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Syracuse football: Defense well positioned for 2017 breakout

Not to get ahead of ourselves, but it’s tough to ignore what Syracuse brings back NEXT season...

NCAA Football: Rhode Island at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Now that we’re done previewing the individual position groups on the Syracuse Orange defense, you probably have some (mostly worrisome) takeaways. The overarching themes of the defensive line and secondary were youth. The linebackers are experienced, but many aren’t tailored to fit this Tampa-2 scheme. This all sounds disconcerting if we hope to see any improvement from a defense that finished 99th in yards allowed per game and 69th in defensive S&P+.

But look at this post-spring depth chart, and what you’ll quickly notice is how few seniors are there on that defense. Hell, there aren’t even that many juniors, to be honest. Next year, assuming some improvement within the Tampa-2 and a gradual rise in overall athleticism and execution, could be a breakout year for this defense.

Bill Connelly’s made the point before that it’s not just about returning experience, but the production that experience accounts for, and what positions it plays. Experience is more critical on defense than offense. Experience in the secondary is an enormous advantage (as is having returning talent at quarterback and wide receiver). In 2017, Syracuse checks all of these boxes after undergoing a bit of a two- or three-year influx of youth. We’ve seen the excuses trotted out for why the Orange have lost games for the past two years. And we know why they could (hi, difficult schedule) this year as well.

I don’t want to (and won’t) mail in the 2016 campaign at all. But looking ahead to 2017... it’s already difficult to be anything but excited.

Again, picture that defense, all loaded with experience. Jake Pickard and Kenneth Ruff with a year under their belts at the ends, while Chris Slayton and Kayton Samuels are both still back to stuff the run in the middle (and you can’t forget Steven Clark either). Parris Bennett, Zaire Franklin and Jonathan Thomas are all back at linebacker, and beyond them, even more depth and experience from players like Troy Henderson and Shyheim Cullen. The secondary will only lose Wayne Morgan (and walk-on Joe Stanard). EVERYONE else is back.


So while we’re tepid about what happens this year, bowl or not, there’s a lot to look forward to next season. Rather than looking too far ahead, enjoy Dino Babers and his staff putting in the groundwork in 2016 to take advantage of the opportunity 2017 presents. And also curse the fact that we’re facing LSU on the road next fall (/shakes fist at schedule makers).