Then and Now 2023: The Defense | Syracusefan.com

Then and Now 2023: The Defense

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The Defense

Then:

Caleb Okechukwu, as described, is the last survivor in the Syracuse program of the 2018 class. He actually remembers both of our last two winning seasons. He’s played in 37 games, with 13 starts, which tells you of the climbing he had to do to get into the position he’s in now. In interviews, he sounds like someone who knows what it takes and will be a good leader for this young defensive line. He “has 83 tackles, 14.0 TFLs, 9.0 sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles and a touchdown in his career” (Syracuse.com). Seven of those sacks and 10 of those TFLs came last year, so he’s turned himself into quite a player.

Kevon Darton has also come a long way. Coming out of high school, he was totally ignored – no rating at all from 247. He wasn’t even a preferred walk on – just a regular ol’ walk on. He’s played 31 games here, including 11 starts after Terry Lockett went down last year, at nose tackle, where his low center of gravity and his fierce work ethic gave him an advantage. Last year he had 54 tackles, including 4TFL and not including 3 QB hurries, which are hard to get from the “working in the mine” nose tackle position.

The upside of the transfer portal for a mid-range school like SU is that we can offer spots to guys who went to the football factories but couldn’t win the position battles there and wind up with a higher rated player than the ones we recruited. For example, Braylen Ingraham from Fort Lauderdale who went to Alabama and played in 5 games in three years. He was a 4 star and #11 SDE coming out of high school. And now he’s at Syracuse, where he could give Caleb or Kevon a run for their positions. At least, he’ll be part of the rotation. “On the field, I’m going to be a real big disrupter,” Ingraham said. “Stopping the run, rushing the passer, I want to make a big impact. Off the field, I’ll be a role model, doing the right things, using the things I learned at Alabama. Being a positive impactful person.” (Nunes)

Elijah Fuentes-Cundiff has appeared in 13 games in two years with 2 starts, making 16 tackles. He’s a 3 star out of the Bronx, the #174 DL recruit. He’ll be a veteran in the rotation.

Kevin Jobity came out of Buffalo, a 3 start #184 DL. Talent and injuries gave him some opportunities as a true freshman and he responded with 13 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and had two sacks on the season in 8 games. (Cuse.com). With some injured players returning and transfers coming in, what’s his status now? At least we know he can play if we need him.

Terry Lockett was a 3 star, the #155 DL, out of Springfield, Massachusetts. He had taken over the nose tackle position and was coming on strong when he was hurt against Virginia. Nunes: “Assuming Lockett is healthy, he should slot right back into the two-deep at the very minimum. If he’s fully recovered, it’s hard to argue against him joining the starting lineup full time. His big frame is exactly what Syracuse needs to draw attention away from the linebackers.”

Denis Jaquez Jr. is a 3 star from New Jersey, the #72 edge in the country. Where he ranks among the DLs or the SDEs or the WDEs or the LBs, I don’t know but ‘edge’ means he’s supposed to be messing things up in the other team’s backfield. He was another true freshman who got to play, joining the rotation immediately. Then he got hurt, too. He wound up playing in 5 games and had 3 tackles and joined in on a sack. We flipped him from Northwestern “I had an ex-teammate that is currently on the Syracuse roster (Duce Chestnut). He told me to come out and explore my options. So I did and I loved it.” Duce also explored his options.

Our computers have been full of images of Rashard Perry looking like King Kong and sneering at our future opponents, who were presumably looking for someplace to hide. Perry is certainly the right size to play in the defensive line for us, (6-3 278) and he may become a dominant force for us in his career here. Despite the pictures, he was another 3 star per 247, the #103 defensive lineman. His numbers last year were amazing: 93 tackles, including 21 for loss, and had 13 sacks this season. (Cuse.com) We’ll take it. But that was against high school kids. Amazingly, his only other Division 1 offer was from Temple, perhaps due to an early commitment to SU. But it might be that there are some skills he still needs to learn to get past his teammates into the starting line-up and get at those cowering opponents.


Now:

Okechukwu, Darton, Ingraham and Jobity played in all 13 games. Caleb and Kevon were mainstays, Caleb making 36 tackles, 8 for a loss with 4.5 sack and Kevon doing 42/8/5. Jobity saw a lot of action due to injuries and responded with 30/7/2.5. Those aren’t overwhelming numbers but they were solid performers. Ingraham was a reserve with 16 tackles and half a sack. Lockett missed two games but had 25/3/0. Fuentes-Condiff missed four game and was a reserve in the rest, getting just 6 tackles. Jaquez missed 7 games but had 12 tackles with a sack and half. Perry, as far as I know was never hurt but played in 10 games with a single tackle. He appeared on offense as a Chris Elmore type lead blocker. I hope there’s more than that in his future. Lockett’s future is elsewhere: he’s hit the portal.

Coach Brown has emphasized this area in recruiting, bringing in 6 players listed as ‘DL or ‘Edge’. Two of them are 4-stars: 6-5 250 Fadil Diggs and 6-4 230 King Joseph Edwards, (does being named ‘King’ improve your confidence?). Of the 5 three stars there are two big dudes, 6-5 300 Dion Wilson, who transferred from Arizona to New Mexico State to here, (Is NMS now an SU ‘farm club’?) and 6-3 285 HS recruit Maraad Watson. It suggest possibly a return to the 4-3 defensive concept.

Then:

Marlowe Wax was a 3 star, (of course), but as the 95th best running back in the nation. SU liked him as a linebacker and they’ve liked him there even more with every passing year. Now, with Mikel Jones gone, he’s the leader of the linebacking crew and the defense overall. He’s on the watch list for the Lombardi, Bednarik and Butkus awards, (those are some names!). He’s played in all 36 games since he came to SU and started in 25 in a row. He enters the 2023 season with 184 career tackles (113 solo), 25.0 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and a blocked kick. (Cuse.com) Which one is Marlowe Wax? You’ll know.

Leon Lowery was a 3 star from New Jersey, rated the #94 WDE, (the defensive end who lines up away from the tight end’s side). At that time he was listed as 215 pounds. Last year he’s 225. This year he’s 239. Assuming that steak and not twinkies, this guy’s becoming a monster. He “has appeared in 17 games and has 31 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and a pass breakup at Syracuse.”13 of those games came last year and he helped hold things together amid all the injuries. It resulted in “24 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks”. (Cuse.com) In the depth chart for the Colgate game, he’s ahead of Stefan Thompson. People are wondering what’s wrong with Thompson, but maybe it about what’s right with Lowery.

Derek McDonald, a 3 star from Georgia, was rated the #92 tight end prospect. (They found out he can catch and switched him to linebacker). He was another guy pressed into service due to injuries, (specifically, Stefon Thompson), who impressed. He replaced Thompson in the opener and then started the next 8 games until he himself got injured. He “had 43 tackles (22 solo), one interception, a sack, 2.0 tackles for loss, a forced fumble, two pass breakups and three quarterback hurries.” (Cuse.com)

Anwar Sparrow was still another young linebacker who got his chance last year – and took advantage of it. He got to play in 11 games, with 3 starts. He “had the best season of his career to date, setting new highs in tackles (40), tackles for loss (5.5), sacks (1.5), forced fumbles (2), fumble recoveries (1) and pass breakups (2)”. He’d been a 3 star linebacker out of Virginia, the #76 ILB, (which must mean inside linebacker). Take away the “Sp” and he’s an arrow aimed at the guy with the ball.

Stefon Thompson was a 3 star out of Charlotte, ranked the 47th ILB. He’s quite a physical specimen, a 6-1 248 pound linebacker. Unfortunately, even physical specimens are not invulnerable to injury and Stefon went down early in the first game, weakening our rushing defense. It was the 23rd game he had competed in for Syracuse and his 20th start, in which he had 117 tackles, 9.0 sacks, 16.0 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. Nunes: “Thompson is a crucial part of the 3-3-5 scheme. He was the second-leading tackler on the team in 2021, and if he is able to return to that form, the entire unit will get a massive boost in production. Until we see him in game action, however, that’s far from a guarantee.”


Now:

Despite everything collapsing around him, Wax had an All-America level year with a whopping 110 tackles, 11.5 for a loss and 3.5 sacks. It was a surprise and a very good sign for the program hen, after seeing what Coach Brown was doing, elected to come back for another year here. McDonald, Sparrow and Thompson all played 13 games. McDonald had a prolific 67 tackles with 4TFLs and 2.5 sacks. Thompson was 52/4/1.5 and Sparrow 30/3/2. Lowery played 12 games with a productive 46/7.5/3.5.
Unfortunately, two key players, Thompson and Lowery, are in the portal.

Brown has brought in two 3-star high school linebackers, both large for true freshmen linebackers: 6-3 220, (Jayden Brown and Fatim Diggs, Fadil’s brother). But the four ‘edges’ he recruited could also be linebackers.

Then:

Isaiah Johnson was a 3 star out of Michigan, the #29 CB prospect that year. He opted for the Ivy league and went to Dartmouth, where he was an outstanding CB. He was there four years but was injured for one, granted a redshirt, and one year was canceled due to COVID and he’s been granted an extra year for that so when he transferred here last year to try his skills against ACC competition, he still had two years of eligibility and can thus play for us this year. With the loss of Duce Chestnut, that’s really important. He played 20 games at Dartmouth and had 69 tackles along with “one interception, six pass breakups and 2.5 tackles for loss”. (Cuse.com) Last year he played in all 13 games, including 6 starts with 53 tackles, a pass breakup and an interception on the season and also led the team with 6 special teams tackles. He’s a football player. A very smart one, but he was born to play this game and he’s doing it for us.

Jason Simmons Jr. was a 3 star from Texas, the 191st best safety. He went to New Mexico State, (where he played with Juwaun Pierce). He’s played 23 games, starting 14 of them. For us he has made 79 tackles, 3 for a loss, intercepted 2 passes and forced a fumble. (Cuse.com) Nunes: “He was a starter last year, he should start this year. Only thing possibly altering that would be one of the young guys making a huge jump, in which case he would still see a lot of the field and we’d be deeper for it.”

Justin Barron was a 3 star from Connecticut, the 99th best ‘athlete’ in that class. He’s a big boy for defensive back at 6-4 231. He’s our rover, essentially a fourth linebacker. He’s played in 36 games, with 21 starts. He has “Has 111 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, one sack, four pass breakups and a fumble recovery in his career.” (Cuse.com) He also holds for field goals. Nunes: “With the ability to lock down an opponent’s best receiver, expect Barron to be slotted all over the turf.” Justin will be a very big part of our defense again this season.

Alijah Clark was a 4 star from New Jersey, the 10th best CB and #143 national prospect, a teammate of Duce Chestnut, even higher rated than Duce was (and Duce was lauded as our highest-rated recruit in years). After some frustrations at Rutgers, he transferred here to play with his old friend. Duce has left for LSU, but we’ve still got Alijah. He played 12 games, with 11 starts for us last year, without surrendering a single passing touchdown in 576 plays. He made 55 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and had two pass breakups. His nickname is ‘Cinco’. That’s his number (5) in Spanish.

Aman Greenwood was a 3 star from DC, the 102nd safety in his class. In four years, he’s appeared in 20 career games with 28 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss and four pass breakups. (Cuse.com). Nunes: “After all the departures in the secondary, Greenwood is one of the most experienced players in the unit. If he’s healthy, he’s going to see a lot of action on passing downs and special teams.” In other words he’s not a star but kind of a ‘glue guy’ who will be available when we need him.

Jeremiah Wilson was a 3 star from Florida who was the #127 rated CB. “Appeared in all 13 games either on special teams or as a reserve corner. Made 21 tackles (16 solo), 1.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup in his rookie season.” (Cuse.com) Nunes: “After a phenomenal spring camp where he won the majority of one-on-one battles, Wilson is in line to start as the No. 2 corner.

Jayden Bellamy was a 3 star from New Jersey, the #42 CB. He redshirted at Notre Dame last year but didn’t play in any games, then decided to come to SU. Nunes: “With the loss of some depth at corner and defensive versatility needed in coverage in the 3-3-5 scheme, Bellamy is a player with some upside in the Orange’s secondary. He’s shown an ability as a tackler and has the reputation on paper to be a great contributor, but his success in college remains somewhat of an unknown. Bellamy will be challenging for a starting corner spot this fall.”

Gregory Delaine Is a 3 star from Florida who was the #119 CB in the class. He redshirted last year but didn’t play: it’s a crowded field. Nunes: “With injuries common at the position in recent years for SU, expect Delaine to compete for a spot on the two-deep.”

Myles Farmer was a 3 star from Georgia, the 82nd best safety in his group. He went to Nebraska, redshirted in 2019, was injured after 5 games in 2020, then played in 23 games in 2021-22, starting the last 15. That’s “31 games with 16 starts at Nebraska, where he had 110 tackles (62 solo), 1.5 tackles for loss, eight pass breakups, four interceptions and a forced fumble.” (Cuse.com) But there were problems: He was suspended for a DUI last year and again this month for an unspecified violation of team rules. He hit the portal and Dino agreed to take him. That may be an indication of desperation about the state of the secondary or the need to win games now to save his job. If Farmer straightens himself out, he will give us a second ‘big corner’ to pair with Isaiah Johnson. But he’s got learn our defense fast – and learn to behave.

Jaeden Gould is a 4 star, no less, from New Jersey, rated the #36 CB. He redshirted at Nebraska last year and played in the Oklahoma game. He was their top recruit in that class. Now he’s here. It’s exciting that we’re getting guys from Alabama, Notre Dame and Nebraska – who haven’t really done anything yet. But they might! Nunes: “The Orange are looking to replace the production of Ja’Had Carter from the safety position and Gould will be one of the players that gets a shot. Even if he doesn’t win the starting job, he’s likely to see a lot of time next fall”.


Now:

Barron, Clark, Delaine, Farmer, Gould and Simmons played all 13 games. Baron, who played half the season with one hand wrapped up, had 90 tackles, 5TFLs and half a sack. He also had 1 interception, 3 forced fumbles and 1 recovered to go with 7 pass break-ups. Clark had 65 tackles and 4.5TFLs with 2 recovered fumbles. Simmons had 48 tackles and 2 interceptions. Delaine, Farmer and Gould saw action as reserves. Gould made 16 tackles, Farmer 20 and Delaine 12. Both had one interception. Johnson played 12 games with 62 tackles, 1 for a loss, an interception a fourth fumble and 6 break-ups. Bellamy also played 12 games with 29 tackles, and interception and 2 fumble recoveries. Wilson played 9 games with 16 tackles and a pick while Greenwood played 7 and made 4 tackles. The biggest problem with this unit was a lack of speed to keep up with game-breaking receivers. Farmer, Greenwood and Wilson have hit the portal. Johnson and Simmons were seniors.

Brown has coaxed Duce Chestnut back from LSU, (or let him in the door, anyway), and gotten Devin Grant from…Buffalo?, (Hey, he’s 6-4, 190 and plays basketball), and got a commit from Marcellus Barnes at that all-star game. Duce is not the answer to getting beat deep. Barnes a track man, might be.


The Kicking Game

Then:

Brady Denaburg, a 2 star from Florida who nonetheless was listed as the #9 kicker in the country by 247, (maybe kickers don’t get 3 stars), did the kicking off last year and showed a powerful leg and a confident manner that suggests he can put up Szymt-like numbers this year. “Was a perfect 44-of-44 on PAT attempts and 19-of-26 on field goal attempts as a senior ... Hit from 57 yards.” (Cuse.com) We’ll take that. Nunes: “He was good for 41 touchbacks on 63 attempts and only committed one out-of-bounds foul… He’s got big shoes to fill, but it seems like he at least has the leg power.”

Jack Stonehouse walked on, not here but at Missouri after averaging 46.7 yards per punt at Chaminade HS in California. After a redshirt year in 2021, he averaged 42.4 on 46 punts. He then hit the portal and wound up here, where he’s the odds-on favorite to win the job this year. Nunes: “Stonehouse had 15 kicks inside the 20 with only four touchbacks. During the Spring game it was clear he had the strongest, most consistent league among the punters on the roster. He’ll start the season as the punter and Syracuse will look for him to clean up the issues that plagued the Orange the last two seasons.”

Tom Callahan transferred here from Fordham, where they do a lot of place-kicks, (Brandon Peskin who transferred out, hit 12 of 17 field goals and 76 of 77 PATs for 112 points last year, (the Rams scored 49.5ppg, between 42 and 59 every game!).

Mike Midkiff backed up Aaron Bolinsky for three years and this is his chance to prove himself as a long snapper but he’s got strong competition.

Ethan Stangle was ranked 13th by Kohl’s for long snappers, (all these guys are 247 walk-ons). He red-shirted last year. Now it’s on with Callahan, Midkiff and Stangle. Denaburg and Stonehouse are just looking for efficiency and consistency, thank you.

Justin Barron held for placekicks last year and will continue to do, per the Colgate week depth chart.

Trebor Pena caught 22 passes for 203 yards, returned 12 kickoffs for 326 yards (27.2 avg) and returned 21 punts for 182 yards (8.7 avg) last year. But he never scored. The only touchdown he has scored for SU is that 98 yard kick-off return against NC State in 2020. He’s due, big-time.

Pena returned 33 of 44 kicks last year and he’ll still be the #1 guy on both punts and kick-offs this year. I put DeMarcus Adams and Donovan Brown here as they are probably the fastest guys on the team, although Trebor is no slouch. This year I added the transfer Bryce Cohoon freshman Darrell Gill Jr. from the receivers and our young running backs #23 Ike Daniels 5-11 188, #21 Muwaffaq Parkman 5-11 180
or the same reason.


Now:

Denaburg missed 6 of 16 field goal attempts which would have bene fine a few decades back but is mediocre or less now, (our opposition was 19 of 21). Three of the misses were beyond 50 yards, including two controversial 57 yard attempts that fans questioned the wisdom of. Stonehouse had somewhat varied results but the average, 44.6, (Denaburg subbed for him once and hit it 54 yards), was huge improvement over 2022, when Max Von Marburg had 39.8 and Ian Hawkins 33.6. But the net average of 39.8 could have been better. We gave up 14.20 yards on 20 returns. Kickoff returns were not a problem as Denaburg parked 58 of 62 kickoffs into the end zone.

Callahan and Midkiff beat out the patient Stangle as long snappers for the punts and placekicks, respectively. Barron was the holder because of his excellent hands. But when one of those hands got injured the gave the job to Stonehouse, continuing an odd tradition that goes back to Riley Dixon.

Pena was hurt all year. Adams was exciting but for both sides: he was a threat to break one but made some bad decisions. Eventually they put LeQuint Allen, (who was willing to do anything for the team), back there. Brown only returned 2 punts. Gill proved to be a revelation as a kick-off guy, averaging 21.83 on 12 returns, (nobody else was more than 15.5).
 

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