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Defensive breakdown: Syracuse vs. Central Connecticut State

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There were several positive takeaways from Friday’s matchup.

NCAA Football: Central Connecticut State at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

We’re back for another year of Syracuse Orange football defensive breakdowns. Last season the Orange struggled on D, finishing at the bottom of nearly every major category.

After an offseason full of adjustments and personnel changes, head coach Dino Babers emphasized the need to improve on the defensive side of the ball during camp. Following Friday’s game, I’m not quite convinced of anything yet, but I am optimistic and very encouraged about what this unit can do this season.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Line

I was all over this group last year. “Block magnets” was a good way to describe SU’s D-Line in 2016. Largely undersized as a group, it was rare to see any one defensive lineman win a one-on-one matchups against much bigger ACC offensive lineman. This season, I’m excited about what this unit can do. They’re huge! Whatever Coach Edinger, the strength and conditioning coordinator has been doing with these guys is great.

Chris Slayton was a one-man band last season, but in 2017 he’s looking like a potential force in the ACC. If you ever get a chance, watch No. 95 get off the ball. He’s like a shot out of a cannon. I also loved the use of his hands and his ability to power through Central Connecticut. The ability to engage a blocker, turn and then run down a receiver or running back catching a pass out of the backfield is always an incredible play that demonstrates high effort and ability. Slayton did this on several occasions last Friday. Great game by him.

As a whole, I liked what I saw from this group. Kayton Samuels had a good game in his first start and it was cool to see some of the hand combat I saw Samuels working in the summer translate to the game. This defensive line has its work cut out for them later this season. But in their first game out, I thought they did an excellent job plugging up the run, filling gaps and making the quarterback move off his spot.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Linebackers

Zaire Franklin and this linebacker core return as the anchors of this defense. Zaire and Paris Bennett looked like the tackle machines they are, patrolling the field from sideline to sideline. I liked how disruptive the group was in both the run and passing game.

In Jonathan Thomas’s absence, I thought Kielan Whitner and Austin Valdez both played great games. Whitner came in and showed off his ability to cover from the linebacker position with a nice pass break-up against a slant patern and Valdez looked like a tough downhill linebacker getting in on 3 total tackles, 1 TFL and forcing a forcing a fumble. The kid can play and I think he’ll be a valuable piece for the Orange down the line.

Secondary

The secondary played a well-rounded game as well. On the touchdown between Scoop Bradshaw and Evan Foster, the only thing you can ask Scoop to do is be taller and maybe find out what held Foster up over top. They were in what looked line two-man coverage and the QB hit the sweet spot. Correctable mistake, so I wouldn’t worry about it much yet, better to see something like this now than in a key matchup.

I don’t want to be overly critical this week and maybe this is just tough love, but the secondary and pass coverage was bailed out by several drops last weekend. Drops that won’t happen against FBS opponent who have much more talented athletes. I’m also disappointed the Orange didn’t come away with an interception. Foster had an opportunity early in the game, but didn’t convert. Good players knock it down. Great players get the pick. I’m looking forward to more great plays from this secondary.

I also want use this space to highlight Toledo transfer Jordan Martin game since he may be replacing Antwan Cordy on Saturday. He can play, I liked that his jersey number seemed to always be in the frame on run plays and his presence over top was also felt. Martin never played the safety position with the Rockets, but looked the part in first game. I liked his patience in deep coverage letting a route develop and then breaking over top of the receiver. We saw that on a couple pass plays Fridays.

Transitioning from corner is always refreshing, you get to operate in more space and have more vision of the field than you’re used to. I always thought playing safety was more fun and it looked like Martin was having fun out there. Keep an eye out for him on Saturday vs. Middle Tennessee.

Overall, the defense had a good game, shutting down CCSU on third down and putting them in difficult situations on first and second. That’s a defense’s goal every week. I wouldn’t put much stock into how good this unit will be quite yet, but they certainly checked the box on Friday.