The front four is the weakest part of the defensive unit, but that is certainly no fault of senior defensive tackle Jay Bromley. Bromley, who has started 20 games the last two seasons while playing all but one game in his three years on campus, is the lone returning starter on the line. Junior Eric Crume is one of three other returning defensive tackles who saw action last season and will start next to Bromley. The next two tackles in the rotation are Iowa transfer John Raymon and Zian Jones. Raymon, the transfer from Iowa who sat out last year after not being granted an exemption by the NCAA last season, is a monstrous 6’5”, 323-pound redshirt sophomore whose athleticism may lead to seeing him some time at defensive end, at least in run situations. Former junior college transfer Jones brings bulk, too, weighing in at 311 pounds to help muddle the middle for the Orange. A pair of juniors will be first-time starters at the defensive end spots. Robert Welsh and Micah Robinson both played in every game last year and will rely on their motors to contribute. Robinson saw more action of the two last season, making 18 stops in a reserve role. Redshirt freshman Ron Thompson, who came to SU as a tight end, has moved over to the defensive side of the ball and will be in the rotation, as will true freshman Isaiah Johnson.
Marquis Spruill returns to the middle linebacker spot for his senior season. Spruill has 36 starts in 38 games during his time on the hill and has alternated between outside linebacker and middle linebacker over his four seasons. While manning the middle as a sophomore, Spruill was an All-Big East Second Team performer and stands tenth in school history with 26.5 tackles for loss. The two outside linebackers, juniors Dyshawn Davis and Cameron Lynch, are aggressive playmakers, using their speed to disrupt opposing offenses.
Davis has started all but two of 25 games in his two seasons in orange and was second on the team last year with 14 tackles for loss. He also scored on a 52-yard fumble return against Pitt last season. Lynch moves into a starting role after appearing in every game in his previous two seasons and looks to increase has sack total from four last season, which was good for second on the squad. Junior college transfer Luke Arciniega, who started his career at Nevada, joins the team and provides size to the unit. He will most likely be worked into the rotation in the middle, allowing Spruill to slide outside in certain alignments. The reserve outside linebacker spots will be manned by Josh Kirkland (another junior college transfer), and freshman Marqez Hodge.
The secondary is a deep unit, featuring six players who received extensive playing time last season. The top three cornerbacks from last year return, including senior starters Ri’Shard Anderson and Keon Lyn. Both corners racked up over 40 tackles last season. Anderson, a redshirt senior, had nine stops against USC and eight more against Minnesota. Lyn led last year’s team with seven pass breakups and three interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown to ice the Syracuse win over Temple. Brandon Reddish is the third corner for the Orange. Having missed only one game in two years on campus, Reddish forced a pair of fumbles and intercepted a pass last season. Julian Whigham, who played in 11 games as a true freshman, will push for playing time, as well. The safeties will have to overcome the loss of Shamarko Thomas, but with two returning players at both the free and strong safety spots, the cupboard is not bare. Jeremi Wilkes will reprise his starting free safety role from last year. Wilkes, who has played in all 38 games in his career at SU, logged 61 tackles last season and has picked off one pass in each of his three seasons. Durell Eskridge, a redshirt sophomore who appeared in every game last season, will start next to Wilkes. Eskridge had 36 stops in his first action at SU and also blocked a punt to help the Orange rally to knock off South Florida. Wayne Morgan and Ritchy Desir, will play supporting roles, as will junior college transfer Darius Kelly. Morgan appeared in every game last season as a freshman and Desir totaled 24 stops as a sophomore.
RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS (6): CB Ri’Shard Anderson, DT Jay Bromley, OLB Dyshawn Davis, CB Keon Lyn, MLB Marquis Spruill, FS Jeremi Wilkes
LEADING RETURNERS IN TACKLES: Dyshawn Davis – 69 tackles, Marquis Spruill – 62 tackles, Jeremi Wilkes – 61 tackles
LEADING RETURNERS IN SACKS: Cameron Lynch – four, Jay Bromley – 2.5
LEADING RETURNER IN INTERCEPTIONS: Keon Lyn, three interceptions for 32 yards and a touchdown
SPECIAL TEAMS OUTLOOK:
The kicking game will have a familiar look. Senior Ross Krautman will handle the placekicking duties for SU. Krautman stands fourth in the Syracuse record book in several placekicking categories, including points, field goals made, and field goal percentage. Ryan Norton will again back up Krautman and handle the kickoff duties. As a freshman, Norton had 29 touchbacks, good for almost 40 percent of his kickoffs. Jonathan Fisher looks to hold off Riley Dixon once more for control of the punting duties. Fisher averaged 38.4 yards per punt last season, including booting 18 kicks inside the opponent’s 20-yard-line.
Reserve running backs Devante McFarlane and George Morris II will be handling the kickoff return role. Ritchy Desir, who averaged 5.3 yards per punt return last season for the Orange, including a long of 33 yards, has the inside track on the punt return job. Junior college transfer safety Darius Kelly, who averaged 19.3 yards per punt return and had a touchdown last season at Pima Community College in Arizona may also get opportunities at the job.