The Syracuse Orange football team loses some key pieces to graduation this offseason, however the 2018 team was far from “senior-heavy.”
Yesterday, we took a look at the offense and how it plans to replace a bevy of senior starters (headlined by Eric Dungey). Today, we look at 2019’s defensive (and special teams) depth chart, and how the Orange plan to replace key names like Ryan Guthrie, Chris Slayton, Antwan Cordy and more.
Defensive end: Alton Robinson (Sr.) | Kingsley Jonathan (Jr.)
Nose tackle: McKinley Williams (Sr.) | Shaq Grosvenor (R-Sr.)
Defensive tackle: Josh Black (R-Jr.) | Kenneth Ruff (Sr.)
Defensive end: Kendall Coleman (Sr.) | Tim Walton (R-Jr.)
Right off the bat, this assumes that Williams and Robinson are both back after not playing in the Camping World Bowl. The two players combined for 20 tackles for loss in 2018 (17 of those attributable to Robinson), and their absence would definitely be felt while exacerbating the fact that Chris Slayton graduates. At least on the latter point, both Black and Ruff have come on strong since moving to the inside.
If Williams and Robinson are gone, then move Ruff to nose tackle and Jonathan to the starting defensive end spot opposite Coleman. Walton will get some run either way, and Zach Morton and/or Caleb Okechukwu probably gets a shot too backing up Jonathan.
Weakside linebacker: Tyrell Richards (R-So.) | Lakiem Williams (Sr.)
Middle linebacker: Andrew Armstrong (Jr.) | Nadarius Fagan (R-So.)
Strongside linebacker: Shyheim Cullen (R-Sr.) | Kadeem Trotter (R-So.)
Syracuse experimented a bunch with a 4-2-5 setup, though we still saw plenty of the standard 4-3 alignment, too. Losing both Guthrie and Kielan Whitner could hurt some play-making in the backfield, but the remaining linebackers are probably a better fit for what the Tampa-2 usually does. Armstrong is the most experienced player here, and Cullen has seen the field plenty over the course of his career (and that time increased as the 2018 season went on).
Richards is the potential breakout player, however, after a strong back portion of the schedule that saw him play a combo of linebacker and defensive line. He tallied an interception, three sacks and 16 tackles despite limited play. This group probably rises and falls on the strides he makes this offseason.
While they’re not included above, it’s worth mentioning that true freshmen Lee Kpogba and Mikel Jones have a shot to get into the conversation, and at the very least, could find themselves playing time on special teams.
Cornerback: Chris Fredrick (R-Sr.) | Ifeatu Melifonwu (R-So.)
Free safety: Andre Cisco (So.) | Cornelius Nunn (Fr.)
Strong safety: Cam Jonas (R-Fr.) | Evan Foster (Sr.)
Cornerback: Trill Williams (So.) | Scoop Bradshaw (Sr.)
Trill had pretty much won the starting corner job by the end of the year, so he’ll be back in that role from the start of 2019. Foster played well at safety this past season, but Cam Jonas came in with equal hype to that of Andre Cisco, so expect him to challenge for that starting gig. Cisco’s locked in as a starter, though you’ll notice true freshman Neil Nunn sitting right behind him. He’s probably one of the more likely 2019 additions to see the field, even if it’s just in specific situations.
Assuming that we see more 4-2-5 alignments given the lack of experience at linebacker again, you could probably shift Melifonwu out to the nickel spot.
Placekicker: Andre Szmyt (R-So.) | Nolan Cooney (R-Jr.)
Kickoff specialist: Sterling Hofrichter (R-Sr.) | Nolan Cooney (R-Jr.)
Long snapper: Aaron Bolinsky (So.) | Andrejas Duerig (R-Sr.)
Punter: Sterling Hofrichter (R-Sr.) | Nolan Cooney (R-Jr.)
Kick returner: Sean Riley (Sr.) | Shyheim Cullen (R-Sr.)
Punt returner: Sean Riley (Sr.) | Nykeim Johnson (Jr.)
Threw all of the special teams updates in one bucket, but really, there’s only one major change — Aaron Bolinsky taking over the long snapper gig from Matt Keller. Bolinksy’s already experienced here, however, as he filled in for about half of the 2018 schedule with Keller injured. Duerig’s a potential reserve, but perhaps there’s someone else that slots in there instead.
Every other position stays the same for one of the country’s best special teams groups. We’ll see if Dino Babers shakes up the return game at all so that he’s not utilizing two or three starting players there when there’s an ample number of speedy reserves who could probably use some burn.
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