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Syracuse football 2021 season preview: Defensive roundtable

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You’ve heard our offensive thoughts, now hear our defensive thoughts.

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday, the TNIAAM football staff answered some burning questions from the offensive side of the ball for the Syracuse Orange. While fans are generally more pleased with the strides taken by Tony White’s defensive unit last year, that doesn’t mean there aren’t burning questions we should answer before the first game Saturday night.

So let’s get to those...

Will the Orange continue to be a top quarter ACC team in forced turnovers?

Andy: Yes. After finishing last year with the country’s third best mark in turnovers, the fumble recoveries drop (11 last year, more like 5 or 6 this year) but the interceptions go higher (12 last season) thanks to improved defensive chaos.

John: Yeah, why not? There should be a slight dropoff at the cornerback position without Ifeatu Melifonwu, but most of last year’s turnovers are back and this group should be better than they were in 2020 with more experience and more time in Tony White’s system.

Christian: Yes. That’s the trademark of Tony White’s defense. He wants and encourages his players to hunt for the ball and create plays. With not too much turnover on the defense from last year, considering the guys that left didn’t play the majority of the season, the Orange should still have fun flying around the field.

Kevin: Yes, they won’t lead the ACC but they finish 3rd this year.

Steve: They may not be as good as they’ve been, but I think they will still end up near the top. Garrett Williams and new addition Duce Chestnut look to be able to lock down the outside and Chestnut has rumors of ball-hawking. The secondary over the top will have support of Mikel Jones and some others underneath that should help that number stay high.

Who will be this year’s “breakout” player?

Andy: It’s seems lazy, but Duece Chestnut will be targeted early and often as teams avoid Garret Williams, and the freshman will rise to the challenge and be a Freshman All-American.

John: Stefon Thompson was one of the best defensive players on the team last year, but this year is when he elevates that play toward something resembling all-conference level. He may fall short of that, mind you. But it wouldn’t surprise if he topped 12 tackles for loss and continued to create chaos, while opening up opportunities for others within this defense.

Christian: Ben Labrosse. Garrett Williams said on Tuesday that Labrosse is the best athlete on the team “by a mile.” I’ll take his word for that. Honorable mention to Duce Chestnut, who should get his opportunities to make plays as teams avoid Williams.

Kevin: The breakout player on defense will be Stefon Thompson who leads the Orange in sacks and forced fumbles on the season.

Steve: Ben Labrosse is my pick. Had high hopes last year for him prior to the injury and he earned the nod this season at the free safety slot.

NCAA Football: Duke at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Will the Orange hold teams to under 30 PPG?

Andy: No, the Orange finishing averaging an allowed 31 PPG after getting involved in shootouts with Boston College, Pitt and NC State.

John: Considering the fact that they “only” allowed 32.7 per game last year despite being constantly exhausted and facing offensive more plays than all but four teams, I’d say under is a safe bet. Maybe not by much, of course. But SU just needs a competent offense to help turn things around for this D.

Christian: Yes. Theoretically, the three-and-outs should go down this year for the offense, which should give the defense more time to rest and recover so that the players aren’t tired in the fourth quarter. That fatigue is what led to the majority of points scored by teams last season.

Kevin: Barely. Syracuse ends up giving up 28.8 ppg helped by a shutout of Albany.

Steve: Yes. With the Orange offense becoming more than non-existent, a newly recharged defense should hold folks under 30ppg, That said, there’s the asterisk of what Clemson can hang, which needs to be offset by Albany.

Who will be the defensive MVP?

Andy: Josh Black is a great kid off the field, and this year we see him take charge of the trenches for the Orange and while the stats may not be eye-popping, he becomes a key force in the revival of the run defense and pass rush.

John: Garrett Williams is probably the best player on the defense, but Thompson will wind up the MVP due to the numbers he puts up and attention he’ll take up as opposing offenses gameplan to stop him.

Christian: Garrett Williams. He’s technically draft eligible, and he should have a fantastic season taking over for Ifeatu Melifonwu as the No. 1 corner for Syracuse. He made a number of fantastic and dazzling plays last year, and that should continue this year.

Kevin: Defensive MVP will be Mikel Jones who leads in tackles, fumble recoveries and contributes two interceptions.

Steve: Ja’Had Carter. Think he makes a jump. He improved leaps and bounds over the course of the year last season and an offseason couldn’t hurt for his development.

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