2009 Syracuse Preview - Defense
Syracuse FS Mike Holmes
Syracuse FS Mike Holmes
Posted Jul 1, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Syracuse Orange Defense

Syracuse Orange

Preview 2009
- Defense

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What you need to know: Understanding the problems with the Syracuse defense in recent years is a simple process. The program just doesn’t have enough talent or depth to slow down even mediocre opponents, and this year’s Orange will be facing the same dilemma. After NT Arthur Jones, a bona fide next level defender, there’s not a single player that jumps out as a sure-fire all-star or NFL prospect. So when the program finishes 101st nationally in scoring and total defense, like last year, no one should be shocked. Plus, offseason defections have carved deeper into that depth, meaning more unproven players than usual will be asked to contribute right away. New coordinator Scott Shafer would love to attack, but must be careful not to leave an already feeble secondary to fend for itself. The Orange was especially hideous in pass defense last fall, yielding 27 touchdown passes, while picking off just eight balls.                  

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Derrell Smith, 73
Sacks: Arthur Jones, 3.5
Interceptions: Mike Holmes, 2

Star of the defense: Senior NT Arthur Jones
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Kevyn Scott
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Derrell Smith
Best pro prospect: Jones
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Jones, 2) Smith, 30 FS Mike Holmes
Strength of the defense: Line. Athleiticsm
Weakness of the defense: Pass Defense, Run Defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: If there’s one player, who looks miscast in blue and orange, it’s 6-4, 291-pound senior Arthur Jones, one of the best nose tackles in America. He can play for anyone, and will be playing this fall for a lucrative NFL contract. First, he’ll need to complete his rehab from a torn pectoral muscle suffered before spring. A two-time All-Big East selection, he has the size and strength to stuff the run and the quickness and technique to live in opposing backfields. Over the last two seasons, he’s accounted for 111 tackles, 30.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks.

Next to Jones at defensive tackle is 6-3, 282-pound junior Andrew Lewis, who has lettered in each of the last two years, but hasn’t played a significant role of defense. Quicker than he is powerful, he showed glimpses last season, making 11 tackles and a pair of tackles for loss.

The program’s best defensive end, 6-6, 259-pound junior Jared Kimmel, like Jones, has spent much of the offseason recovering from an injury. Although he underwent surgery on the same knee that required work in 2007, there’s hope he’ll be fine by the opener. He’s got tremendous size and natural pass rushing skills, flashing some of that upside last fall with 31 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, and team-high three forced fumbles.

Providing some new blood at defensive end will be 6-5, 238-pound redshirt freshman Chandler Jones, Arthur’s baby brother, who rose to the top of the depth chart with a strong spring. He has a nice burst off the snap and the long arms to shed blockers, but would benefit by naturally adding some weight and getting stronger.

Projected Top Reserves: In juniors Bud Tribbey and Anthony Perkins, the Orange boasts some quality veteran depth at tackle. While the 6-1, 288-pound Tribbey has lettered in each of the last two seasons, making 13 tackles a year ago, he’s yet to fulfill the potential of one of the nation’s top defensive tackle recruits of 2007. He’s quick and uses his hands well, but still needs to play with more consistency.

The 6-4, 268-pound Perkins has also seen the field quite a bit, impressing the old staff as a reserve in 2008. When he got a shot to play, he delivered, making 19 tackles, four tackles for loss, and a sack. Although he lacks prototypical size for an interior guy, he’s able to overcome with his quick feet and ability to slice through the traffic.

Watch Out For… the injury updates. Jones and Kimmel are the two best linemen at Syracuse, but the latter is coming off his second knee surgery in two years and the former suffered a scary pectoral tear before spring. Both need to be healthy before the start of summer drills or else the entire defense will suffer the consequences.
Strength: Jones. In a mass of mediocrity, he clearly stands out for his penchant to bust through opposing lines and make for minus yards. He’s the type of complete defensive tackle, who requires extra attention, making life a littler easier for the players around him.
Weakness: The ends. Kimmel has obvious potential, but he’s struggled to remain healthy and is recovering from knee surgery. Jones showed flashes in the spring, but has yet to play a down in college. After them is even more uncertainty and inexperience at a position that produced a mere three sacks last fall.
Outlook: Jones is a star, who is going to get gobbled up early by the NFL next April. After him, however, is mostly uncertainty and mediocrity. The senior needs more help in order to avoid constant double-teams and devalued production. Don’t bet on it. This unit isn’t much better than the one that had a part in last year’s 101st-ranked run defense and was No. 100 in sacks.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters: How bad is the situation at linebacker? Two players, who’ve never played a snap for Syracuse at the position are likely to be the starters on the outside. First, the good news. At middle linebacker, the Orange has a fringe all-star in 6-1, 224-pound junior Derrell Smith. A former running back, he’s settled in nicely on defense, finishing second on the team with 73 tackles, five tackles for loss, and a sack. An explosive athlete, who takes good angles, he plays with the nasty attitude and intensity to continue to get better.

Here’s where things get interesting. Apparently using Smith as a successful blueprint, the staff has decided to move former running back Doug Hogue to strongside, where he’s projected to start right away. The 6-2, 216-pound junior has the necessary athleticism and experience to excel, but still has a lot to learn about the new position.

Of even greater concern is at weakside, where 6-1, 217-pound junior Derek Hines earned the nod before even stepping foot on campus. His promotion came in the wake projected starter Parker Cantey’s desire to transfer. Hines did his two-year apprenticeship at Santa Ana (Calif.) Community College, where was a safety.

Projected Top Reserves: Providing a veteran presence on the B team will be 6-0, 229-pound senior Mike Stenclik, a letterwinner in each of the last two seasons. More steady than spectacular, he won’t wow anyone with his skill set, but is a program guy, who’ll bring it whenever he gets off the sidelines.

If Hogue isn’t ready for the new assignment, 6-2, 221-pound redshirt freshman Dan Vaughan could get the call at strongside. He rose up the ladder in the spring, showing the toughness and speed that’ll make him a starter before very long.  

Watch Out For… plenty of missed tackles. Smith is fine, but on the outside, Hines could take a year to adjust to a raised level of competition and Hogue might spend a few months adapting to a new side of the ball. With opposing runners often skirting past the first line of defense, the linebackers are going to get a steady diet of opportunities in the open field.
Strength: Athletic ability. For all of the knocks on this unit, no one can say the starters don’t move well from sideline-to-sideline. Smith and Hogue are former running backs and Hines has played the last two seasons at safety. All three can cover the field and eventually become assets in pass defense.
Weakness: The outside guys. Smith is fine on the inside, even inching closer to a spot on the All-Big East team. Hogue and Hines, however, are glaring mysteries, who are sure to make a ton of mistakes in their first seasons in new digs.
Outlook: With the weaknesses up front, Syracuse is the type of team that absolutely needs stoppers on the second line of defense. However, after Smith, there is a precipitous drop-off that’ll be noticeable throughout the 2009 campaign. The outside starters are, at best, sketchy, and behind them are a slew of untested freshmen.
Rating: 5


Projected Starters: Mostly everyone is back from a year ago, but unless they start playing a lot tighter coverage, it’s not going to make a difference. The Orange’s best hope for a turnaround comes from 5-11, 185-pound junior FS Mike Holmes, a third-year starter and one of the best all-around athletes in the secondary. An active defender, with the hips to hold up in pass coverage, he was fourth on the team with 68 tackles, adding two picks, five pass breakups, and a team-high four fumble recoveries.

After starting four games a year ago, 5-11, 190-pound junior Max Suter is set to take over at strong safety on a full-time basis. Like Holmes, he’s shown off his athleticism on defense and special teams over the past two seasons. A year ago, he frequently showed off his range and strength, making 32 tackles, four stops behind the line, and a couple of sacks.

Of the cornerbacks, 5-10, 180-pound junior Nico Scott returns to the secondary with the most amount of experience, having lettered the last two years and started eight times in 2008. He had 22 tackles, but broke up a single pass and didn’t have an interception, needing to make a quantum leap as a pass defender in the second half of his career.

At the opposite corner is 5-11, 197-pound sophomore Kevyn Scott, who had a building-block debut in 2008, starting the final five games after beginning the year at safety. Better suited to handle the bigger receivers, he’ll jam at the line of scrimmage and battle when the ball is in the air. Laying the groundwork for his career, he had 32 tackles as a redshirt freshman.

Projected Top Reserves: Lining up behind Suter at strong safety is 5-10, 198-pound junior Randy McKinnon, who has played in 21 games over the last two years, starting three in 2008. Much stronger in the upper body than his size might indicate, he can take on bigger receivers and deliver the payload like a linebacker. Last season, he delivered a career-high 13 tackles, a number he hopes to improve on this fall.

Although 5-11, 185-pound sophomore Dorian Graham isn’t going to beat out Holmes at free safety, he has earned a spot in the rotation. As a true freshman, he played in every game, making 19 tackles and impressing the staff with his quick retention of his assignments.

Watch Out For… Suter to become a fan favorite. He plays the game with reckless abandon, flying all over the field and always sticking his nose into the action. While he may not have ideal size for the position, he has the right mix of size and strength to be a disruptive playmaker.
Strength: The safeties. From Holmes and Suter on the first unit to the two backups, the Orange is in much better shape at safety than at cornerback. They’re all physical and, largely out of necessity, skilled at making tackles in the open field.
Weakness: Defending the pass. Did Syracuse emigrate to the Big 12 without telling anyone? In a passer-deficient league like the Big East, the Orange has no business allowing a 63% completion percentage and 27 touchdown passes, while picking off just eight.
Outlook: After finishing no higher than 100th nationally in pass efficiency defense in either of the last two years, Syracuse is poised to make it three straight years of futility. Everyone had their way with this secondary in 2008, and until a lockdown corner or two can be developed, similar results are going to be the norm.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: In a microcosm for the entire program, the special teams unit has issues that need to be addressed. The exception is junior Rob Long, one of the nation’s better punters and an All-Big East second team selection for the second straight year. He put together a second solid season, averaging just under 44 yards and giving much-needed lift to the defense.

Long’s partner at placekicker is far less secure. Redshirt freshman Austin Wallis appeared to be the heir-apparent to Patrick Shadle before leaving the program. There’s little choice now but to had the job to true freshman Shane Raupers, who’ll arrive with no safety net beneath him. Accurate throughout his high school career, he’s about to experience a baptism under fire.

The one-two punch of juniors Max Suter and Mike Holmes is back to help spark the return game. While both have shown some life as kick returners in the past, someone needs to rise up and boost a punt return team that ranked 114th nationally last fall.

Watch Out For… Raupers’ reaction to being the unexpected starter. He knew he’d have a shot to play as a rookie when he signed with the Orange, but he couldn’t possibly have imagined he’d run unopposed. The staff better hope he’s self-motivated because this program needs all the help it can get scoring points.
Strength: Long. As bad as the defense has been the last two years, it would’ve been much worse without the powerful right leg of No. 47. He’s helped bail out the D numerous, and as often as the offense stalls, this is the type of school that can ill-afford follies on the punt team. Just halfway through his college career, he’ll have a chance to make an NFL team in two years.
Weakness: Coverage units. Sure, it’s precarious having a true freshman placekicker, but how does the Orange really need a clutch kick over the course of a season? Twice? The bigger concern revolves around coverage teams that were 83rd on punts a year ago and 108th on kickoffs.
Outlook: It’ll be a mixed bag for the Syracuse special teams this fall. On the plus side, it has Long and a pair of decent kick returns. Of concern, however, is the young kicker and the coverage units that got routinely pierced last fall. All things considered, the punter makes this group about as formidable as any other on the squad.
Rating:: 6