Then and Now- the Defense | Syracusefan.com

Then and Now- the Defense

SWC75

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THE DEFENSE

Then:

If we have a really good season, Chris Slayton could get some consideration for the Outland Trophy, which goes to the nation’s best lineman. If we don’t do really well, that won’t happen but Slayton will be just as good. Syracuse.com: “He can squat over 700 pounds and has the lateral quickness to chase down runners on the edge (just ask Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant)… "He is the key to what we do on defense," Babers said.
Syracuse.com: “Sophomore McKinley Williams was only a true freshman last season and 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.” Williams is our other tackle. "Bear" has grown from a promising young player into a reliable force in the trenches.

The ends are Kendall Coleman and Alton Robinson and both are very good. Coleman was nicked up last year by foot and shoulder injuries and spent the spring healing up. Coleman had been the promising freshman in 2016. “And at 6 feet, 2 inches and 262 pounds, he's far more ready for the ACC than he was when he started 11 games as a true freshman in 2016” Robinson was acquired just before last season in part due to the injury to Coleman and now they are a pair. “Robinson paced the SU defense with five sacks. Now with an entire offseason to prepare for the 2019 season and a capable pass-rusher lined up on the other side, it will be interesting to see how the 6-foot-4, 249-pound Robinson produces this fall.” Coleman on Robinson: "What impressed me was regardless of all of that, he went out there and he played his heart out. The kid is mad athletic, and he got after it and he was showing us stuff that nobody else on our D-Line can do right now, and so he brings a different dynamic to our D-Line and his athletic abilities and the way he's able to play the quarterback and the running back.

Those four Clemson guys are great, (and ubiquitous in the magazine rack), but the SU front four figures to be pretty darn good in their own right this season. They total 64 starts and 26 other appearances. And, even without Samuels, there’s depth here beyond what we’ve seen in a while. The players below have totaled 15 starts and 62 other appearances.

Brandon Berry saw a lot of action at end last year and looked pretty good. “Berry flashed during preseason camp with his speed. However, matching that burst with the strength to move ACC offensive linemen will be the key to him earning regular reps behind Robinson and Coleman. At 6 feet, 4 inches and 251 pounds -- he's up 19 from last season -- Berry has the potential to be an effective pass rusher.” Coleman, who did a lot of observing in the spring and thus had a lot to say, said Berry “has long arms that enable him to avoid being locked up by linemen and maintain leverage on the edge”. Kingsley Jonathan is not Jonathan Kingsley as his name has been presented in some publications. “Jonathan, a sophomore, is a strong player, who, "if he wants to move you, he'll move you," Coleman said, and brings quickness off the edge.” Kenneth Ruff “has bounced around the Orange defense since arriving as a middle linebacker two springs ago, but he's unlikely to outgrow his current position at defensive tackle. The 6-foot-1, 296-pound junior has filled in as a reserve the last two years, totaling 16 tackles, but could be in line for an increased snap share.” Josh Black is “another third-year player who was injured last fall, Black spent the spring completing his transition from end to tackle. While he's listed at 6 feet, 3 inches and 272 pounds, Black said in April that he was weighing in closer to 290 pounds. He hopes to put last year's nagging knee injury behind him and establish himself as a consistent contributor in the middle.

More from Coleman: "We have to lead up front. The defense is going to go where we go, so if we get out front and start attacking heavy at the beginning of a game or the beginning of practice, the rest of the defense is going to follow if we start playing aggressive."

Now:

The defensive line was a strong force all season. Slayton didn’t win the Outland and didn’t put up big numbers but ate blockers up and enabled Robinson and Coleman to record 10 sacks each. They also totaled 29TFLs. Their back-ups berry and Jonathan also played well. Slayton will be the only loss next season. The question is: without that monster in the middle, will the guys on the edge be as effective?

Then:

“The situation is so bad that the pre-season depth chart didn’t have a traditional 4-3-4 set up. Instead they had 4 linemen, only 2 linebackers and 5 defensive backs. And one of the starting linebackers is to be Kielan Whitner, a converted defensive back. That almost makes it a 4-1-6. That could be great for covering passing attacks or the option game. But it could come up short- way short- against a power running team and we will be playing a few of them.

The two seniors, Ryan Guthrie and Kielan Whitner, are the listed starters. Guthrie was a JUCO transfer who played in 12 games last year and made the sack that clinched the Pittsburgh win. Nunes: “At Ellsworth Community College, he was an expert at getting behind the line of scrimmage (25.5 tackles for loss in 2016), and that skill will probably be used a bit differently with SU. Expect him to be utilized in coverage given the traditional role of MLBs in the Tampa-2, but Guthrie will be applying pressure just the same. Expect big tackle numbers (at least 80), and enough TFLs and sacks to disrupt opposing passing games a bit.”… Whitner is now Syracuse’s starting strongside linebacker. That may seem strange at first, but the fact that he’s a reformed defensive back might actually help this year’s unit fit the Tampa-2 even more than the previous group. Linebackers need to be able to play in coverage in this system, and Whitner fills that need.” Syracuse.com: “His coverage ability plays into defensive coordinator Brian Ward's tendencies. How his 6-foot, 215-pound frame holds up in the box is more of a question.”

The immediate back-ups are Andrew Armstrong and Shyheim Cullen. Armstrong was Bennett’s back-up and will be behind Guthrie, (but all such designations are up in the air at this point). Syracuse.com: “He’s known for his versatility, having practiced at all three linebacker spots during his first two years on campus, and is expected to vie for consistent playing time this year.” He’s played in all 24 games of his first two years here and recorded 29 tackles. Cullen “has been a difference maker on special teams”. Most of his 23 appearances have been in that capacity but he has been exceptional, often the first one to make contact on punt and kickoff returns. As a member of the punt coverage team, helped the Orange rank first in the ACC and fourth nationally in punt return yardage defense (2.67 avg.). “ (Cuse.com)

Actually, we’ve got plenty of players listed as linebackers on the roster- 14. But of the ten others 6 are true freshmen or redshirt freshmen and have never played a game at this level. The four who have are Nadarius Fagan, Zack Lesko, Tim Walton and Lakiem Williams.… Williams, like Lesko has never played here. He’s a JUCO transfer from Butte College, the same place we got Clayton Welch from. Cuse.com: “Reserve linebacker who could make an immediate impact on special teams. Second on the team with 63 tackles in 11 games, including 3.5 for a loss, and one interception.” He had 124 tackles in two years there.” Syracuse.com: “An apparent knee injury sidelined him for most of the spring, sapping him of valuable practice reps, but he still has a chance to work his way up the ladder during camp.” Williams is already a hit in the weight room.

The future of the linebacker positon may lie with the freshmen, (I’m seeing only one LB so far in our 2019 commits). We’d better get used to their names. They are: Tre Allison, Terrell Bennett, Tyrell Richards, Kadeem Trotter, Juan Wallace and Jake Wright….Richards is the better Tyrell. He’s big at 6-4 227. He’s from Canada, where we’ve gotten some good players over the years. He redshirted last year but “impressed on the scout team”, per Syracuse.com “He has the frame to play in the ACC. How he learns from opportunities early in preseason camp, and then his first batch of live reps during the season, will go a long way toward determining his role 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.” 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. At 6-2 215, SU would like to redshirt him while he builds himself up a little more.”


Now:

We tried the 4-2-5 for a while but we couldn’t stop Clemson or Pitt’s running game and went back to a 4-3-4 look. Guthrie wound up having an outstanding senior year and Whitner gave us good service as well. They were our two leading tacklers with 107 and 100, respectively. Guthrie had 3 sacks and 16.5 TFLs. Whitner had 1.5 and 5.5. Both were seniors and both are now gone, so we again have a big rebuilding job in this unit. Andrew Armstrong played all 13 games but had no sacks or TFLs. Shy Cullen had an excellent year on both special teams and as a big-play linebacker. Unfortunately he has hit an academic pot hole and will have to work hard this spring to become eligible again. Tyrell Richards played in 10 games and was coming on strong at the end of the season. He had 3 sacks in limited action. Juan Wallace played in all 13 games but I don’t recall hearing his name much and his only stats are 1 tackle so he was playing special teams. Lakiem Williams played in 7 games and showed promise. Tim Walton played in 2 games. Allison, Bennett, Fagan, Lesko, Trotter and Wright didn’t play at all. They will certainly get their chance next year. Babers has recruited a couple of four star linebacking prospects and might be in the market for JUCO or grad transfers to bolster this unit.


Then:

“The preseason depth chart has Antwan Cordy, Scoop Bradshaw, Andre Cisco, Evan Foster and Chris Fredrick as the starters but they will be pushed by some players who could turn out to be as good or better. Cordy may be the best all-round football player on the roster but his last two years have been almost tragic. As a sophomore he was second on the team in tackles as a strong safety and set an SU record for tackles for a loss by a defensive back with 12. He was only 5-8 177 but hit like a linebacker and was our best over man as well. Then in the second game of the 2016 season, he broke an arm and missed the rest of the season. He was granted a medical redshirt so last season was his do-over as a junior …and he broke his ankle early in the first game and was again out for the season.

Syracuse.com: “Cordy was forced back into the training room and rehabilitation process that took over his third year on campus. And the recovery grind this time around took a toll on his mental health. "I went through a bad depression, bad depression," Cordy said Friday, "and I questioned God, like, 'Why me?' The redshirt senior struggled to find the motivation that once drove him to work out early in the morning and late at night. Finding the energy to go to the training room for hours of rehab was difficult.
He turned the corner when his girlfriend, SU softball player and Liverpool native Alicia Hansen, recommended he seek counseling. He began speaking with a counselor inside the school's Stevenson Educational Center and found peace with his situation. "Ever since then, I just don't think about it anymore," Cordy said of his ankle. "I just go forward. My cut came back. My backpedal, my speed came back. It's just all natural now."


Bradshaw and Fredrick will be the starting corners. Bradshaw started 11 games last year. Cuse.com: “Recorded 21 tackles on the season, including 5.5 for a loss, one sack and recovered a fumble ... Led the team with six pass breakups.” Syracuse.com: “…and scooped up a blocked extra point for a long two-point conversion against Wake Forest.” He missed one game after injuring his arm against Clemson. “And remember, while essentially playing with one arm late last season, becoming an easy target for opposing coordinators, he still got the nod over other cornerbacks on the roster.” Fredrick started all 12 games last year and “Recorded 43 tackles (31 solo) and tied for second on the Orange with five passes defended (4 pass breakups, 1 INT) ... Had multiple tackles in every game and at least four tackles in eight contests.” (Cuse.com) Nunes: “During the early-season improved period for this defense, he was a critical part of the resurgent coverage ability on the outside.”

Foster is a linebacker-sized safety at 6-0 223. He started all 12 games at strong safety per Cuse.com, (actually I think Cordy started there that first game but he went out almost immediately). “(He) was third on the team and first among defensive backs with 64 tackles, including 48 solo stops. The inexperience comes from freshman Andre Cisco. Fredrick: "He's kind of not like the average freshman. He seems like a vet. He's always in the film room. He's out here working early before practice, doing extra things." Cordy: "It feels like he's been here already. He was in the playbook quick. I feel like he knew everything already. Usually, it takes freshmen a minute to know things, but he's right on it." He was another 3 star recruit and was rated the 52nd best safety in his high school class. He’s still another IMG graduate. Nunes: “He’ll be a big part of protecting SU from getting beat over the top, as they have been in recent years.” The guy he beat out, (or, more likely, is nose-to-nose with), is sophomore Devon Clarke. He was a “consistent 3 star recruit” from Florida, (whose 3 stars are like 4 stars elsewhere). (Nunes) “I would expect the two to share plenty of snaps, or for Clarke to earn at least some real solid minutes this year. He had a very strong showing in the spring and should have helped himself out during the session.”

Eric Coley is the stepson of Baber’s defensive tackles coach, Vinson Reynolds, who had a role in putting together that Western Michigan team that went to the Cotton Bowl before he was hired by Babers. When that family moved here, Eric enrolled at Fayetteville-Manlius high schools and showed a degree of athletic and football prowess that we haven’t seen around here in a long time…He’s got good size for at 6-2 183 and blazing speed…Ifeatu Melifonwu is basically the same player as Coley except he didn’t play around here, (Massachusetts) and his name is seemingly unpronounceable. (But not altogether: Eh-FAH-too Mel-eh-FON-wu). Syracuse.com: “There's a lot to like out of the redshirt freshman, who is the younger brother of the Oakland Raiders freakishly athletic defensive back, Obi Melifonfu. Iffy has the physical traits every college program covets in its cornerbacks. He's still young with plenty of room to further develop physically, but for now he brings depth to a position in a way that should excite SU fans.” The most heralded SU recruit in this last class is Trill Williams, another big, fast DB (6-2, 202) who can also make things happen with the ball in his hands. He’s so good he got four stars from 247sports, who rated him the #7 “athlete” in his class. Nunes: “Like Melifonwu, Trill’s pretty big at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, but he just got to campus and there are experienced options in front of him. Still, he’s already on the two-deep despite only arriving this summer and Julian thinks he’s already covering really well for a freshman.”

Now:

Corey had a problematic last season. He played in 10 games and made some good plays, (27 tackles. 1 sack, 2 TFLs and a very athletic knockdown of a pass – I think it was during the comeback in the UNC game) but was not as prominent a part of the defense as he had been early in his career. Then he stopped playing for personal reasons. Fredrick became one of the best cornerbacks in the conference, one so good that people threw away from his positon. That put a lot of pressure on Bradshaw, who made some good plays but was burned a few times as well. The linebacker-sized Foster had a strong year with 86 tackles, third on the team with 5.5 TFLs and 2 sacks.

The exciting thing was seeing the freshmen get to play. This unit is much like the receiving unit with the young talent transforming it. Andre Cisco started from the beginning and all he did was tie for the national lead in interceptions with 7. Trill Williams played extensively and gave us a big, fast corner who could cover top receivers. Melifonwu played well until he got hurt. Foley lagged behind, playing in only 6 games but I still think he can play to the level of his fellow freshmen. Someday they may comprise our starting defensive backfield and if they do, I think they could be as good as anybody in the country.
 

SWC75

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THE KICKING GAME

Then:

“Sterling Hofrichter is the big name here: he’s been our punter for two years and has been an excellent one, (unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of years in recent times when our punter was probably MVP and he was close to it). He’s an averaged sized guy (5-9, 183)) with a well-above average leg. He also has multiple techniques. He can boom the ball in the conventional fashion, place it in tight circumstances or roll out and kick it rugby style to avoid a rush. When he does that he often kicks a low line-drive away from the returners which can roll a long ways, (he averaged 43.2 yards per punt). He also did some kicking off and kicked 2 of 3 field goals when Cole Murphy was hurt. Now he’s going to take over all three duties, something we haven’t tried in years. Hofrichter is the type who could make it work.

In case he doesn’t, we have three other kickers. Nolan Cooney is also practicing kick-offs and may take over that job to ease Hofrichter’s burden. He was “rated the top prospect at the Ray Guy Prokicker.com 2014 regional combine in Boston.” Andre Syzmt (pronounced “Schmitt”) was “rated four stars by Kohl’s Kicking Midwest Winter Showcase”. Corey Schmigl ”averaged 37.1 yards per punt, made 5-of-7 field goals, and hit 17-of-18 PATs in his final scholastic season”. Cooney also does the holding for the place-kicks. I don’t know why we don’t have a back-up quarterback do that so he can make a play out of bad snap.

(On kick returns) Sean Riley is the primary guy. He’s the slippery type and has squirted through the opposition for the occasional big return, (he has 66 and 64 yard kick-off returns), but he’s never scored a touchdown for Syracuse. He doesn’t have great flat-out speed and he’s so small, (5-8 158) that, while he can break ankles, he has a hard time breaking tackles. It would be nice to have a threat to go all the way, as was his predecessor, Brisly Estime.”


Now:

Hofrichter had another strong season punting the ball. He punted for an average of 42.9 yards and again show he was versatile in how and where he punted the ball. Only 22 of 67 punts were returned for an average of 9.9 yards. He also kicked off 101 times and only 22 of them were returned for an average of 18.3 yards per return. But he didn’t do the placekicking. Andre Szymt became the surprise player of the entire country, kicking 30 0f 34 field goals, including 3 of 3 from over 50 yards and 61 of 61 extra points to lead the country in scoring with 151 points, (11.6) per game and win the Lou Groza award as the nation’s best kicker. Did that really happen? Meanwhile Sean Riley finished second in the country in punt returns with 17.5 yards per return, including his first ever kick return for the a touchdown. He didn’t take a kickoff all the way but averaged 19.4 yards per return. Brisly Estime would be proud. And they are all coming back.


Then:

“Overall, the roster looks pretty good to me, except for the total lack of experience at the linebacker position. We seem to be a bigger, stronger, faster, more talented team that is more capable of competing in the Atlantic Division of the ACC – and do it for 12 games. But the teams we will be playing have plenty of 3 star recruits and also some 4 and 5 star recruits mixed in. They have their own exciting clips of high school highlights and gaudy stats. They have no reason to fear us. But that may to our advantage.”


Now:

They will fear us now.
 

shu 49

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Nice write up. I think our defense can be as good or better than our offense. Ruff and Black are the key. If they can take a step up and fill Slayton shoes and be almost as good as the big dog, we can be one tough team. Both ends and backups could be top 5 in country and if Williams improves a bit more we could have our elephants all in a row to dominate offenses. Lb is based on if Shy makes it back cause I think he will. Richards and shy could allow us to run the 4-2-5 with scoop at nickel because of the lb downhill nature. Obvious runs can be switched with Armstrong or either of the new studs coming in. We could be pretty could if everything comes together here. Back half can be outta this world if we improve as a group. Fred and Trill starting scoop and Milf backing up with scoop at nickel too and foster at safety who is a bear and improved his passing game and had better angles throughout the year and was a big surprise for me. Cisco is a stud. We have the former Rb, coley, and now Jonas ready to go as backup with Clarke and Nunn moving on up soon. No orange colored glasses here, yeah sure, but we could actually win games 30 -10 with this defense. Points against could be a big improvement. Oh and coach ward, be more aggressive. Never take foot off the petal. When in doubt gas it out. Super excited here.
 

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