2010 Syracuse Preview – Defense
Syracuse LB Doug Hogue
Syracuse LB Doug Hogue
Posted Jun 25, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Syracuse Orange Defense

Syracuse Orange

Preview 2010 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: The Syracuse defense didn't just exceed expectations in 2009, it was one of the better-kept secrets in the Big East. Coordinator Scott Shafer arrived with a gameplan to get his best athletes on the field and get in the faces of the other team with an attacking style. It worked. The Orange led the league in run defense and were No. 6 nationally in sacks. Still, there were too many breakdowns in pass defense and in the red zone that must be addressed if the unit is to take another step forward. The backbone of the D will be linebackers Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue, a pair of former running backs, who combined for a whopping 26.5 tackles for loss, 16 sacks, and countless quarterback pressures. If the program is going to finally solve its issues in pass defense, it has to get better play out of the secondary. It had the support of the rush a year ago, but the mix of rising stars, such as Shamarko Thomas and Phillip Thomas, and vets, like Mike Holmes and Max Suter, needs to be parlayed into fewer breakdowns and more big plays.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Derrell Smith, 82
Sacks: Doug Hogue, 9.5
Interceptions: Mike Holmes, 3

Star of the defense: Senior Derrell
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior NT Bud Tribbey
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore SS Shamarko Thomas
Best pro prospect: Smith
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Smith, 2) Senior LB Doug Hogue, 3) Senior FS Mike Holmes
Strength of the defense: The ends, linebackers, secondary depth, run defense, sacks, third down defense
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense, the tackles, red zone defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: One Jones is gone from the Orange defensive line, but another returns. While the program loses all-star Arthur Jones to eligibility, younger brother Chandler Jones is primed to follow in his footsteps. The 6-5, 251-pound sophomore flashed a promising future in his debut in eight starts, making 52 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. An explosive athlete, with the long arms needed to swim past blockers, he's on his way to becoming a part of the All-Big East team if he continues to learn the position and play with high intensity.

On the opposite end, the staff is also excited about the future of 6-5, 245-pound junior Mikhail Marinovich, who started all 12 games in 2009. An extremely fluid athlete for a player his size, he keeps adding weight, yet has been able to maintain his trademark speed, get-off, and quickness. A former linebacker in high school, he's taken some time to get used to the D-line, but has really refined his footwork, rip technique, and use of his hands. On the brink of a breakout year, he'll have no problem surpassing last season's 20 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, and team-high five quarterback hurries.

Back for another season at defensive tackle is 6-2, 285-pound senior Andrew Lewis , a three-time letterman and fulltime starter in 2009. More likely to shoot the gap than bull rush opposing linemen, he plays with good quickness and fundamentals. After making just 16 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in a prominent role, the coaches are banking on more production from their veteran on the inside.

Filling the enormous shoes of Jones at nose tackle will be 6-1, 290-pound senior Bud Tribbey , a journeyman up to this point in his career. Yes, he's lettered in each of the last three seasons, but has failed to crack the starting lineup or approach the expectations when he arrived as a heralded recruit. After making just eight tackles despite playing in all 12 games, the time has come for him to be more than just a veteran cog in the rotation.

Projected Top Reserves: The third man in the rotation at defensive end is 6-6, 250-pound senior Jared Kimmel. A bit of an enigma for the program, he's one of its best all-around athletes, yet hasn't always been able to translate that into consistent success on the field. Part of the roadblock has been knee problems that have limited his development. He was forced to sit out the spring and only played in eight games in 2008, making just 13 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks.

The veteran on the inside is Tribbey's backup, 6-4, 282-pound senior Anthony Perkins . He's played a lot of football for the programs over the last three seasons, displaying a knack for beating blockers to the backfield with his quick feet and athleticism. A year ago, he only had a dozen stops in a reserve role, but 4.5 were behind the line of scrimmage.

Watch Out For … Tribbey's assimilation into a starring role. Hey, no one expects him to be Jones on the inside, but he has to prove he can occupy blockers and occasionally make plays in run defense. A full-timer for the first time, it's imperative that the senior be more than just a thick frame in the middle of the line.
Strength: Pressure. After ranking No. 6 nationally in sacks, Syracuse is determined to further that trend in 2010. Sure, the linebackers were a huge part of the production, but Jones and Marinovich are going to carry their weight. Both players are exceptional athletes just itching to step out of the shadows of better-known bigger brothers.
Weakness: The interior of the line. Without Jones, the tackles could wind up being a pedestrian bunch. Out of Lewis, Tribbey, and Perkins, no one inspires greatness, a concern for a run defense that played exceptionally well a year ago.
Outlook: While the defensive line is a solid, veteran unit, raising the ceiling higher will be the responsibility of the ends. Jones, Marinovich, and Kimmel have considerable potential, and if they can all locate it at the same time, the Orange will be difficult to handle on the edge.
Unit Rating: 7


Projected Starters: Boasting one of the Big East's best collections of linebackers, Syracuse has made an impressive turnaround here in just one year. The catalyst for one final season will be 6-1, 232-pound senior Derrell Smith, an Al-Big East performer and playmaking force in the middle. A one-time running back for the Orange, he's seamlessly embraced this switch over the last couple of years, making a team-high 82 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, and four forced fumbles in only 10 games. More than just a tremendous athlete, he plays with a nasty attitude and unrivaled intensity, whipping his teammates into a frenzy on the field and in the locker room.

The second coming of Smith is 6-2, 226-pound senior Doug Hogue, another transplant from the backfield making good at strongside linebacker. There was a time when he wondered if he'd ever contribute up to expectations, but that was before the staff began looking for more speed and explosiveness at the position. Relying mostly on natural instincts, he exceeded all expectations by racking up 72 tackles, a Big-East best 16 tackles for loss, and team-high 9.5 sacks. Late in the year versus Rutgers, he earned National Player of the Week honors by tearing through the Knights for 6.5 stops behind the line and 3.5 sacks. Once he returns from a spring knee injury, he now has the comfort level to blossom into one of the league's defensive stars.

The newcomer to the starting lineup at weakside will be 5-10, 219-pound junior Ryan Gillum. A study in perseverance, the converted safety has made it all the way back from foot surgery that sidelined him for all of 2008. As a reserve last year, he played in 10 games, including a start, and made 14 tackles and four tackles for loss. More important, he shook off a few layers of rust and is back to playing the game fast and loose and with reckless abandon.

Projected Top Reserves: The veteran among the backups is 6-2, 214-pound sophomore Dan Vaughan, the lone letterwinner on the second team. Although he only had five tackles in a dozen games, he's a valuable special teamer and reserve in the middle. Needing to add some weight, he moves well and shows good instincts for the position.

Rising fast and the likely successor to Hogue at strongside is 6-2, 223-pound true freshman Marquis Spruill. He already took part in his first spring, impressing the staff with his range, physicality, and quick retention of the system. He'll play a role in the rotation before closing in on a starting job in 2011.

Watch Out For … Syracuse to dial up the pressure from the opening drive of the opening game. There's no disguising what the Orange plans to do with its athletic linebackers, blitzing with regularity and attempting to disrupt the rhythm of the quarterback from every possible angle.
Strength: Range and athleticism. In Smith and Hogue, Syracuse has access to a pair of elite athletes, with the instincts to make plays from sideline-to-sideline and in opposing backfields. The former running backs combined for 26.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks, testament to their incredible playmaking ability.
Weakness: Depth. After Smith and Hogue, the drop-off is precipitous at linebacker. In fact, all of the other players have just a single start among them thanks to the dismissal of E.J. Carter, and the second team could be dominated by first-year players.
Outlook: A major liability last summer, the Orange is looking to the linebackers as the team's biggest strength. Smith and Hogue are that disruptive, playing with the range and energy to completely blow up the other team's offensive gameplan.
Unit Rating: 8


Projected Starters: After finishing last in Big East pass efficiency D, the Orange hopes six returning starters can help reverse the recent trend. The program loves its two safeties heading into the season. At free safety, 5-11, 182-pound senior Mike Holmes is back for his fourth year as a starter and a legitimate shot to finish his career with All-Big East honors. Though not his current position, he has the coverage skills, field awareness, and soft hips of a cornerback. He's also plenty tough as an open-field tackler, making 77 stops, 3.5 tackles for loss, and three picks a year ago.

The blooming star of the secondary is 5-10, 200-pound sophomore Shamarko Thomas , who played in all 12 games of his debut season and got better as the season progressed. Already the most punishing hitter of the defensive backfield, he started seven games as a true freshman, making 41 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and an interception. Beyond the physical attributes, he's one of the first players on the field and the last to leave, a work ethic that's going to ensure growth in the next three years.

The veteran among the starting corners is 6-1, 184 senior Da'Mon Merkerson . A wide receiver when he arrived, he's bounced between sides of the ball, flashing versatility and athleticism in the process. He actually played offense and defense a year ago, starting seven games and finishing with 21 tackles. Having finally settled down at one position, there's hope that the stability will have a positive impact on his cover skills.

The future at cornerback belongs to 6-0, 189-pound sophomore Phillip Thomas , one of just a handful of true freshmen to play in their first season campus. In fact, he even started three games, chipping in 29 tackles and two picks, while adapting to the speed of the game. Although he's still going to get beat on occasion, he has a ton of upside and the natural instincts to eventually evolve into a lockdown type corner.

Projected Top Reserves: Thomas will face competition from 5-11, 207-pound junior Kevyn Scott, who has started 13 games over the last two seasons, but struggled to hold that job in 2009. While he had 22 tackles, two picks, and five passes defended, and can jam bigger receivers at the line of scrimmage, he must do a better job of keeping the ball in front of him. He sat out the spring recovering from a wrist injury.

At strong safety, 5-11, 191-pound senior Max Suter won't give up his job with job without mounting a challenge once he returns from an injury of his own. One of the most versatile players on the roster, he started nine games a year ago, making 71 tackles, two tackles for loss, and an interception. A good all-around athlete and one of the inspirational leaders of this group, he'll be difficult to keep off the field.

Watch Out For … Thomas to finish the season as one of the Big East's rising defensive stars. No matter how much sharing of time he winds up doing with Suter, he's going to stand out with his ferocious hits and frenetic style of play. He's clearly one of the building blocks of the future on defense for the Orange.
Strength: Depth and experience. How many schools in America will boast a defensive backfield that had a half-dozen players start at least three games a year ago? Not many. Particularly at safety, where three of last season's top six tacklers return, Syracuse is going to experience a spike in overall talent thanks in part to last year's injuries.
Weakness: Defending the pass. It's been three years running now that the Orange has ranked lower than 100th nationally in pass efficiency defense. Last year's squad, though hindered by injuries, were last in the Big East in completion percentage, picks, touchdown passes yielded, and yards per attempt.
Outlook: The Syracuse pass D is going to be better than in recent years, but by how much? While the safeties will do more harm than good, the ultimate success of this group depends on the untested corners. Out of Merkerson, Thomas, and Scott, at least one must emerge into the type of defender that occasionally shuts down the other guy's best receiver.
Unit Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The Orange will once again turn to sophomore Ryan Lichtenstein to handle the placekicking duties. He fared surprisingly well in his first year on campus, hitting 13-of-17 field goals and all but one of his 28 extra point attempts. The former walk-on has only modest distance, but does have a chance to be a four-year starter if his accuracy continues to improve over time.

No matter what happens elsewhere on the roster, Syracuse can take solace in the return of senior Rob Long, one of the country's top punters and a three-time All-Big East selection. He gets tremendous pop on the ball, averaging just under 44 yards for a second straight year and giving a much-needed assist to the defense.

The return game is likely to be handled by seniors Max Suter and Mike Holmes . The pair has plenty of experience on special teams over the years, flashing big-play potential from time to time.

Watch Out For … Lichtenstein's encore. The rookie was a revelation in his first year, missing just four field goals, but can he keep the momentum going? As the Orange become more competitive and play in closer games, his composure is going to be tested.
Strength: Long. One of the unheralded stars of the defense, he's a steady special teams force, routinely pinning opponents deep in their own territory and hanging the ball high in the air on punts. After three straight all-star seasons, he should be in the discussion for the Ray Guy Award.
Weakness: Coverage units. This is one of those issues that's been lingering for the past few seasons. Syracuse was a sieve once again on the coverage teams, ranking 94th nationally at covering kicks and 112th on punt returns.
Outlook: While there are some loose ends that need to be addressed, mainly on the coverage teams, Syracuse can point to this unit as a strength. Long and Lichtenstein form a solid tandem in the kicking, and Suter and Holmes have a track record for providing a spark on returns.
Unit Rating: 7

- 2010 Syracuse Preview | 2010 Syracuse Offense
- 2010 Syracuse Defense | 2010 Syracuse Depth Chart
- Syracuse Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006