Arguably, Syracuse's top question this offseason was how to replace defensive tackle Jay Bromley. The former standout was a third-round pick by the New York Giants this May, and as one would imagine, his production in the middle of this front four is a tough thing to just replace overnight. But the Orange will try, and we're here to look at who might fill Bromley's shoes in his absence.
With all eyes on the defensive line, there's a lot to dive into (especially now that we have an updated depth chart). So let's go ahead and do so...
Robert Welsh, Redshirt Senior: Welsh had a bit of a breakout season in 2013, and that sets the stage for what could be an exciting final year in Orange. Starting all 13 games last fall, he tallied four sacks, seven TFLs, an interception and a fumble recovery. SU's blitz-heavy defensive schemes aids his ability to penetrate the line and make plays, and with opposing linemen worried about Welsh along the end, it also frees up Orange linebackers to get in on the action. Now, as a defacto leader of the defensive line, more eyes will be on him. But again, that could be an asset and the attention on him makes the front seven that much more effective overall.
Micah Robinson, Redshirt Senior: Like Welsh, Robinson was improved in 2013, which sets up some great possibilities for this fall. While he may not bring as much speed as his cohort at the other end, his size (6'4", 270 pounds) makes him a more suitable bull-rusher off the edge, and results in a lot of QB hurries -- because as you know, SU blitzes a lot. If Robinson can turn more of those hurries into sacks (had just one sack and 5.5 TFLs last year), the Orange will have a very formidable duo on the ends. In the meantime, though, he's shown himself very effective in keeping runs to the interior of the line just the same.
Ron Thompson, Redshirt Sophomore: Is Thompson this year's breakout player for this defense? If you ask Jay Bromley, absolutely. The extremely athletic former tight end has really grown into his role within SU's defense, and after the spring game in which he recorded six tackles, perhaps Bromley has a point. While he's unlikely to steal either starting job away from the seniors listed above, it's still very likely he sees the field a bunch. Last year's two sacks and 4.5 TFLs are just a sampling of what he's capable of. If he can harness his speed and size this season, his ceiling could end up VERY high.
Donnie Simmons, Redshirt Junior: Syracuse's depth at defensive end could depend on what the team gets out of Donnie Simmons. Last year, a torn ACL kept him out all season. And rightfully, there were fears about how well he'd be able to come back from that. Now, he's looking better than ever, and with regained speed, he'll play a key part in keeping the pass-rush fresh and energized. Of course, he'll have to shake some of the rust off -- he hasn't played in a game since 2012, and even then, it was sparingly -- but he's a candidate for a bounce-back season, and should be ready to produce when his number's called.
Trevon Trejo, Senior: Trejo's a JUCO transfer from Long Beach, and is here because his size at the position (6'5", 261 pounds) is just too difficult to ignore. While he didn't play much in 2013 (just one tackle in four games), there's at least a thought he can be effective if given a bit more time on the field this fall. Back at Golden West College, he was an 3-4 OLB who could get after the quarterback and keep runners inside, so we know the skill set's there. But with well-established options in front of him, it gets tough to grab too much playing time.
Chris Slayton, Freshman: As we said in Chris's "Get to Know..." profile, he's already a physical specimen -- and that alone may get him onto the field this fall. Slayton is just a freshman, sure, but as part of the highly-touted Chicago pipeline, he's seen as someone who can make both an immediate and long-term impact on this program. He's obviously got plenty of ramp to work with, too, and if need be he can redshirt. Just don't be shocked if he doesn't.
Kennedy Kodua, Senior: Made the team as a walk-on in 2013, but is not the type of senior that is likely to see playing time. That's no knock on him, but a reality for a very stacked depth chart at defensive end. If he finds some garbage time snaps, that's a plus.
Defensive Tackles Marcus Coleman, (Redshirt) Sophomore: Coleman didn't play a ton last year, but that hasn't stopped him from really coming on strong this offseason. With injuries and a lack of effort elsewhere on the interior of the line, the door for someone like Coleman to assert himself -- and by all accounts, he certainly has. The recent depth chart release has him on top, and that's a reward for his hard work throughout the spring. It doesn't mean he's entrenched, of course, though if he can keep up the level of energy and effort put forth, it may take the jaws of life to wrestle the job away from him.
Isaiah Johnson, Sophomore: Johnson's "officially" listed as a defensive end, though the recent depth chart sees him as the second defensive tackle -- which may not be a bad move. With his size (276 pounds, 6'4"), he's a player who could certainly fit into either role, but in terms of playing time, this could actually be the best use of him within this defensive scheme. Playing in 10 games in 2013, he showed himself able to get into the backfield and get into passing lanes with a long wingspan. So the team's banking on him being able to do even more of that, and clogging up the middle in defending both the pass and run. Starting or not, he's a shoe-in to see the field plenty.
Jalen Harvey, Freshman: Harvey was a late flip from Western Kentucky, and while he was seen as just a two-star recruit, the team is happy to have him. At 6'3" and 316 pounds, he has the potential to be an absolute workhorse for the Orange as his career progresses, and you have to think he'll be able to get even bigger (somehow) before his time's up here. His playing time is not guaranteed in year one, but depending on how things shake out with Ryan Sloan (below), you may see him be able to step up. If not, we've got a potential wrecking ball on our hands for four years after a redshirt in 2014.
Ryan Sloan, (Redshirt) Junior: Most of the things said about Harvey above were also stated about Sloan at one time or another... so keep that in mind. After being listed atop the depth chart this spring and sharing first-team reps, Sloan drops all the way to the bottom of the list. Part of this may be a knock on him for some conditioning issues, but even then, it's worrisome that a guy though to be a starter could fall this fall so fast. We'll see what happens as the fall shakes out, but Ryan's status will decide a lot about how effective this position is.
Eric Crume, Senior: Last year, Crume was greatly assisted by Bromley's presence in the middle of the line -- now, how will he fare when the attention turns to him? As a run-stuffer, Crume excelled in 2013, and he was able to generate plenty of pressure on opposing passers as well. While not necessarily tall, he's used his 296-pound frame to barrel through centers and he'll need to do so yet again this season. With Bromley out of the picture, there are a lot of sacks and TFLs to be had from the interior line. If Crume can fill that role well enough, SU shouldn't see a huge dropoff. If not, we may see teams try to run up the gut a whole lot more against the Orange.
Wayne Williams, Junior: Perhaps consider Williams the Ryan Sloan of the nose tackle position. First, the man is physical freak, who seems born to play his position. He's 6'4" and 330 pounds, and his arrival to campus brought a supreme amount of hype that almost overshadowed his enormous frame. But just like Sloan, despite possessing all the attributes of a superior defender, he's not always willing to do the work required of him. That's frustrating for fans and coaches alike, as it seems to tease out his potential while we dream of what could be. We know he has the ability to put it together. But does he want to do so? That's key for Williams, who has a golden opportunity to make an impact, though he must embrace it in order to help this team.
Kayton Samuels, Freshman: Another big kid, Samuels projects well though may not see the field a ton (if at all) in 2014. He's a Georgia product -- one of many on this team right now -- and like others from the area, his presence is already a big win for the Orange to help continue improving recruiting. But he'll also need to find some success here for that pipeline to keep going. Luckily, there are plenty of experienced teachers to follow on this line. Even if he redshirts (likely), studying under Crume could do wonders for him.
John Raymon, (Redshirt) Sophomore: You have to feel for John Raymon, whose torn ACL from last year may keep him out for all of 2014, too. Just when it looked like he was finding his stride with the Orange, that injury derailed everything and a year and a half away from football is never good for a college player -- or any player for that matter. He'll continue rehabbing, and it would be great if he could at least get back to practicing with pads. But things simply don't look good for him. There's always next year, though. And given his already proven ability to get into the backfield for SU, he'll be given ample opportunity to jump back in as a starter.
Have your own thoughts about Syracuse defensive line? Share them in the comments.
Also, just in case you missed them, be sure to check out recent previews for Syracuse's quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers (and tight ends) and offensive linemen for the 2014 football season.