other side will be junior Brandon Gilbeaux, who
produced 49 tackles, six tackles for loss, and a sack in his
second season of action. Still growing, the 6-3, 276-pounder
offers a more formidable presence in run defense than the
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore tackles Bud
Tribbey and Anthony Perkins will be after their
second letters as key backups to the Orange starters. Tribbey
impressed in his debut, playing in every game and making 17
stops. One of the program’s top recruits of 2007, he’s a squat
6-1, 288-pounder that’s skilled with his hands and plays with
good pad level. He’ll play a supporting role for one more year
before seeking a promotion in 2009.
Perkins collected seven tackles in limited action, showing good
quickness in a 6-4, 268-pound frame. With the potential to
disrupt, had a solid spring, capped by a pair of tackles for
loss in the final scrimmage.
Depth at defensive end is a growing concern for Greg Robinson.
Jared Kimmel has the most experience, and he’s a
sophomore that played just four games before an ACL tear sent
him to the sidelines. The 6-6, 255-pounder with the bright
future practiced without contact in April, and should be full
speed ahead in the summer.
After redshirting last season, freshman Lamar Middleton
is expected to join the rotation, especially if Kimmel has any
setbacks in his rehabilitation. At 6-3 and 254 pounds,
he’s added the weight needed to support the run, yet moves with
the quickness of some linebackers.
Watch Out For… the backup tackles. Tribbey and
Perkins are young, quick, and full of energy. In other words,
they’re exactly what the Orange is looking for on defense.
Jones is obviously safe, but Santiago better raise the level of
his game if he wants to remain in the lineup.
Strength: Jones. In a sea of mediocrity, he
stands out with a knack for busting through opposing lines and
making stops for negative yards. The NFL has taken notice of
Jones, who could leave early if he builds on his breakout
Weakness: The ends. Syracuse has plenty of
problems on the line, but they’re worst at defensive end.
Gilbeaux will have occasional moments, but Giruzzi is playing
out of position and the reserves have almost no experience.
Outlook: After getting shoved around in 2007, the Orange
must replace two of its better producers, DE Jameel McClain and
DT Tony Jenkins. Jones is a budding star, but he won’t be
nearly enough to reverse the recent trend of poor run defenses
and quiet pass rushers.
Senior Jake Flaherty is the undisputed leader of a
linebacker corps that will be dominated by underclassmen. In
his first season of extensive action, he erupted for 95 tackles,
6.5 tackles for loss, and a sack. Only 6-1 and 228 pounds, he’s
got the toughness, instincts, and intelligence of a middle
linebacker that excels in run defense.
On the outside, Syracuse is trying to upgrade from Vincenzo
Giruzzi and Ben Maljovec, who struggled in 2007 and were given
new addresses. The favorite at weakside is sophomore Mike
Mele, who notched 29 tackles and his first two career
starts. Safety-sized at 6-0 and 218 pounds, he has top lateral
quickness and the straight line speed to be a factor on the
There’s a competitive battle taking at strongside, where
sophomore Parker Cantey has a slim lead on classmate
Derrell Smith. A Big East All-Freshman selection, Cantey
debuted with 27 tackles, most of which came in November. A long
and lean athlete at 6-3 and 218 pounds, he’s a quick learner
that flashes the potential to drop back fluidly in coverage or
sell out on the blitz.
The 6-1, 225-pound Smith was a running back a year ago, but has
the size, explosion in his hips, and change-of-direction that
got the staff believing he can contribute on defense. Playing
with a violent bent, he looked good enough in the spring to keep
the Orange from officially naming a starter at the position.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Mike Stenclik
is a reliable and seasoned backup to Flaherty in the
middle. Just 6-0 and 229 pounds, he’s an instinctive defender
that takes good angles and can shed larger blockers. After
missing the first seven games of the year with a concussion, he
rebounded with 23 tackles, three tackles for loss, and a sack
over the final five games.
Watch Out For… Flaherty to be one of the Big
East’s top tacklers. A year older and wiser, he figures to
gobble up a slew of the tackles that slip past the first line of
defense, especially with so much inexperience flanking him.
Strength: Athleticism. From left to right,
all of the Orange linebackers sport above average lateral
quickness and the hips to spin and drop back into pass
coverage. At strongside, Cantey and Smith have the
explosiveness to become playmakers once they get more
comfortable at the position.
Weakness: Size. All of that quickness comes at a
price for the defense. At 6-1 and 229 pounds, Flaherty is the
biggest member of the unit, a major concern when the Orange
faces a physical ground game that gets its guards and tackles to
the second level in a hurry.
Outlook: While the final tackle numbers for the
linebackers will look impressive, that won’t necessarily mean
the group is overachieving. The unit will clean up a lot of
messes that materialize up front, but need to make more big
plays and create more turnovers to be considered a defensive
There’s uncertainty just about everywhere in the Orange
secondary, except when it comes to sophomore Mike Holmes,
a fixture at cornerback for the defense. An eight-game starter
as a rookie, he assimilated quickly, making 64 tackles, breaking
up a couple of passes, and earning a spot on the Big East
All-Freshman team. Still learning, the 5-11, 185-pound Holmes
flashes the speed and hips to be a rare four-year starter.
While no lock to win the job, sophomore Nico Scott has a
razor-thin edge to be the other starting cornerback. Primarily
a reserve in his first year, he started a pair of games,
finishing with 21 tackles. A 5-10, 180-pounder with a slight
build, he needs to prove he can toe-to-toe with some of the
league’s more physical receivers.
The graduations of Dowayne Davis and Joe Fields mean there’ll be
a couple of new safeties roaming the secondary. The favorite at
strong safety, A.J. Brown, has a decent amount of
experience, starting five games in 2007 and earning letters in
each of the last two seasons. At 6-0 and 201 pounds, he had 38
tackles and a pair of interceptions, showing off good ball
skills and coverage ability.
Odds are that Brown will be joined by fellow senior Bruce
Williams, a 6-0, 200-pound free safety with the ball skills
of a former high school receiver. A career backup that had
16 tackles and a pick a year ago, he finally has a legitimate
opportunity to be in the every-day lineup.
Projected Top Reserves: Senior Paul Chiara,
a three-time letterwinner at running back has been moved to
safety to provide competition to Williams. No stranger to
contact, the 5-11, 205-pounder earned a reputation as a physical
player on special teams.
The only strong safety with any experience is sophomore Randy
McKinnon, who played in 12 games a year ago and had six
tackles. The 5-10, 198-pounder is not only battling Brown, but
also Kevyn Scott, a 5-11, 197-pound redshirt freshman
that turned a few head sin March and April.
The staff is hopeful that a couple of untested kids, sophomore
Da’Mon Merkerson and redshirt freshman Matt Reid
can build depth and push for starting job at cornerback. While
the 6-1, 185-pound Merkerson is a terrific blend of size and
athleticism, he was a wide receiver until just a few months
ago. He showed flashes in the spring, but is still a long way
from being comfortable with his new role.
Reid was one of the program’s top recruits from 2007, and like
Merkerson, is well above average athletically. However, at just
6-0 and 163 pounds, he needs to add more weight and strength in
order to stand his ground at the line of scrimmage.
Watch Out For… the battles to rage on well into
summer. Holmes appears safe, but otherwise, no one really stood
out in the spring, a big concern for the defensive staff.
Syracuse is hoping that the word “or” on the depth chart is no
longer by the end of August.
Strength: Competition. With only one starter
solidified, no one will be able to relax in the months leading
up to summer practice. The Orange will be pushing one another
in the weight room and on the field, which never has a downside.
Weakness: Depth. Syracuse is having a hard enough
time finding a starting lineup, let alone a rotation of
reserves. You knew the warning sirens were being bellowed when
Chiara and Merkerson had to be imported from the offensive side
of the ball.
Outlook: After a veteran secondary finished 109th
nationally in pass efficiency defense, there aren’t signs that
Syracuse will be much better in 2008. Holmes is the closest
thing the program has to a stopper in the pass defense, and he’s a
second-year corner that’s still prone to mistakes.
Projected Starters: Unlike the offense and the
defense, the Syracuse special teams returns intact and without
any major concerns. Senior K Patrick Shadle is a Lou
Groza Award candidate who’s been true on 26-of-33 field goal
attempts over the last two seasons. While not a boomer with his
kicks, he did nail a career-high 50-yarder versus South
Sophomore Rob Long answered the program’s need for a new
punter, averaging 41.9 yards and earning Second Team All-Big
East honors in a smashing rookie debut. On a team that
experiences so many three-and-outs, the punter is especially
important at Syracuse.
The one-two punch of sophomores Max Suter and Mike
Holmes helped give the Orange one of the nation’s best kick
return units a year ago. Each of the freshmen averaged more
than 25 yards a return, led by Suter, who was second in the Big
East and took one back for 93 yards.
Watch Out For… Long. An unproven commodity a year
ago, he returns as the Big East’s next best thing at punter to
Cincinnati’s Kevin Huber. Long is 6-4 and 175 pounds with a
strong leg and the fundamentals to be an annual fixture on the
league honor roll.
Strength: The kickers. Shadle and Long have
proven to be a couple steady performers that’ll support the
offense and defense, respectively. With a few more chances for
Shadle, both of the specialists might finish the season as
Weakness: Kickoffs. As consistent as Shadle is on
field goals, he was a liability on kickoffs, averaging a mere 56
yards, allowing opponents to start most drives well beyond the
30-yard line. That’s sobering news for an Orange D that’s in no
position to lose field position battles.
Outlook: While the Orange can do a much better job
covering kicks, the presence of Shadle, Long, and Suter give it
one of the better special teams units in the Big East.