As we countdown to kickoff in September, The Juice Online is going to analyze some of the biggest story lines for the 2016 football team. Today’s question: How will Syracuse adjust to its new defense, the Tampa 2?
For the better part of the last decade, Syracuse’s defense operated under a unifying philosophy: An aggressive, blitz-heavy defense that was advocated by SU’s last two defensive coordinators, Scott Shafer and Chuck Bullough.
When Dino Babers arrived at Syracuse, he scrapped that philosophy in favor of the Tampa 2 defense, a zone-heavy defense where pressure on the quarterback is mostly left to the four defensive linemen up front.
“In the Tampa 2 you have to have four man pressure,” Babers said. “It makes defense very difficult to play if you can’t have pressure.”
That may prove to be a difficult proposition for this current group of linemen. While there may be some talent in the unit, there isn’t much experience, especially at the defensive ends.
The Orange’s starting ends for the spring scrimmage were redshirt freshman Jake Pickard and true freshman Kenneth Ruff.
Behind them was junior Trey Dunkelberger, who transitioned from tight end to defensive end this spring. Syracuse will also has freshmen Jaquwan Nelson, Joshua Black and Kendall Coleman. Combined, they have played exactly zero snaps at defensive end at the college level.
“We’re not slackers on the D-line,” defensive tackle Steven Clark said about the inexperience from the defensive end. “They’re going to do it. I don’t have any worries about them at all.”
There’s more experience on the interior positions, with tackles Kayton Samuels, Chris Slayton and Clark all getting meaningful snaps last season.
“Last year, we used to blitz a lot,” Clark said during spring practice. “They didn’t rely on us to stop the run, but this year, we are going to rely on us to stop the run. As a D-line, we’re up to the challenge.”
One of the bigger adjustments will be for the linebackers, especially Zaire Franklin. Instead of being involved in blitz packages as a default, Franklin will be asked to drop back more in zone.
But Franklin downplayed the change, saying that Syracuse did play some Tampa 2 in last year’s schemes.
“As far as learning a new defense,” Franklin said, “it’s been fun and exciting for all of us to go out and learn new coverages, different type of schemes, different type of little things that will help make us great this fall.”
As for the secondary, they will be nearly exclusively in zone coverage, with the safeties helping out the cornerbacks over the top.
“I believe our corners are going to make a lot more plays on the outside with out routes and things like that,” safety Chauncey Scissum said. “Our safties are going to have a lot more opportunities.”
Still, expect growing pains from the defense this season.
The returning players were recruited to play a different kind of system. Shafer favored a smaller, quicker kind of recruit that could blitz the quarterback and stop the run.
Under Babers, he favors a longer, more rangy type of recruit that can hang back in zone coverage.
The system will take time to implement, and Babers has pleaded with the Syracuse fan base for patience during the transition.
“Don’t be quick to judge,” Babers said. “I know this is the Google era where everybody wants the answer right now.”
Jim Stechschulte, Nick Salamone and Kicia Sears contributed to this report.