SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Replacing your top three linebackers sounds difficult. Replacing two that may be headed to the NFL sounds even more difficult. Replacing those players, who also happen to be three of your top four leading tacklers? That sounds the most difficult.
Syracuse Orange football coach Dino Babers wasn’t shy to note the departures of said players during the ACC coaches teleconference on Thursday.
“I see youth,” Babers said. “I see guys making mistakes. I see a lot of young men getting opportunities to play that haven’t had an opportunity to play in the past because they couldn’t move those guys out of the way.”
‘Those guys’ that Babers refers to include Zaire Franklin, Parris Bennett and Jonathan Thomas.
One of Syracuse’s many tough tasks entering the 2018 season is undoubtedly finding a new rotation of linebackers to work in. The returning leading tackler among listed linebackers is junior Andrew Armstrong. Armstrong totaled 13 tackles last season, including a season-high 2.5 stops against Louisville on November 18.
Bennett finished with 115 stops in 2017 -- good for 20th in the country. He also contributed 11 tackles for loss, two sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Franklin and Thomas pitched in 85 and 50 stops, respectively.
The three accounted for exactly 250 stops in the 2017 season. Should the three Spring Game starters – Armstrong, along with Ryan Guthrie and Kielan Whitner -- maintain their roles as starting linebackers (seems likely), that brings a newfound level of experience to the fold.
Though Armstrong, Guthrie, and Whitner combined for 32 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a fumble recovery, this newfound linebacking corps brings experience from afar to the table. Armstrong is a junior, and Guthrie and Whitner are seniors. Guthrie spent extensive time starting at the JUCO level, while Whitner has played a good deal at safety.
As Babers mentioned, they just couldn’t move those three starters out of the way.
Babers has three freshman (two redshirt) linebackers on campus already that could make an impact as early as this season.
“We’re going to still need the freshman class,” Babers commented. “We’ve got some really good freshmen coming in that we believe are going to be able to get into some of our depth.”
He’s referencing a collection of freshmen -- true and redshirt -- there: Tyrell Richards, Kadeem Trotter, Juan Wallace and Tre Allison. But that’s just a glimpse of who else is available. Babers has faith in the three starters, but those four players, Tim Walton, Shyheim Cullen, Lakiem Williams and Nadarius Fagan are also on the roster.
For all of the turnover by way of losing Bennett, Franklin, Thomas and Austin Valdez, there’s also plenty of promise left. It’s not necessarily experienced promise. But promise nonetheless.
Follow Corey Crisan on Twitter and Instagram @cdcrisan for SU Athletics coverage.