Syracuse football's 2015 spring practices are already well under way at Ensley Athletic Center. And as we prepare ourselves for another season, we'll spend some time previewing everything that matters on and off field for the Orange. Today's topic:
Can the Defensive Line Establish Depth This Season?
Who's no longer at Syracuse?
Unfortunately, all of last year's pre-season starters. Tackle Marcus Coleman was medically disqualified in February, and the rest -- Eric Crume, Robert Welsh and Micah Robinson -- all graduated. Reserve end Trevon Trejo and reserve tackle Ryan Sloan also graduate, though under some very different circumstances. Jalen Harvey is also off to play JUCO ball in Mississippi this fall. So as you might imagine, this position group is suddenly very lacking in experience.
Who's on campus?
Plenty of players -- but again, not a huge amount of experience along the depth chart. On a slightly good note, a bunch of guys got to jump in last year amidst injuries, meaning that despite losing all four starters, these returning guys have seen in-game snaps before. Ron Thompson and Isaiah Johnson are assured starters on the ends at this point, while the who primarily plays at the tackle spots may take some additional time to shake out. John Raymon, Wayne Williams and Kayton Samuels and Chris Slayton are all in the mix for the starting tackle roles, and Samuels has actually done a nice job of differentiating himself this spring. Donnie Simmons is the only other name at end right now, showing how dire it is for the Orange to a) stay healthy and b) bring in additional help on the line ASAP.
Who's arriving this summer?
While we're not bringing in a whole new crop of five-star guys to come plug these gaps, there is still a great group of freshmen D-linemen showing up this summer to at least start to fix the depth chart issues described above. Jake Pickard and Anthony Guidice arrive on the ends, while tackles Tyler Cross and Steven Clark also join the fold. Normally, you might push to have these guys redshrit -- and they still might. But given the absolute lack of bodies available on the line (and keeping in mind what happened last season), all of these guys may see playing time this year. Especially on the ends, there's just a distinct need for players at these positions. Of the new recruits, Pickard (who should have a TON of speed off the edge) and Clarkhttp://www.sbnation.com/admin/entries/new?community_id=168&entry_type=Article look like the top options to get into the shuffle in year one.
Who are the likely starters coming out of spring?
We already mentioned Thompson and Johnson as the starters on the end. The tackle spots are truly up in the air right now, though, so there's no telling exactly who gets the gigs just yet. I'd bet on John Raymon and Kayton Samuels for the time being, with Chris Slayton also figuring into that mix.
What's changing in comparison to last season?
The starting lineup, as mentioned above. And that could have a huge impact as we figure out life without a run-stopper like Crume, or the underrated 1-2 punch that Welsh and Robinson provided on the edge. But despite the different names, the strategy will remain the same. Scott Shafer and Chuck Bullough plan to have this group blitzing a ton, which should help out Thompson as he looks to have his break-out season (bank on it). The tackle spots are worth watching, though. If they can't stop the run the way the last few SU teams have, it could be a difficult season for the Orange on the line.
Who's the "player(s) to watch" coming out of spring ball?
Thompson, as indicated above. But after Shafer's ringing endorsement of Samuel on Tuesday, that's definitely another name to keep an eye on as the starting tackle positions sort themselves out. A full-season subplot will be whether or nor Raymon can stay on the field too, after two years littered with injuries. He'll be extra-motivated this year, you'd assume, and we could see some of that shine through during the spring game... and then into summer camp.
Concerned about depth? You should be. Five true defensive ends on the roster come the fall is not ideal and leaves no room for injury at all. Still, those on the roster have some significant upside, so if they can remain on the field, the position could turn out just fine (the optimistic view, anyway). Anything else we're missing above? Share below.