The Syracuse football season is almost here. In the lead-up to kickoff, we’re previewing every position group on this year's Syracuse squad, making sure you’ll fully prepared for September 4. Today, we take a look at the…
Syracuse Orange Defensive Line
Last year's group is pretty much gone. Micah Robinson, Eric Crume and Robert Welsh, the stars of last year's aggressive front, have all departed the program via graduation, while Ryan Sloan simply left the program. For a team that's relied so heavily on its line in recent years, this is a critical moment. This year's defensive line, as much as it lacks experience, will be put on the spot to succeed quickly. If they can, this defense may avoid regression. If they can't... well, let's hope we don't have to cross that bridge.
Ron Thompson, (Redshirt) Junior
Thompson, the top returning player from SU's 2014 line, now ascends to an unfamiliar role: the unquestioned star. Forced to bounce around between tackle and end last fall, he wasn't always able to gain a rhythm, though still remained productive (seven tackles for loss). Now, firmly planted on the outside, he'll be able to utilize his unique speed and athleticism to be the most disruptive pass-rushing end this program's seen since Chandler Jones. He'll be keyed-in on by offenses, of course, but he's well equipped to handle it. Expect the Orange line to rise and fall with his success.
Donnie Simmons, Senior
Simmons has been on the field in his career, but not to the extent that will be expected of him now. As the likely starting defensive end opposite Thompson, he'll be the beneficiary of some extra attention paid to the other side, while also shouldering the onus of drawing his own double-teams. By all accounts, it appears that he's been perfecting technique this offseason -- something we'll watch him put the finishing touches on during some early games against lesser competition (in particular, Rhode Island).
Amir Ealey, Freshman
Ealey is one of several true freshman that could be called upon to jump in right away -- at least according to Tim Daoust. As we discussed when Daoust shared his early thoughts on the line, most of this year's freshman are likely to forgo redshirts in favor of keeping fresh legs rotating onto the field. And an athletic player like Ealey has the potential to both surprise some folks, as well as gain some very valuable experience that will help him and this program down the road. He'll probably need to put on a few pounds before we get to fall ball (he's currently at 230 pounds), but if he can get there, keep tabs on him.
Luke Arciniega, Junior
The shift from linebacker to defensive end was a necessary one for Arciniega, and thankfully, he'll now have two full years at his new position too. Arciniega provides a nice mix of size (6'4", 247 pounds) and experience to help balance out the line's overall youth -- especially when it comes to generating pressure on the outside. Luke's had some injury troubles, but could be well-utilized in a relief role that minimizes physical toll on him and spells the green Simmons too. In spurts, he's been aggressive in opponent backfields. Let's hope he can show that same spark from the DE spot.
Kenny Carter, Freshman
Carter already possess the size to compete for a starting role (6'4", 257 pounds), so this year will be spent getting the rigors and technique of college play down. Sitting third on the depth chart behind Thompson and Ealey is more a formality at the moment, since it's very likely both he and fellow freshman Ealey see the field in equal measure. His effectiveness will simply depend on his quick adaption to a new-ish spot, and of course, how much he's deployed.
Qaadir Sheppard, Freshman
Another player who already has the size to make an impact with the Orange, Sheppard's an exciting addition who'll be plugged in as needed for 2015. In an ideal world, he'd get the chance to redshirt this year and watch some veterans set an example. He may still get that chance (sans veterans), but... yeah, he's going to see the field whether you like it or not. At the very least, we'll know what we have on the roster next year, right?
Lucas Albrecht, (Redshirt) Junior
Albrecht's been on the team longer than all but the two starters, and even still, we probably won't see him on the field (unless it's in a special teams capacity). Granted, Lucas was never really projected to be a starter in his career -- but that's never stopped others from ascending to that spot. At this point, there's a bit more value in developing the copious young players at SU's disposal; something Albrecht can still assist with (and be an asset with), even if his snaps are minimal.
Jake Pickard, Freshman
Pickard's currently listed last on the depth chart, but that's not indicative of his skill set and what he can become for the Orange. He's quick on the edge, tall (6"6") and could have the sort of length that makes him a pass-swatting phenomenon (I'll resist the J.J. Watt comparison, but it's in the back of my mind, and yours now too). He was also enough of a talent to be a one-time Wisconsin commit -- another reason to like the long-term prospects of him at SU. Perhaps the staff tries to redshirt him solely so they can get four full, prepared seasons from him. But if the call's made to insert some freshman, look out for him to be one of them.
Kayton Samuels, (Redshirt) Freshman
Scott Shafer and the Orange staff have told anyone who will listen this spring/summer that Samuels is the real deal -- an emerging star and one to watch this fall. And for our sake, let's hope they're right. Showing the value a redshirt can provide, he's arrived this year physically prepared to start, and could have the mental chops already too. The one thing you can say about this SU coaching staff is that they can ID talent pretty early, even without college snaps under players' belts. If their instincts are on-point, we could see the perfect heir apparent to Crume plugging the middle.
We've discussed this before: Clark is going to play. He may also be the freshman best equipped to do so extensively, at least according to Daoust. Those physical capabilities -- just like elite mental capabilities too -- can go a very long way for a player throughout a career, and Clark's poised to be another surprising impact add. If Samuels can carry the load, that could really do a world of good for the true freshman Clark too, developmentally. As Daoust said himself, he'd like to avoiding throwing any true frosh into 50 snaps per game.
Rony Charles, Senior
The walk-on senior is here in case of emergency, but it's unlikely he ends up on the field much more past special teams -- unless something goes terribly wrong, of course (please no). Charles hasn't taken a snap in his career, and it can be assumed that the team will either go with a two-man rotation or toss in a scholarship tackle or end at the nose before Charles is pushed to play extensively. That's no offense to him. Just a reality of the competition SU's up against this year.
John Raymon, (Redshirt) Senior
Raymon's had SO much potential during his time as a member of the Syracuse football team, but there's officially zero safety net now. He must stay on the field if SU's going to get what they want and need out of this defensive tackle spot, and for what it's worth, the kid deserves to get a full year on the field in his final season. After the transfer and injuries and so much missed time, it would be a fitting end to a career to see the hulking tackle dominate the line the way we know he can in spurts already. Best of luck, Big John.
Chris Slayton, (Redshirt) Freshman
Like Samuels, Slayton has also been raved about by coaches and is a player on the rise for this defense. But that talent may be best put to use as a reserve this season -- if for no other reason than to keep a fresh and talented player involved while also ceding to those who've earned their respective starting jobs. Daoust claims the nose tackle spot's not set in stone, so there's a chance he jumps up to claim that mantle. Either way, Raymon, Slayton and Samuels will be your primary tackles for the fall barring injury.
Tyler Cross, Freshman
Called the team's most athletic defensive lineman by a longshot, Cross could earn his way into the rotation by either necessity or the simple need to plug a player like that in as much as you can. No, athleticism isn't typically the first word you associate with tackles, but perhaps the trait is an interesting change of pace for a spot usually predicated on brute strength. In high school, he showed an ability to get after the passer from the middle. Either this year or in the future, SU will need him to do that again here.
Anthony Giudice, Freshman
If there's one player on the defensive line who could redshirt, it may be Giudice. But don't count on that, either. Given his productivity in high school, he'll certainly be chomping at the bit to contribute right away, and the first opportunity/need to do so could burn that shirt pretty quickly. Ideally, Anthony would have a few more pounds on him to play defensive tackle (still in the mid 270s), but that's something the strength and conditioning staff can work on. More on him once summer camp's over, I'm sure.
And that's it. It's a thin group, but one that possesses a ton of potential, if nothing else. The pieces are there to surprise (especially early), and if everyone can stay healthy, we could see a repeat of 2013 (when a young line stepped in for several departing players and produced beyond expectations). No, it's not the exact same circumstances, but the precedent is there for these coaches to get a lot more than they should out of an inexperienced group -- on paper, anyway.
As mentioned right at the top: A lot rides on what this group can pull off. Rise to the challenge early and (again) stay healthy, and this pass-rush could be a boon for yet another year. Thompson and Raymon have the experience and skill sets, and even if it starts with just those two, that type of energy/ability can be contagious for a young line looking to define itself. Camp should tell us a bit more on who plays or doesn't this fall. While it seems a bit scary now, it's also a bit exciting when thinking of the program's long-term future.