2008 Syracuse Preview - Defense
Syracuse DL Arthur Jones
Syracuse DL Arthur Jones
Posted May 20, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Syracuse Orange Defense

Syracuse Orange

Preview 2008
- Defense

- 2008 Syracuse Preview | 2008 Syracuse Offense
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8 Syracuse Defense | 2008 Syracuse Depth Chart 
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.                  

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jake Flaherty, 95
Sacks: Several with 1
Interceptions: A.J. Brown, 2

Star of the defense: Junior NT Arthur Jones
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Nico Scott
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

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: 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 smaller Giruzzi.

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 sophomore season.
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.
: 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.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters: 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 blitz. 

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 asset.
Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters: 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.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

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 Florida. 

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 league all-stars.
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.
Rating: 7.5


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