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Syracuse Spring Football Preview: Big Questions for Defensive Front 7

Spring practices are starting next week! How's Syracuse's front 7 looking?

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Spring football practices start on March 18, and in preparation, we're previewing the team's most pressing matters. Today's topic:

Big Questions for the Defensive Front 7

Last year, Syracuse's front 7 managed to hold things together for the defense despite what was at first perceived to be a lack of experience. And while they do lose two key pieces of the 2013 team -- Marquis Spruill and Jay Bromley -- what's left is a veteran group that's looking to make even more gains on last year's success.

So who won't be at spring practices?

As mentioned, Marquis Spruill and Jay Bromley are gone, due to graduation, as is Zian Jones. In addition, linebacker Luke Arciniega is out with a lower body injury, though he'll be seeing much more playing time come the fall.

Who are the returning stars for the front 7?

There are a lot, actually, which is what makes this group so exciting. Linebacker should be a point of strength yet again, with Cameron Lynch and Dyshawn Davis both back to fulfill their roles on the outside. Robert Welsh, Micah Robinson and Eric Crume are all slated to be in spring practice as well, making for a mostly full-strength starting defensive line. John Raymon is still recovering from last year's knee injury and won't be participating (though you can expect him to be right in the thick of things once summer camp opens up).

Any new faces we should look out for?

Marqez Hodge played sparingly as a freshman last season, and is currently listed atop the depth chart at middle linebacker (for spring practices anyway). Ryan Sloan will also be auditioning for the role of replacing Bromley, and is listed as a starting defensive tackle right now.

Who could surprise us this spring and challenge for a starting job?

Hodge has a golden opportunity to shine early on, and we should keep close watch on how he responds to that. Additionally, Josh Kirkland, who played reasonably well when he saw the field last year, could try and differentiate himself at the linebacker position. Yes, two of those spots are already firmly held by Davis and Lynch, but it can never hurt to have more depth to keep those guys well rested. Sloan figures to have the best shot at a starting job on the line, though Marcus Coleman could surprise us all (it seems he's put on some good weight compared to last season). Ron Thompson's also worth a look now that he has a full year of playing defense under his belt.

Any new expectations from the coaching staff?

Defensive Coordinator Chuck Bullough's first season at Syracuse had its ups and downs, but overall, his own experience as a linebacker as well lent itself positively to the front seven. The team ranked 26th in the country in rushing defense, and its ability to generate pressure was a big part of the season's late charge to the postseason. You can't give Bullough all the credit though, as he got plenty of help from Defensive Line Coach Tim Daoust. Daoust has coached up an impressive group of D-linemen including Chandler Jones, Brandon Sharpe and Jay Bromley, and could be adding another impressive name or two to that list this year.

The 3-4 defense has been locked in a dungeon in Atlanta never to return, right?

What 3-4 defense? We played a 2-3 the last time we were in Atlanta.