We're just days away from Syracuse's annual spring football game, which will culminate 2015 spring practices. 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:
Orange's Young Linebackers are Ready to Contribute
Who's no longer at Syracuse?
A couple of very important defensive playmakers for SU -- Dyshawn Davis and Cameron Lynch -- have graduated, along with Josh Kirkland. Davis had a great career for the Orange, though it was Lynch who truly finished strong. Spending his last two years as a starter, he recorded 24 tackles-for-loss and 11 sacks, serving as the lifeblood of Syracuse's aggressive blitz scheme. Hopefully Lynch and Davis can catch on in the NFL this coming fall.
Luke Arciniega is still on campus at Syracuse, however, he's moved to defensive end.
Who's on campus?
A bunch of players -- a lot of whom actually received some reps last season, too. Marqez Hodge is back to man the middle after a productive first year as a starter in 2014. Zaire Franklin is also firmly entrenched at one of the outside linebacker spots following his own impressive freshman campaign. The third linebacker spot -- the SAM position -- appears to be Parris Bennett's at the moment. That could change between now and kickoff in the fall should someone else step up. But for now, expect the athletic sophomore to be lined up there.
This linebacker group is so much more than just those three (very good) players, however. After a 2014 recruiting season that stressed the position rather heavily, the Orange have a lot of (at least slightly experienced) guys in spring ball, and many could see playing time for 2015. The other names to know: Oliver Vigille, Colton Moskal, Jonathan Thomas, Alryk Perry and Hernz Laguerre. Those first three, in particular, are very likely to spend time at linebacker for SU, which should keep the blitz fresh. Watch out for the speedy Thomas at the outside linebacker spot, who could be a great addition on special packages.
Who's arriving this summer?
Even more talent at the linebacker spot! The class of 2015 includes four new faces at the position: Shyheim Cullen, Troy Henderson, Qaadir Sheppard and Ted Taylor. While redshirting could very well happen for the first three, JUCO transfer Taylor could try and contend for the SAM spot that Bennett currently inhabits. Whether they play this fall or not, however, this is a great group that will enhance SU's depth at linebacker and eventually insert themselves into starting roles.
Who are the likely starters coming out of spring?
We've pretty much discussed already. Hodge could very well break out in his second season at middle linebacker, and Franklin should be able to make some noise in his first year as a starter. Bennett does have the inside track, and is likely to end spring as the starter at the SAM spot, but don't count out Thomas either.
What's changing in comparison to last season?
Not much, other than the personnel listed above. Scott Shafer, Chuck Bullough and Clark Lea run a blitz-heavy, aggressive scheme and that'll be true once again this year. This linebacker group will be the crux of that approach, and especially with the team thin on the defensive line, they'll need to rely on LBs even more.
Who's the "player to watch" coming out of spring ball?
With Bennett asserting himself as the starter, he's definitely one to keep an eye on. The SAM spot is likely "his" for the time being, but how he deals with being the favorite to start will be a good gauge for his staying power there. As mentioned, keep an eye on Thomas as well, who can challenge for that job, even if he doesn't have it right now.
If you were worried about a young linebacker corps., this should help change some of that (hopefully). There are a fair amount of players already in the fold this spring, and more coming this fall. If the defense is going to keep playing at the high level they did for (most) of last season, it'll be on the backs of the linebackers yet again.
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