My 2022 SU Football Preview - Part 6: the Defensive Line | Syracusefan.com

My 2022 SU Football Preview - Part 6: the Defensive Line

SWC75

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DEFENSIVE LINE
Seniors:
Juniors: #93 Caleb Okechukwu 6-4 268
Sophomores: #45 Kevon Darton 5-11 266 (was 295), #17 Steve Linton 6-5 219, (was 225), #90 Terry Lockett 6-3 270
Freshmen: #56 Patrick Alberga 6-3 261 (was 250), #53 Garth Barclay 6-7 277 (was 290), #97 Belizaire Bassette (6-0 260), #29 Josh Hough 6-3 315 (was 255), #58 Denis Jaquez (6-4 240), #99 Elijah Fuentes-Cundiff 6-4 267 (was 275), #54 Jatius Greer 6-6 233 (was 255), #94 Kevin Jobity (6-4 247), #59 Ahmad Masoud (6-3 250), #95 Francois Nolton (6-4 252), #30 Chase Simmons 6-4 257, #96 Elijah Wright 6-3 270, (was 260)
Gone:
Josh Black had quite a physique and is an amazing athlete for his size.

(3) Harlem graduate Josh Black rev's up for Pro Day and an NFL shot - YouTube

He grew into a quality power conference tackle and played in 60 games with 48 starts, including his last 35 with 155 tackles, 24.0 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks, two fumble recoveries, an interception and two blocked kicks. He signed as a free agent with the New Orleans Saints in May.
Curtis Harper was a guy we’d like to have retained as he’d played in 33 games over the last three seasons, has 43 tackles (26 solo), 6.0 tackles for loss and three sacks This would have been his chance to start, which he should be doing for Akron.
Kingsley Jonathan played in 56 games in five years here, starting 14 and recording 101 tackles (60 solo), 21.5 tackles for loss, 15.0 sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He signed as a free agent with the Buffalo Bills. Someone will still probably call him Jonathan Kingsley at some point.
Latarie Kinsler never appeared in a game here in two years and has transferred to Florida International.
Derek McDonald is now a linebacker
Joe Rondi transferred to Monmouth. He should be able to start there.
Cody Roscoe came here from McNeese State. No one knew what to expected but he built himself up into an explosive power-conference player. At SU he played in 25 games with 9 starts with 66 tackles 17TFLs and 10 sacks. In 30 games (22 starts) for the Cowboys, notched 94 tackles, 26 tackles for loss and 16 sacks ... In total between the two schools, had 160 tackles, 43.0 tackles for loss and 26.0 sacks 6 forced fumbles and a recover in 55 collegiate games. He went undrafted and I was unable to find anything that said he’d signed as free agent but he was a heck of a player here.
Erik Slater was a grad transfer walk-on from Lehigh who attended Newhouse and is now a sports reporter for WPRI-TV in Providence. He played in just two games here but certainly took advantage of the opportunities the university offers.
McKinley Williams’ nickname says it all: “Bear”. He played in even more games than Airon Servais, 61, starting 34 of them. He had 122 tackles (70 solo), including 21 for a loss, 4.0 sacks and one fumble recovery.

As you can see, we’ve lost an awful lot in Black, Jonathan, Williams, Roscoe and Harper: 265 collegiate games, 127 starts, 581 tackles, 115.5 TFLs, 56 sacks, 9 forced fumbles, 6 recoveries and 2 blocks. On top of that, their average size was 6-3, 279. Now we have to find a way to replace them if we hope to duplicate last year’s improved defensive performance.

Caleb Okechukwu (sound it out) is now our most experienced defensive lineman. He has appeared in 24 games and has 35 tackles, 3.0 TFLs and 2.0 sacks. 247 rated him #1,506/#76 as an ‘SDE’, which means “strongside defensive end’, which means he lines on the side with the tight end. Nunes: “We’re going to see him on the field every game, there’s no doubt about that. He came out of the 2020 season with 14 tackles (10 solo, 4 assists) and then he came out of the 2021 season with 21 total (12 solo, 9 assisted), so if history shows anything, it shows he’s going to increase those numbers in 2022.” Replacing the productive guys he played behind will be a big challenge but he’s faced a bigger one:
“There’s no doubt that he has leadership skills,” Babers said. “There’s no doubt that he knows the workings of this place. And it’s important for the younger guys on the d-line to have someone to go to tell them exactly how it’s done.”

Kevon Darton has finally been given a scholarship after coming here as a walk-on. I thought he’d be the one guy big enough to take on the ‘elephants’ on the offensive line one-on-one at 295. But this year he is 266, (see also Jatius Greer, below). Apparently the plan is that everyone in the 3-5-5 needs mobility over strength, or at least girth. 247 whiffed on him coming out of high school. But he has played in 18 games in two years and has made 14 tackles. Nunes: “Last season he emerged as a primary back-up in the middle of the defensive line. With the departure of McKinley Williams, Darton will be in the mix to earn more snaps along the interior. He should also remain a key member of special teams units.”

Mikel Jones, our all-American candidate at linebacker, has complained that the football program lacks a nutritionist. (We got our kickers a special teams coordinator so nutritionist could be next -surely there’s someone at a great university that could fulfill this role). The poster child for this is Steve Linton, who continues to be listed as a lineman even though he only weights 219 pounds. That was OK for Fred Dryer 50 years ago but that’s nothing like a modern defensive lineman. He was 224 when he came here and 225 last year. Now he’s lost 6 pounds. Linton is super-quick but I suspect he’d still be super-quick at 230, 240 or even 250. But he can’t seem to get there. 247 had him at #897/#60 as a WDE, (weakside defensive end: the tight end is on the other side). In 18 career games has 23 tackles, 1.0 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and a pass deflection. Nunes: “Linton doesn’t profile as your typical defensive lineman, but due to depth issues, he needs to start there. It’ll be interesting to see how Linton fares as the first person going up to big offensive lineman, but he’s a capable edge rusher who can force an opposing quarterback into a mistake.” The other question with Linton is: what happens with Steve’s hairdo when he puts his helmet on?
Steve Linton - Football - Syracuse University Athletics
(8/9 Update: “Starting left tackle Matthew Bergeron watched team periods from the sideline fully dressed on Tuesday while defensive end Steve Linton did the same, nursing an apparent lower-body injury.” – CuseNation)

Terry Lockett was a fairly highly recruited: 247 had him as #1,143/#134 among all defensive linemen. He’s worked his way up the depth chart and this year will be his big chance to grab a starting spot for the next three years. He played in 11 games last year and made 12 tackles with 2 sacks. Nunes: “The interior defensive line could be the biggest question mark for the Orange next season. Can Lockett and others step into the role filled by McKinley Williams and Josh Black? They don’t need to rack up a lot of stats, but they need to occupy the offensive line and allow the Syracuse linebackers the ability to make plays.”

Patrick Alberga is a preferred walk-on who hasn’t played in a game in two years. Nunes has some hope for him: “Alberga has been working inside and seems to have added a few pounds which should help out his cause breaking into the rotation. Terry Lockett and Elijah Fuentes-Cundiff based on snaps last year will be getting the start run up front, but as a third year player, Alberga could potentially work himself into the next set of linemen vying for time. When the defensive front lost Bear Williams it was a huge (literally) hole that he’ll look to help shore up that gap.”

Garth Barclay has switched over from offense. He certainly has some good size at 6-7 277. 247 evaluated him as an offensive tackle at #958/#78. He has played in two games as a reserve OT. Nunes: “Barclay has a chance to battle for a second-string spot but there’s still others that will remain in front of him for the time being. With at least two guys on their way out after the season, Garth needs to keep working hard during drills and show he has the physicality to perform a bigger role.”

Belizaire Bassette was a “high school teammate of current Orange wide receiver Oronde Gadsden at American Heritage, which is coached by former NFL defensive back Patrick Surtain”. (Cuse.com) 247 has him as the #1,192/149 DL. Nunes: “Coach Mike Schmidt seems to have seen something in this big fella. He has the size to put on a college S&C program worth of weight and be molded into whatever Schmidt needs him to do. If he can learn to use his hands, there’s something to be developed here.”

Josh Hough has already had an interesting career here and he has yet to play a game. All through his senior year in high school, we kept hearing of his phenomenal statistics, (his father kept us appraised on the board). Here was a 6-3 255 monster of a running back who averaged 16.5 yards per carry and scored 29 touchdowns! His highlight film showed one long run after another and is fun to watch:


This got everybody on the board excited about seeing him make runs like that for the Orange. I got excited because of my perennial dream of bringing back a Csonka-Little look to the running game with Hough as Csonka and Tucker as Little. I even came up with a nickname for them: since Tucker can disappear down the field in a puff of smoke, they would be the “Hough and Pough backfield”. Then Josh turned up in fall practice wearing crutches and was out for the year.

I’d noticed three things in that tape: that Josh had an explosive start for such a big man, (also an extra gear when he saw an opening downfield), that, despite his size, the tape doesn’t actually show any power running: there’s virtually no physical contact when he has the ball, (his teammates do a great job of blocking for him), and the second half of the tape has several rather spectacular-looking defensive plays by Josh. He can use that burst to get to the quarterback. He can pull people down with one hand. He tipped an intercepted pass to himself and was off to the races. I noted that Marlowe Wax, one of our outstanding linebackers, had been an outstanding high school runner but also played very effectively both ways. Dino and Tony White wanted him for the defense and I wondered if Josh Hough might someday be on defense.

Now he is. Even more astonishing is that he’s no longer 255 pounds. He’s now 315 pounds! The first question is: is he over his leg injury. The second: is that extra 60 pounds fat that build up while he was on crutches or is it muscle he built up rehabbing from the injury? This clip might give us an answer.


247 had Josh at #1,162/#84 as a running back. Nunes: “After sustaining a season-ending injury in training camp last year, Hough finds himself starting from scratch on the other side of the ball. With the running back room starting to get crowded, Hough moved to the most needed position on the team: defensive line. Though he won’t start, his explosive speed could elevate him quickly. He played some defensive end and outside linebacker in high school, so this isn’t a totally new experience for Josh.” I still don’t know why they consider the running back room ‘crowded‘ but I agree that his explosive speed can help him on defense as well as offense. Football is ultimately about short bursts that set up everything else and, if his injury hasn’t cost him that, he could be quite a dynamic defender.

Denis Jaquez is another player we’ve gotten out of New Jersey, despite Greg Schiano’s ‘wall’. 247 has him the #1,013/#63 ‘edge’ rusher in the country. Nunes: ”Jaquez was decently rated coming out of high school, and he showed why by appearing with the second line during spring practice. With Tony White’s love for rotating his defensive line consistently, Jaquez could see the field a bit more than a true freshman might… Duce Chestnut was basically Jaquez’s recruiter, as the two are former teammates and still friends. Chestnut sold the point early that true freshmen can play early. “He pretty much told me that if you come in, you put the work in, they don’t care how old you are,” Jaquez said. “You could be 14 out there. They will play you if you’re good enough. Pretty much to come out here, play hard and you’ll be rewarded.”
(Update 8/15: “One younger player the pair said has stood out during fall camp is freshman Denis Jaquez Jr. Lockett described him as “twitchy” and said he can see him learning while he’s on the field.
“He probably asks a million questions every day, which is good being a young guy who has never played,” Okechukwu said. “He shows everybody that he cares and that he wants it, which is what I want to see out of him.” Suracuse.com)

Elijah Fuentes-Cundiff was rated the 5th best prospect in New York State, (which has been known to have about that many) and the #1,705/196 defensive lineman in the country. He played in two games last year at tackle, (there’s only one in this defense) and had a couple of tackles. Nunes: “We’ll say this a lot when talking about the defensive line, but there are opportunities for players like Fuentes-Cundiff. While Syracuse looks to have the starters on the outside locked in, a strong fall camp can move him into the rotation on the interior. The Orange lack experience on the defensive line but this means younger players could get a chance to show their skills early on.”

Jatius Greer was 255 pounds last year and we wondered how much bigger he would get. He’s now listed as 233 pounds and we wonder how small he’s going to get and why. 247 had him as the #1,057/122 of all defensive lineman. Nunes: “The defensive line is no longer loaded with veteran players, so players like Geer have the opportunity to get on the field for significant snaps this Fall. When I was watching the defense warm up before the spring game it was obvious that Geer’s size makes him stand out. Can he translate that to on-field performance this season?” (He was 243 in the spring) he played in one game last year and made one tackle.

Kevin Jobity is from Buffalo, where they play pretty good football, (my alma mater, CNS keeps losing to them or a Rochester team in the state playoffs). 247 has him #1,577/186 DL. Nunes: “Jobity, Jr. only played one year of high school football and while his offer list won’t jump off the page, the son of a former pro basketball player becomes an intriguing prospect. At 6’4 255 pounds he fits the profile of a pass-rushing defensive end.”

Ahmad Masoud was an offensive lineman last year. He’s stayed the same size: 6-3 250. He’s a walk on from the Detroit area who was not rated by 247 and didn’t play in any games last year. Nunes: “Masood seems to be headed towards scout team duty again but the path to playing time is a bit more open on the defensive line in the future. If he continues his trend of getting taller, he could find himself invited to join the basketball team when football season ends.” He’ll probably have to get a little bigger than 6-3 to interest Jim Boeheim.

Francois Nolton is a freshman from Miami who 247 rated the #651/91 defensive lineman in the country, making him the highest rated prospect in this unit. Nunes: “Tony White rotates his defensive line often. With the departure of all starters from last year, Nolton has a chance to see good playing time. He appeared with the second-team defense during the spring game, so Nolton should find himself on the field during longer drives.”

Chase Simmons, from South Carolina was not very well regarded by 247: #2,110/244 as a DL. He played in two games last year but had no stats. Nunes: “He didn’t add any weight (lost two pounds), but probably transformed a bit of that weight with a year of college strength and conditioning. Last year he was sitting in a log jam on the d-line. This year he’s sitting in a desert, so if he can make the most of it, he may see the field a bit more.” (Just like everybody else.)

Elijah Wright is a local kid, (Solvay), who was all-state but an unrated walk-on who has yet to play in a game. 247 never heard of him. Nunes: “Even with the many departures on the defensive line, Wright will likely only rotate in at best. He could see some time on special teams.”

I expect to see a lot of Okechukwu, Darton and Linton up front along with Locket and Greer. In the future Hough, Jaquez and Nolton may be big names. Barclay, Bassette, Fuentes Cundiff, Jobity and Simmons may get a chance, too. They average 6-3 263, the same height as the group we lost but 16 pounds lighter. Hough is the only one of the new group to be at least 279 pounds, although Barclay, Lockett Okechukwu, Darton and Fuentes Cundiff are close.

The last time we had a defense as good as the one last year, (or better) was 2010. I recall that team had 2-3 300-pound tackles in the center of the defensive line. They all graduated and the 2011 line, which featured 260-270 pounders in their place, wasn’t nearly as good. We went from 8-5 to 5-7. Dino Babers: “You guys should be hugely confident in those guys. Those guys worked hard all offseason. Regarding Steve (Linton) and Caleb (Okechukwu), they’ve been here since Alton Robinson, Kendall Coleman, they’ve seen a lot of good guys come through here. Us going into our senior year, they understand what needs to be done.”

It's a shame we were not able to recruit Albany’s Jared Verse, who impressed in last year’s game against SU, including catching Sean Tucker from behind from his defensive end position. Instead he’ll be playing against us for Florida State. He could have walked into a starting job here.
Transformation portal: How Jared Verse went from an FCS project to a Power 5 defensive end
Maybe we should hire those coaches – and their nutritionist - who transformed Eli Mencer and Verce into “dominant defensive ends”.
 
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SWC75

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The new depth chart had Jaitus Greer, (all 233 pounds of him), has one end, ahead of Denis Jaquez (240). On the other flank are Caleb Okechukwu (268) and Chase, (the perfect name for an edge rusher), Simmons, (257). In the meat-grinder are tackles Terry Lockett (270) and Kevon Darton (266). Absent: 219 pound Steve Linton.

Is that enough beef?

 

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