My 2019 SU Football Preview/ The Players: DL & LB |

My 2019 SU Football Preview/ The Players: DL & LB


Bored Historian
Aug 26, 2011
Defensive line
Seniors: Brandon Berry 6-4 244; Kendall Coleman 6-3 253; Shaq Grosvenor 6-2 285; Alton Robinson 6-4 260; Kenneth Ruff 6-1 308; McKinley Williams 6-4 282
Juniors: Josh Black 6-3-270; Kingsley Jonathan 6-3 255
Sophomores: Curtis Harper 6-2 300; Zach Morton 6-4 251; Caleb Okechukwu 6-4 261 Tyrell Richards 6-4 230
Freshmen: Kevon Darton 5-11 285; Cooper Dawson 6-5 237; Ishmael Goulbourne 6-3 205; Steve Linton 6-5 215; Jason Muñoz 6-3 255; Joe Rondi 6-4 255; Drew Tuazama 6-5 250

The good news is that we’ve got edge rushers galore. Coleman and Robinson are probably the best tandem in the country and probably both headed for the NFL. When Brandon Berry and Kingsley Jonathan, (nope, he’s not Jonathan Kingsley), spell them, we don’t lose much. Surprisingly, in another year when we have to totally rebuild the linebacking corps, the highly touted Tyrell Richards has been moved to DE, although Babers has said that he will play both positions a lot. That gives Dino the sort of talent and depth at the two end positons he wants to have at all positions someday.

The bad news is that this isn’t ‘someday’ yet. We are thin in both the offensive and defensive line, at least in the middle. I’ve seem too many teams that had exciting players in the so called ‘skill’ positons that were inadequate in the lines and the talents of the guys behind them didn’t make up for that. (Why do they call quarterback, running back and receiver the ‘skill’ positons if, as we’re told, it takes longer for linemen to develop?) One poster said that “barring injuries, we have adequate depth”. I replied that is what depth is for: to help you overcome injuries. True depth is to still have depth even if you have injuries. People think in terms of a two deep instead of a starting line-up because players alternate at nearly every position these days to keep them fresh. If you lose a starter, the second string guy can take his place but who takes the second string guy’s place to spell him? I asked Dino when things were going well last year if he finally has the program where he wants it to be. He said that would come “in a year or two” and that the difference was depth.

We’ve lost man-mountain Chris Slayton to graduation. He ate up blockers to allow those edge rushers to do their thing. The leading candidate to replace him in that role, McKinley “Bear” Williams, is out with a lower body injury and it’s not known for how long. Jake Pickard, once a top DL prospect, ended his career after a series of injuries. Caleb Okechukwu has been held out of practice with an illness. Joe Rondi also has missed practice time for undisclosed reasons. We just have too many places where we can’t afford to lose guys. Another issue is that this unit has 6 seniors, which is good for this year but bad for next year. That’s why it’s important, whatever happens in the Clemson game, that we get over it and go on to have another strong season to set Dino up for another big recruiting year and another one the year after that. Then we’ll have enough depth that if we lose a player, it’s a big problem for him but not for us because we’d got guys just as good behind him. We aren’t there yet.

Bear Williams “is continuing to develop and grow into a frame that could one day be just as intimidating as Slayton on the interior of the defensive line…. "Bear" has grown from a promising young player into a reliable force in the trenches…. a physical freak, and will start at defensive tackle this season after spending much of his career to-date at nose tackle. As a junior last year, he had 17 tackles, three TFLs and a rumble recovery, and this year will play a key role in effectively stuffing the run. Chris Slayton’s shoes are not easy ones to fill, but Williams has the experience and ability to potentially make it happen.” (Nunes last year and this) What’s a “rumble recovery”?

With Williams out for now, the two leading tackle candidates are Josh Black and Ken Ruff, (a good name for a tackle). Black is a converted end who isn’t listed as being all that big for a modern tackle but who looks very impressive in this video, (go to the 4:28 mark):
My thoughts watching this is that Josh looks like he has shoulder pads on, even when he doesn’t. And it doesn’t look as if anybody would have any hope in an arm-wrestling contest with him. But if he is 270, I wonder if he’s as strong down below as he is up above and that matters in the middle of that line. Ruff is a converted linebacker who has been bulked up to tackle size. He’s gained some 70 pounds since he was recruited. Hopefully he’s retained some of that linebacker agility.

Shaq Grosvenor is a former JCO transfer who has battled some injuries. Nunes: “was brought in with the expectation of taking some time to see the field… has played sparingly at SU, battling some injuries and also a reasonably crowded depth chart This year, he’s on the two-deep at nose tackle and will find his way on the field barring further health issues. At 285 pounds with experience, it’s at least worth working him into a rotation to keep the tackles fresh all season.”

The injuries open things up for some young guys already on the roster: Curtis Harper, Joe Rondi and Kevern Darton. Harper has the requisite size and “is a potential run-stopper in the middle if turned loose”. He was turned loose once last year, against Wagner. Rondi “was an impressive two-way player in high school, and that should serve him well at SU... down the road. For now, he’ll be redshirting to help add more weight since he’s currently just 255 pounds and will need more on him to be a reliable option inside.” Darton “is a walk-on, but in the mold of Chris Elmore: He’s 5-foot-11 and 285 pounds already, and played both ways in high school. Perhaps there’s a long-term goal to get him in at fullback. But the depth chart probably needs a tackle more than anything right now. He’s unlikely to see the field this year, but could wind up playing his way into the rotation if his size comes with comparable talent”. It’s been suggested, (by fans) that Elmore could help the team more on this side of the line than the other but there’s been no suggestion of any such plans by the coaching staff. And Chris is coming off surgery.

There’s no end of ends. Okechukwu “could be a surprising player to snag some playing time this year…as one of the bigger ends on the roster, it just seems that he has too much size to leave on the sideline… with linebacker-type skills”. Zach Morton was a three star recruit who hurt his knee last year. “The quick and athletic athlete could wind up working himself into the rotation.” That’s what we need: athletic athletes. Freshman Jason Muñoz and Drew Tuazama could be a big part of the future. We flipped Munoz from (U of) Miami. He “already has the size to play defensive end in this system — now he just needs the time to get acclimated”. Tuazama is “big already at 6-foot-5, and there’s potential talk about him being able to move inside if needed — based on what we saw from him this March/April (including three tackles and a sack in the spring game), there’s a chance he pushes for a bit more this fall”.

Freshman Steve Linton is “just 215 pounds, Linton’s going to take a redshirt this season as he pushes to add more weight to an impressive 6-foot-5 frame. But the goal is to eventually have him be an effective edge rusher down the line without losing his current speed.” Ishmael Goulbourne, who I’ve seen listed as little as 195 pounds will certainly redshirt. One would think he’ll eventually emerge as a linebacker. (In July it was reported that he hasn’t actually enrolled yet although he is on the current roster.) We haven’t had a defensive end that small since the 1960’s. Cooper Dawson might wind up at tackle but at 237, he’s got some building to do, as well. Nunes listed tight end Zach Lesko as a potential defensive end but it’s hard to see why we would need him here.

Seniors: Andrew Armstrong 6-2 230, Ben Honis 6-0 215, Lakiem Williams 6-0 225;
Juniors: none
Sophomores: Tyrell Richards 6-4 227; Kadeem Trotter 6-2 206; Juan Wallace 6-2 215;
Freshmen: Geoff Cantin-Arku 6-4 224; Mikel Jones 6-0 212; Lee Kpogba 6-1 220;

For the second straight year all of our starting linebackers graduated. Dino told the press that that is never going to happen again- the starting line-up will not be all seniors in the future. Just looking at the defensive rosters I count 18 defensive linemen, 22 defensive backs and only 8 linebackers. Of course there are only three linebacking positons compared to 4 for the line and backfield but the numbers are still out of whack.

Last year’s preview listed Tre Allison, Terrell Bennett, Shyheim Cullen, Nadarius Fagan, Zack Lesko, Tyrell Richards, Tim Walton, Jake Wright as linebackers who weren’t seniors. None of them are listed as linebackers on this year’s roster. Richards is listed as a defensive end but he’ll also play linebacker. Lesko is listed as a tight end, another area where we are thin but perhaps not as important as this one. Jake Wright is now listed as a defensive back, which seems more appropriate to his size: 6-1 198 but is not where we needed help.

Allison, who had good size at 6-2 233 and was a three star prospect, (basically that means he projects as a potential starter on the college level), transferred out for “personal reasons”. But the big loss is surely Shy Cullen, who was one of the best special teams players we’ve had here, especially as a ‘gunner’ on punt returns. He was fast and athletic and had a nose for the ball and hit hard. But he ran into academic problems he couldn’t overcome and is now trying to make as a free agent in the NFL. I was really looking forward to him lining up behind Coleman or Robinson and helping them wreak havoc on the other team. Fagan was a smallish, (213) linebacker known for his quickness and coverage skills. He has been a three star recruit but he left school to “get closer to family due to personal reasoning”. Walton left to become another school’s grad transfer. He’s another guy who could have provided some much-needed size at 6-3 230.

This puts a lot of pressure on the few experienced players we have left in this unit and creates opportunities for the freshmen. Andrew Armstrong is “known for his versatility, having practiced at all three linebacker spots”. He will likely be the “Will”, (weakside line backer not facing the other team’s tight end), this year, despite being the largest of the eight listed line backs at 6-2, 230. “Though he hasn’t necessarily shown himself to be a major piece of the puzzle against the run, that’ll likely need to shift this year and be crucial to the team’s overall success stopping opposing rushing attacks as well.” (Nunes last year and this.)

Lakiem Williams transferred in from the same junior college Clayton Welch came from. He’s bene a weight room star. He’ll be the “Mike”, (the middle linebacker). “Williams resembles the sort of build we used to see more in SU middle linebackers — 6-feet and around 225-230 pounds. His spot will likely be one opponents test early as they won’t have much tape to go off.”

Tyrell Richards would make sense as a “Sam”, (the strong side linebacker who faces the tight end), being a sort of linebacker/defensive end hybrid. “He has the frame to play in the ACC…He had 16 tackles, three sacks and a pick last season, and the impressive athlete is anxious for more this season. “ (Nunes) The 247Sports composite rankings said “three stars, and he was one of the five best players out of Canada for 2017. Not too shabby.”

Juan Wallace was a high school teammate of Ed Hendrix and IMG Academy, where many top prospects come from. From last year’s preview: “Wallace was the most highly recruited linebacker in this class. Georgia, Kentucky, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Maryland and Rutgers wanted him badly but he was here for the Clemson upset and decided this was the place for him. He was rated 3 stars like so many others but one of the top 40 inside linebackers in the country.” Nunes: “If we wind up seeing less of Williams at all as the starter, Wallace will likely be the reason. The IMG Academy product is slightly larger at 6-foot-2 and is a pro at applying pressure up the middle.”

Kadeem Trotter: “When he was initially recruited, Syracuse coaches apparently said he was a future NFL player. He could have the speed to eventually get there, but we’ll see about the size at just 214 pounds right now.” SU lists him at 206. Last year: “Trotter is another redshirt freshman with a defensive back’s physique at 6-2 206 and is a “plus coverage player” per” Maybe SU needs to update the weights on their roster.

Ben Honis is a grad transfer from Cornell who played at Jamesville DeWitt. He was an All-American – as a wrestler. Some of those skills may come in handy taking on opponent’s running games. He can also play tight end. He might also be a factor on special teams.

The gems of the recruiting class were four star, (meaning they project as college stars: five stars project as an All-American), linebackers Mikel Jones and Lee Kpogba, (pronounced 'Ko-buh'). Both entered school in January to get an early start and have experienced both spring and fall practice. Jones “is one of two true freshman phenoms that’s been on campus since January and is looking to show why they received four stars from at least one recruiting service each. He’s already right behind Armstrong at weakside linebacker, and at 212 pounds, he’s built almost built more like a safety.” Kpogba’s “a force as a pass-rusher and a fantastic athlete that played both ways in high school. Since he’s been on campus all year, there’s a shot we see him on the field in some capacity for 2019”.

The other freshman, Geoff Cantin-Arku “is behind his fellow freshmen given that he only recently arrived, he’s also 6-foot-4 and comes in with a ton of potential. There obviously aren’t a lot of linebackers currently on the Orange roster, so any player at the position could potentially get playing time in 2019. For now, special teams seems like a reasonable expectation, however.”

The talent level here appears high, the experience level very low and the numbers are concerning at best. There’s talk of adopting strange defensive formations like a 4-2-5 or a 3-3-5 to deal with the lack of depth in the middle of the line and at the linebacker positon. Not only is changing your basic defense a risky proposition but, when we got beat last year, it was my teams that could punish us up front and grind the ball their way down the field with the running game. We can’t be special unless we can stop that.
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care taker

Finally a starter
Apr 12, 2016
I truly appreciate the time and effort that you dedicate to these post. They are so informative and well written. Thank you.
Why u up so late ?


Bored Historian
Aug 26, 2011
I see bergeron listed as a dl. Is that correct?

No. Not sure where I got that from. I also have him under offensive linemen and that's where I talk about him. I removed him from the above list. Thanks for the pick-up.

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