Then and Now, Part 4: the Defensive Line |

Then and Now, Part 4: the Defensive Line


Bored Historian
Aug 26, 2011

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:
Caleb Okechukwu's Journey Back to the Field for Syracuse Football
“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.”

Caleb was a tower of strength, playing all 13 games and recording 48 tackles, 10 for a loss. And he’ll be back next year to anchor the line again.

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.”

Darton may have been walk-on but he’s a remarkable tackle, built low to the ground, (5-11 266), which gives him leverage and agility. He had 54 tackles. Only 4 were for a loss but you don’t get to make too many spectacular plays from the middle of the line.

Jatius Geer 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.

Due to injuries, (see next), Geer was thrust into a starting position and performed well with 33 tackles and 7 for losses. He’ll have the inside track on a starting position next year.

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.”

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.”

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.”

All three went down to injuries. Lockett played in 4 games, Jaquez 6 and Fuentes-Cundiff 11. They will give the top three guys plenty of competition and SU some good depth for our 2023 defensive line.

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