Then and Now- football - Part 5 | Syracusefan.com

Then and Now- football - Part 5

SWC75

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(Continuing my comparison of what I wrote in August, which is in italics, and my observations now.)

Defensive Line
Seniors: Josh Black 6-3-290 (up from 282), Kingsley Jonathan 6-4 260 (was 6-3 264), Cody Roscoe 6-1 275 (was 258), Erik Slater 6-2 230, McKinley Williams 6-4 285 (was 291)
Juniors: Curtis Harper 6-2 285 (was 296), Caleb Okechukwu 6-4 265 (was 257)
Sophomores: none
Freshmen: Patrick Alberga 6-3 250, Kevon Darton 5-11 295 (was 281), Elijah Fuentes-Cundiff 6-4 275, Jatius Greer 6-6 255, Latarie Kinsler 6-3 230 (was 6-2 213), Steve Linton 6-5 225, (was a 224lb linebacker), Terry Lockett 6-3 265, Derek McDonald 6-4 230, Joe Rondi 6-4 260, (was 272); Chase Simmons 6-4 255, Elijah Wright 6-3 260, (was 256)

In any sport, big men are available but really good big men are rare and tend to go to the most powerful schools. Even Syracuse’s basketball program, which has a distinguished history, has a hard time getting good big men, as we’ve seen. Most of them go to Duke or Kentucky or Kansas. Syracuse’s football program has the same problem. We will occasionally get a Justin Pugh or an Alton Robinson to come here. Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State or Notre Dame will have a whole line full of players like that and guys just as good backing them up. There are plenty of linebacker-sized talents and even more defensive backs so we do Ok there, but we don’t measure up along the line of scrimmage. I think that’s why Dino Baber brought in a defensive coordinator familiar with the 3-3-5 defense, (which is sometimes a 3-4-4) last year. It’s less dependent on having a dominant line and more about getting as many “hats in the picture” as possible, (Scott Shafer used to use pictures of the end of plays and count the Orange helmets). In the old 4-3-4 set up, the tackles would tie up blockers so that the ends, (like Robinson and Kendall Coleman), and the linebackers, (like Zaire Franklin and Parris Bennett) can make the plays. Now all three linemen do the same thing so the linebackers and defensive backs can do their same thing.


The 3-3-5 proved to be a very aggressive and effective defense, except in one respect. We finished 22nd in the country, (of 130 teams in FBS) in total defense, giving up only 330 yards per game. We were 28th against the run, (125ypg), and 29th against the pass, (204ypg). Despite this we were only 69th in scoring defense at 26 points per game. Those were all huge improvements over last year: Total: 112th (463), Rush 104th (208), Pass 95th (255) Score: 90th (33). The one problem: we went from forcing 80 turnovers in the previous three years to just 7 this year, only one after the first 6 games -and that one resulted in an ill-advised foray from our own end zone that wound up setting the other team up for a field goal when our stone-age offense couldn’t move the ball.

Thanks to the extra year of eligibility, we will have as veteran a defensive line as anyone. Black, Williams and Jonathan have started 75 games between them. But, as with the offensive line, a lot of recruiting has been done here lately and the D-line, despite having 3 positions rather than 5, has almost the same number of players available as the O-line: 18, although several of them could also see time at linebacker. Beyond the projected starters and Roscoe, Harper and Okechukwu, who is ready for the pounding the three up front positions will take? We have a decent two deep but there will be injuries and then we’ll find out what we have beyond that. Lindy’s: ”The front three returns its trio of starters…but the underbelly of the room is developing.“

They had better be. Black, Williams and Jonathan have exhausted their eligibility, as has Cody Roscoe, who turned out to be our best defensive lineman with 46 tackles, 8 ½ sacks and 4 other TFLs. The “big three totaled 78 tackles, 6 ½ sacks and 8 other TFLs. Meanwhile, Harper, Kinsler and Rondi have all hit the transfer portal.

Okechukwu is a “fourth year defensive lineman, who has appeared in 12 games - including all-11 in 2020 - and has 14 tackles, one TFL and one sack.” (Cuse.com) “With the returns of Josh Black, McKinley Williams, and Kingsley Jonathan (plus Cody Roscoe), there isn’t a ton of space to be part of the starting group. That said, depth at defensive line is probably the weakest spot on this roster, so Okechukwu will feature in the rotation. There’s a very good chance he appears in all 12 games, and should one of the ends get injured, Okechukwu would be in line to step up as starter.

Caleb did appear in all 12 games and mow will be our most experienced returning defensive linemen. He had 21 tackles, 1 sack and two other TFLs.

Beyond them are a group of players with lineman size or close to it. It may be hard for them to impact the two-deep but some are interesting prospects for the future. Note that we have no sophomore linemen so those listed as freshman will be taking over in another year or two.

Alberga was a preferred walk-on who redshirted last year. Nunes: “He was a PWO coming out of high school, which says a lot from a Class C school like Saranac Lake… Alberga’s a walk-on, so his chances will be limited at best here, especially early on. He didn’t appear last season, so while special teams could be a stretch goal, it’s more likely he redshirts this year at least.” Steele and 247: nothing


Alberga played in one game – the NC State game – and had no stats.

Darton played in 6 games last year. He was a PWO, (preferred walk-on) Nunes: “Darton isn’t on the two-deep at present, with the return of Bear Williams and Curtis Harper, but could challenge for that backup spot as the season progresses. The way the line is rotated, he’ll probably get a few looks in there this season.”. (Nunes) He also went back to his old position, fullback, in some “heavy packages”. Steele and 247: nothing

Carton played in all 12 games and had 9 tackles, none for a loss.

Fuentes-Cundiff is a 3-star true freshman. Cuse.com: “Rated as a top-five prospect in New York State according to 247 Sports … Three-star prospect by Rivals … 10 sacks and 14 TFLs in his career at Cardinal Hayes “. Nunes: “Given the number of returning players on the line for the Syracuse Orange, it would make some sense to see Fuentes-Cundiff redshirt this season before competing for a spot on the two-deep in 2022. With the top four defensive linemen all graduating, there will be a lot of questions around who takes their place. Fuentes-Cundiff has the size to contribute right away (6-foot-3, 270 pounds, but without the advantage of getting on campus early. There’s plenty of upside here, but like a lot of the younger guys this year, redshirts and/or special teams work may be all that’s available in 2021.” Steele #211, 247 #196.

Fuentes-Cundiff played in two games, Rutgers and Albany and had 2 tackles.

Geer may be the best of the true freshman. Nunes: “Geer’s new but also 6-foot-6. Combined with his 255 pounds, he already has the size to be able to contribute on the line if there’s room on this year’s depth chart. There may not be, admittedly. But the more he can see the field and gain some valuable experience in 2021, the more likely it is he’s a key contributor after this year.” SI: “Geer is a freak athlete and could be productive in pass rushing situations.” Steele #155, 247 #122

Greer played in one game- Albany and had 1 tackle, for a 1 yard loss.

Lockett is the biggest of the freshmen at 265. Cuse.com: “Rated as the No. 3 prospect in Massachusetts by Rivals … 156 tackles, 11 sacks, 34.5 TFLs, four interceptions and a pair of blocked field goals in his career for Springfield Central High School despite not playing a senior season.” Nunes: “Lockett already being on campus is a good sign for his progress up the depth chart. He even appeared in a couple of plays in Syracuse’s spring ball scrimmage. While no new defensive linemen have an above 50-percent chance of jumping the super seniors on the current line, Lockett could easily play himself onto the two-deep.” Steele #179, 247 #134

Lockett played in 11 games and has 12 tackles, two of them sacks.

Simmons is a 3-star true freshman from South Carolina. Cuse.com: “48 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and nine sacks as a senior”. Nunes: “Simmons has decent size and speed coming off the edge, and that’s helped by his current weight of 240 pounds. To play defensive end for SU, he probably needs to add a few pounds, but he does present some interesting possibilities after a couple years in the program. Most interestingly, he has long arms and good hands that can be a disruptive force in this scheme. Size-wise, Simmons isn’t too far behind Geer and has the high school production to excite fans, with 13 TFLs and nine sacks at North Myrtle Beach High School. Similar to Geer, he’ll run into the same depth chart issues early on. Syracuse could use the redshirt rules to their advantage here, even if just on special teams duty.” Steele #334 247: #224

Simmons played in the NC State and Pittsburgh losses but had no stats.

Wright is a local kid from Solvay, a PWO, (all of our walk-ons seem to be ‘preferred’). Cuse/com: “As a senior, tallied 46 tackles, 11 sacks, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and two interceptions” Nunes: “He likely won’t see time this year, but could pop onto the special teams charts at some point this season. Wright could take a bit of development to work into a first teamer, but he does have some size and frame to add depth after Bear leaves next season.” Steele and 247: nothing

Wright didn’t play in any games in 2021.

The others are more the size of linebackers. They may grow into defensive linemen but I suspect they might be used more as linebackers at this point. The distinctions between linemen and linebacker and between linebackers and defensive backs are a little fuzzy in the 3-3-5.

Slater is a senior transfer from Lehigh for whom CUSE.com has no bio and Nunes seems not to have heard of him. His Lehigh bio says he played in 28 games for them, started in 13 and “Started all three games at outside linebacker… had at least two tackles in each game… registered tackles for loss in each of Lehigh’s first two games.” They only played three last year. He player the “Hawk” position, which I assume is a roving linebacker. At 6-2 230 he’d be a good-sized linebacker but too small for a 3-3-5 down lineman. Steele and 247: nothing


The undersized Salter played against Albany and Liberty but recorded no stats in those games.

Linton was a linebacker last year and could be again this year but he’s listed as a defensive lineman. Cuse.com: “ Appeared in eight games with one start at linebacker … Made 15 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries and recovered a fumble on the year.” Nunes: “Linton made the switch from defensive end to linebacker for the Syracuse Orange, and spent 2020 in the linebacker rotation that was expanded due to injuries. He finished the season with one start, 15 total tackles, and a fumble recovery. 2021 projections: Linton is going to remain a part of the linebacker rotation that is still a bit thin as the Lee Kpogba situation resolves itself. Linton will be considered for the two deep, and should appear on special teams as well.” Kpogba left, so that sounds like Linton will be a linebacker again. SI: “Steve Linton: Linton spent the 2020 season at linebacker, where he proved to be a skilled pass rusher. He transitions to defensive end this season and should see the field to take advantage of his skill set.” His high school coach: “He has the ability to do either, but obviously if he’s going to consistently put his hand on the ground then he’s got to put on some mass. ... I think everybody’s in agreement that if you give this kid one year, you’ll see him at 245 (pounds).” Steele #258 247: #60

Linton played both lineman and linebacker but in only 7 games due to injury. He wound up with 6 tackles, 1 sack and one other TFL.

McDonald is a 3-star for Atlanta who as a senior “had 70 tackles, 22 TFLs, five sacks and four forced fumbles in his senior season”. (Cuse.com) Nunes: “McDonald’s on the lighter side for a defensive end and the top of the Syracuse Orange line depth chart’s already pretty veteran-laden. So expect a redshirt season.” Steele #225 247: #77

McDonald played against NC State and Pittsburgh but had no stats.

It’s a whole new ballgame on the defensive line. Dino even got rid of his line coach, Vinson Reynolds. He’ll need to bring in someone who can ‘coach up’ inexperienced players quickly. And he’ll need to check out the transfer portal to see if there are any more Cody Roscoes out there.

 

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