Defensive & Special Teams — 2018 Syracuse Football preview

Babers
Dino Babers watches from the sidelines. Mandatory Photo Credit: Rich Barnes, USA TODAY Sports.

DEFENSIVE LINE

The line is the most experienced unit on the defense, returning five players who combined for 41 of a possible 48 starts last season. Redshirt senior defensive tackle is the leader of the unit, having started 29 games in the last three seasons, including all 24 in the last two seasons. With 24.5 career tackles for loss, Slayton needs just seven more to crack the top ten in the school record book.

Joining Slayton inside is McKinley Williams, who started five times last season as a sophomore. Projected to start at nose tackle again, Williams was third last year among linemen with four tackles for loss.

The defensive ends look to be Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman. Robinson, who was a very late addition to the roster last summer, was a revelation. Despite joining the team less than two weeks before the season opener, Robinson led the Orange with five sacks and topped the defensive line with 30 tackles. The junior, who played in every game and started ten times, had a pair of sacks at Florida State.

Coleman has 19 starts in two seasons on campus, including eight last season while missing a month in the middle of the campaign. The junior finished second among the linemen with four quarterback hits last season. Brandon Berry, who split starts with Coleman at defensive end last season, will be in the mix, as well. Like Coleman, Berry logged 28 tackles on the season.

Kenneth Ruff, Josh Black, and Chris Elmore look to provide depth on the interior. Ruff and Black both have bulked up considerably since arriving on campus. Ruff played linebacker in high school, but has bulked up to 296 pounds to get into the playing rotation. Black started nine times at defensive end as a freshman, but was a medical redshirt last season after suffering an injury. Elmore, who spent time at fullback last season, played on the defensive line in high school and may see action on both sides of the ball this season.

» Related: 2018 Syracuse football offense preview

LINEBACKERS

The days of penciling Parris Bennett and Zaire Franklin into the linebacker lineup are over. The duo combined for 200 tackles last season, led by Bennett’s 115 stops. Both, however, finished their eligibility last season, as did Jonathan Thomas and graduate transfer Austin Valdez, who combined for 88 stops in the third linebacker slot last season. All four players were among the top seven tacklers for SU last season.

Ryan Guthrie and Kielan Whitner were penciled into the first string of the depth chart this summer. Guthrie, who earned All-American honors in both years in junior college, spent some time at outside linebacker and defensive end last season. He is slated to be the starting middle linebacker for the Orange.

Whitner spent his first two seasons at SU playing safety, then shifted to linebacker last offseason before ending up returning to the defensive backfield. A senior who will play at outside linebacker this season, Whitner is a three-time All-ACC Honor Roll selection.

Shyheim Cullen and Andrew Armstrong comprise the second unit in the 4-2-5 defense. Cullen is one of the top special teams players for the Orange and has recovered a pair of fumbles while at SU, both against Florida State. Armstrong has appeared in all 24 games in his two years on campus, playing on special teams, as well. The junior from Youngstown, Ohio has 29 tackles to his credit.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

The most important of the five listed starters at defensive back is Antwan Cordy, who returns to the lineup after missing most of the last two seasons due to injury. The versatile redshirt senior is listed as the starting nickelback. Cordy played in every game in 2015, logging a pair of sacks, interceptions, and fumble recoveries.

The starting cornerbacks will be Scoop Bradshaw and Christopher Fredrick. Bradshaw, a junior who started 11 times last season, and Fredrick, a redshirt junior who started every game last year, bring experience and productivity. Bradshaw had 5.5 tackles for loss last year to top all defensive backs while Fredrick led the corners with 43 tackles, including 31 solo.

Youth will back up these veterans, specifically redshirt freshman Ifeatu Meliwonfu and freshman Trill Williams. Both have great size for cornerbacks, as Melifonwu is listed at 6’3”, 200 pounds and Willliams, one of the top recruits in the incoming class, is 6’2” and 202 pounds.

Youth will also make a mark at safety. Andre Cisco, a freshman who played at IMG Academy in Florida, enrolled at Syracuse in January and has a full offseason under his belt. Cisco also brings some size at six feet even and just under 200 pounds.

Evan Foster, a junior who started every game at safety last season, is up to 223 pounds. Foster had 64 tackles last season, including a personal-best ten stops against Boston College, and also returned an interception for a touchdown against Central Michigan.

Devon Clarke, Eric Coley, and Cam Jonas are in the mix at safety, as well. None of them have seen any action, though. Clarke is a redshirt sophomore, Coley redshirted last season, and Jonas is a freshman.

» Related: 2018 Syracuse football outlook

SPECIAL TEAMS OUTLOOK

Sterling Hofrichter, who has handled punting duties his last two seasons, will add placekicking responsibilities to his plate this season. Hofrichter has averaged just under 43 yards per punt in his two seasons of play and allowed only nine punts to be returned last season, forcing 28 fair catches on his 57 punts.

Named the preseason All-ACC punter coming into this season, Hofrichter also made 2-of-3 field goals and his only extra point try last season, building on his high school experience as a placekicker.

Sean Riley will handle both kickoff and punt return duty again. Riley averaged 24.5 yards per kickoff return and 7.8 yards per punt return last season. In each of his two seasons returning kickoffs, Riley has logged a return of over 60 yards.

RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS (7): CB Scoop Bradshaw, DE Kendall Coleman, S Evan Foster, CB Christopher Fredrick, DE Alton Robinson, DT Chris Slayton, DT McKinley Williams

LEADING RETURNERS IN TACKLES: S Evan Foster – 64; Christopher Fredrick – 43

LEADING RETURNERS IN SACKS: Alton Robinson – five

LEADING RETURNERS IN INTERCEPTIONS: Three players with one each

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Jim Stechschulte
About Jim Stechschulte 512 Articles
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.