2014 Syracuse football preview: Defense & Special Teams

A pair of defenders from last season’s unit were drafted into the NFL, led by defensive tackle Jay Bromley, who went in the third round and leaves a massive hole in the interior of the line. Senior Eric Crume, who started 11 games last season and appeared in every game the last two seasons, will anchor the middle. The rest of the tackle rotation will likely come from senior Ryan Sloan, junior Marcus Coleman, and sophomore Isaiah Johnson. A pair of juniors are wild cards and any contribution they can give will be a bonus. John Raymon hopes to return from a scary knee injury last year against Georgia Tech and junior college transfer Wayne Williams could turn into a contributor after dropping over 30 pounds since arriving in campus.

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Lynch will lead the Syracuse defense

The Orange defensive ends are much more established. Micah Robinson started every game last year and Robert Welsh started all but one. Those senior ends combined for 12.5 tackles for loss and five sacks last season. Senior Donnie Simmons, who did not play last season, and junior Ron Thompson, who had 4.5 tackles for loss in limited action last season, should be in the rotation, as well.

» Related: Previewing the 2014 Syracuse offense

While four-year starter Marquis Spruill moved to the NFL with Bromley, the senior outside linebackers he left behind form the backbone of strongest unit on the SU defense. Dyshawn Davis and Cameron Lynch will be the bookends on the second line of defense and provide experience, leadership, and playmaking ability. Davis, who was named to the Butkus Award watch list, has only missed one game in his three seasons on campus and has racked up 31.5 tackles for loss and four fumble recoveries in that time. Lynch has played in every game in his three years at SU and led the team in solo tackles last year with 53. Sophomore Marquez Hodge has the inside track on the middle linebacker spot after playing in nine games as a freshman, highlighted by piling up a dozen tackles against Georgia Tech. Seniors Luke Arciniega, Josh Kirkland, and Oliver Vigille will be in the mix for playing time, as well as a group of four true freshmen – Parris Bennett, Zaire Franklin, Colton Moskal, and Jonathan Thomas.

The defensive backfield returns a handful of players with playing experience, led by senior Brandon Reddish, who started seven games last season. Reddish led all Orange defensive backs last year with four pass break-ups. Junior Julian Whigham, who suffered a terrifying injury against Florida State last season, is back and will start across from Reddish. Whigham has a playmaking knack, as evidenced by his three interceptions last season. Junior Wayne Morgan is the third corner and the fourth will come from a group of players comprised of sophomore Corey Winfield, who moved over from wide receiver during training camp, and freshmen Antwan Cordy, Juwan Dowels, and Cordell Hudson.

The safeties will be led by junior Durell Eskridge, who led the team in total tackles with 78 and interceptions with four. Eskridge, who was an All-ACC Third Team performer last season, is viewed by some talent evaluators as a potential early-round NFL draft pick next year. Seniors Ritchy Desir and Darius Kelly are in a heated battle to start next to Eskridge. Both played in every game last season and had similar levels of production, as Desir had 47 tackles while Kelly piled up 44. Sophomore Chancey Scissum and freshman Rodney Williams have both impressed in training camp and should see some playing time, Williams as a fifth defensive back in the team’s “Okie” package and both on special teams.

RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS (7): DT Eric Crume, OLB Dyshawn Davis, FS Durell Eskridge, OLB Cameron Lynch, CB Brandon Reddish, DE Micah Robinson, DE Robert Welsh

LEADING RETURNERS IN TACKLES: Durell Eskridge – 78 tackles; Cameron Lynch – 69 tackles; Dyshawn Davis – 49 tackles,

LEADING RETURNERS IN SACKS: Cameron Lynch, Robert Welsh – four; Dyshawn Davis – 2.5

LEADING RETURNERS IN INTERCEPTIONS: Durell Eskridge – four; Julian Whigham – three, Cameron Lynch – two

» Related: Game-by-game predictions for the 2014 season

SPECIAL TEAMS OUTLOOK:

One of the most disappointing notes that came out of Syracuse’s Media Day is that senior kicker Ross Krautman would need to end his playing career due to a hip injury. Junior Ryan Norton, who connected on 10-of-15 field goals last season, has the inside track to handle the job for the second straight season, but has had some disciplinary issues in his time on campus. Senior Riley Dixon, who took over the punting job full-time last season and is on the Ray Guy Award watch list, should be a weapon in the field position game. Dixon averaged 42.1 yards per punt, including 15 punts of over 50 yards and a 75-yard effort, and pinned Orange opponents inside their own 20-yard-line 21 times.

The return game will most likely be handled by committee again. Running backs George Morris II, Devante McFarlane, and Prince-Tyson Gulley all returned kickoffs last season, as did wide receiver Brisly Estime. Estime, who had a 70-yard punt return last year to set up the winning score in the Texas Bowl, will be involved in returning punts, as well. Safeties Ritchy Desir and Darius Kelly will likely be called upon for punt returns, as well. Freshman running back Ervin Phillips has shown speed and moves in training camp, possibly earning himself a chance here, as well.

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Jim Stechschulte

About Jim Stechschulte

A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.
Schedule analysis — 2014 Syracuse football preview
2014 Syracuse football preview: Offense
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