I'd contend that last year's success had a great deal to do with Syracuse's veteran defensive line. The veteran group, led by Jay Bromley, Brandon Sharpe and Deon Goggins found their stride in the season's second half, going from porous to aggressive and attacking. Unfortunately two of those three players are gone now, leaving Bromley as the leader of the defensive line and the lone truly experienced player in the rotation. Yes, the Orange have plenty of depth -- they're actually about three-deep at each position -- but figuring out which pieces fit where is going to be an ongoing quandary for defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough.
So who are all these characters? Some are more familiar than others, but until a few start to stand out, expect to see a ton of playing time from all of them. They get tested quickly with two Big Ten opponents to start the year, so one might assume this all sorts itself out by mid-September. A look at who's up for playing time, starting with the defensive ends:
Robert Welsh: Welsh is a junior, and appears to have the inside track on one of the two starting end spots. Last season, he played sparingly and recorded four tackles, so we're really not sure what we're getting out of him yet. He has a smaller frame at just 6'3" and 259 pounds, so you'd assume he'd get by on speed -- however with a 4.98 40-yard dash time, that's not exactly true either. But regardless of how he does it, Welsh is going to have to find a way to get after the quarterback if he hopes to remain in the starting role.
Micah Robinson: The other projected starter, Robinson at least has more experience under his belt and appears firmly entrenched in the starting role next to Bromley. In 2012, he appeared in eight games, recording 18 tackles and 1.5 sacks. He's had some injury issues in the past playing limited minutes, so it's understandable there will be some concern with regards to how his body holds up as a starter. Hopefully his larger (6'4" and 273 pounds) frame helps in that department, especially since he's the biggest defensive end Syracuse has.
Ron Thompson: Thompson's journey from well-hyped tight end to hip issues to defensive end has been covered quite a bit, so there's no need to rehash things. What we're all curious about though, is if he can actually play the position. It's certainly appreciated he's willing to step up and help out in the depth department, but without any experience playing or especially tackling anyone at the collegiate level, what can we really expect from him? I'm cautiously optimistic that his athleticism is his biggest asset as an end, but he made need to add some additional strength if he wants to realize his potential at the position.
Josh Manley: Manley's in the rotation out of necessity, and it's a mystery what we'll get from the redshirt freshman when he sees playing time (and it's likely he will). He's got power and some weight (269 pounds), but I wouldn't go and call him a speed rusher at all. He's the type of defensive need who's most valuable wearing offensive lines down, and can also do some work forcing plays inside. That's been a bit of an issue for Syracuse's defense in recent years, so any efforts on that front are more than welcome.
Kennedy Kodua: Another player who's really yet to see the field, Kodua's size automatically brings ups a series of doubts to most observers. At just 6'1" and 220 pounds, he's much more suited for an outside linebacker spot in a 3-4 than the 4-3 scheme that Syracuse runs. But since he's on the Orange as a DE, he'll have to make it work -- or at least try. I'm just not so sure that he can. If injuries start to hit, he'll see the field, but given his frame, it's tough to see him finding much success against the ACC's larger offensive lines.
Trevon Trejo: Here's the reserve end with the most upside in my book, and one who we should have all probably heard more about by now. Trejo's a 6'5", 240-pound JUCO transfer who got three stars from Scout after putting in some serious work at Golden West College (he's from Long Beach, Calif.). He's a pure athlete who played both sides of the ball out there and projects to use that athleticism to excel as a defensive end. Given his size, he's exactly the type of defender Syracuse will need, and I, for one, see him challenging for a starting job if there are some slip-ups from Robinson and/or Welsh.
Jay Bromley: Pressure will start with Bromley, who can and will attract double teams all season. Last year's 37 tackles and 2.5 sacks really don't do him enough justice as he, Sharpe and Goggins created some nightmare matchups for offensive lines. In two games in particular, Bromley showed his full potential -- at Rutgers (nine tackles) and at Missouri (six tackles, two sacks) -- but now the Orange need him to put forth those types of performances week-in and week-out. Like I said, this group has potential, yet Bromley's the only one with experience. He'll have to lead by example and take charge of the pass rush now if SU's going to stop anybody.
Eric Crume: Bromley's partner in crime in the starting tackle roles, I like Crume's upside and do believe he'll hold onto the starting job going into the season. He's another player that can't necessarily get after the passer, though he does consider himself somewhat of a run stuffer. Whether that's currently true or not, it'll need to be once the year kicks off. Syracuse will face five backs on the Doak Walker watch list, plus several more that should've made the cut. Lucky for them, the tackle spot is more talented of their two positions on the line.
Zian Jones: At 6'4" and 315 pounds, Jones is exactly what you need out of a defensive tackle. And he's slated to get plenty more playing time this fall too, as part of what should be an extensive rotation at his position. The seven tackles from last season don't seem like much, but that's just because of the limited time he played. People are impressed with his hip movement, which is a big positive considering the amount of running the ball SU will be doing this season. He's currently a "good" against the run, but with more time, he could excel.
John Raymon: The big Iowa transfer -- and by big, I mean the guy is a whopping 6'5" and 323 pounds -- may not start this season but he's got all the earmarks of being a future star for Syracuse, as he's only on his sophomore eligibility right now. The former 36th-ranked DT prospect in the country got three stars from rivals a few years back and they had him marked down at running a 4.7-second 40-yard dash. That's what a freight train looks like. Raymon's dad once said John has a 6'11" wingspan. If true (and it probably is), that's going to cause havoc in the middle for SU over the next three years.
Marcus Coleman: Coleman's a redshirt freshman, so we've yet to see much of him in an Orange uniform, outside of practice. But as he is a bit undersized for a nose tackle spot (6'1" and 259 pounds), I'm curious to see how much he actually ends up on the field. Will he bulk up? I think it's essential, but at least he has time given the four very talented players in front of him on the depth chart right now.
Lucas Albrecht: Lucas has the size required for his position (6'2" and 267 pounds), plus he comes from a wrestling background. Unfortunately, he's a walk-on and that likely means zero playing time. If injuries become an issue (oh, please, no), perhaps he sees the field. But until then, we'll appreciate him for being the smart player that he is and again hope he doesn't have to play much.
Anyone else both scared and excited about this group at the same time? Do we think Crume keeps the starting job, or will he be overtaken by Raymon? And what about the defensive end spots: Can Robinson and Welsh hold off their respective competition? Feel free to chime in below in the comments.