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Syracuse Football 2016 Position Preview: Defensive Line

This could get difficult this season.

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

For months now, we've been previewing the Syracuse Orange football season like it's just around the corner. Well... now it is. As we've done in years' past, we'll preview a different SU position group each week. Last week was the the team's deep group of offensive linemen. This week:

Defensive Line


Jake Pickard, (Redshirt) Freshman

The hype around Pickard was pretty high when he flipped from Wisconsin to Syracuse, and then further passed on Michigan to stick with the Orange. Pickard brings speed and size along the edge, and with a year under his belt adjusting to college life and getting weight room experience, he'll be ready to jump in as a starter right off the bat. There's several young players here that could be seen as the future of this D-line. The New Jersey product may have the highest ceiling of all, however.

Kenneth Ruff, Freshman

Ruff was originally recruited as a linebacker, but he's already packed on pounds of muscle to turn himself into a serious speed-rushing threat from the edge. Whether he starts or not is likely irrelevant, though. He's a great athlete, even as a freshman, and will see the field plenty as D-coordinator Brian Ward likely rotates into various combinations to see what takes best to the Tampa-2. Between him and Pickard, you're looking at your stereotypical ends for this defense for the foreseeable future.

De'Jon Wilson, (Redshirt) Senior

One reason Ruff may not start is the arrival of graduate transfer De'Jon Wilson. The former Colorado Buffaloes end will compete for the first-team gig right away and look to finish up his college career on a high note. Dealing with injuries in Boulder, he was able to be productive on a limited basis. Now with a scheme that could better fit his size/speed combination and more playing time, the hope is that his experience helps this very green group.

Hernz Laguerre, Senior

Hernz was moved from linebacker to assist with the Orange's severe depth issues at defensive end. Now we have to wait and see whether he can truly contribute at the position. Compared to the other ends, he still needs to add another 15 pounds or so, but the linebacker sensibilities to get containment on the run and potentially play in coverage could be an asset. The walk-on is very likely to see the field out of necessity.

Trey Dunkelberger, Junior

Dunk's another player that switched positions to help with defensive end depth issues. After coming in as a tight end, he'll now try to utilize that athleticism rushing around the edge. Like Laguerre, he has some weight to gain still, but since Dunkelberger is four inches taller, he at least has that aspect of the size equation to his advantage. How well the incoming freshman do in camp will determine how much Dunk is involved on defense.

Josh Black, Freshman

Black's already spent the offseason working on adding weight, and as a result, is up 20 pounds (to 257) from when he committed back in February. He's another guy who can show speed on the edge, but camp will give us a glimpse of how well he can also stop the run. Like all the other true freshmen, he'll have a shot to play right away if he adapts quickly to the Tampa-2 and the demands it puts on the end position.

Kendall Coleman, Freshman

Like Black, Coleman's also spent the summer putting on some pounds (up to 252 now) to get ready for the college game. He also brings a hefty dose of athleticism to the position as a former basketball player in high school. The Tampa-2 takes some getting used to, and he'll need to balance the blitz (what he'll be naturally good at) with run-stopping. But he has just as much of a shot to make the regular rotation as anyone else right now.

Jaquwan Nelson, Freshman

Syracuse held off late charges from "bigger" name schools for Nelson's services. But in holding on, SU gets a player that should round into one of the program's better defensive players before long. Nelson has yet to gain the weight other freshman have  -- but who knows if he'll truly need it. Nelson appears to be the type of player who can speed rush on the edge well, and potentially play in coverage in a hybrid linebacker-type role.


Kayton Samuels, (Redshirt) Sophomore

There's a lot to like with Samuels, who will help anchor this line from the nose tackle spot. He's big, experienced (started last year) and is poised to continue getting better. Last year's 15 tackles were just the start, and are also impacting with him splitting snaps with one of the next names on this list. His eight solo stops from the interior line show a player that can make plays on his own, and he'll be a major part of stopping the run this fall.

Chris Slayton, (Redshirt) Sophomore

Slayton's play this spring received praise from coaches and teammates alike, as he seemed to really come on strong and further cement his starting tackle role. His total tackles (22) were third-best on the line last year, but brings back more than any other returning lineman. He has reinforcements, but an injury to Slayton would be among the most crushing blows this team could endure.

Steven Clark, Sophomore

As a true freshman last year, Clark split time with Samuels at nose tackle and performed very well. He showed himself an adept run-stopper (as we figured from the late SEC pursuits in his recruiting cycle), with abilities to break through and make tackles for loss as well. He'll split time with Samuels once again and his experience (like Samuels's and Slayton's) will be critical to helping the newcomers on the edges.

Tyler Cross, (Redshirt) Freshman

Cross is another run-stopper, and one that will be seeing the field plenty this season to help keep Slayton fresh. While it's his first year getting playing time, having a year under his belt in terms of weight room time is a valuable commodity. And not playing in the old scheme could help him adjust quicker to this new one too. Cross could round into a major contributor for Syracuse. We just don't know what we have yet (but will start to find out this fall).

Anthony Giudice, Sophomore

First, let's get this out of the way. With that done with, it'll be interesting to see how much Giudice sees the field this fall. Ideally, you'd like to keep every spot on the defensive line at two-deep. But in the past, injuries have been a factor. Guidice's only tackles came against Rhode Island last year, though he did play in seven other games. There's a good chance he and Cross will jockey for the second tackle spot below Slayton.

McKinley Williams, Freshman

Williams was the lone defensive tackle addition for the class of 2016, and if injuries don't become a factor this season, we could see him redshirt this fall. He's big at 6-foot-4, but may need to add another 10-15 pounds (he's at 255) to truly get into tackle range. Still, always good to have additional names to call upon. His eventual build is probably more comparable to what Babers is looking for in his defensive tackles.


As you already knew, depth and experience are both major issues for the line this year. And at end, not one player's taken a snap at Syracuse playing that position. That could cause some problems early on, but at least SU gets to face Colgate first. This is where easier scheduling would assist a great deal, since this line (especially the ends) will need to round into what it can do this season. Injuries, as always, create a petrifying potential reality as well. This position isn't a disaster long-term. But this year, despite some bright spots, the inexperience should be at least a little worrisome.