In the latest edition of a multi-part series, editorial staff of The Juice Online discuss various topics on Syracuse football. Today’s topic: Can Syracuse’s defense improve from the 2011 season?
Wesley Cheng: Ben, Syracuse really struggled last season on the defensive side of the ball, giving up 28.5 points per game, which was 73rd in the NCAA. The Orange also lost defensive end Chandler Jones, who was taken in the first round of the NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. That being said, can SU improve on last year?
Ben Glidden: The defense loses not only Jones, but also Mikhail Marinovich and Phillip Thomas. Those are three guys who leave huge gaps that I’m not sure the Orange can fill. There is a lot of young talent on this side of the ball and some veteran guys like Shamarko Thomas sticking around to lead the unit. But the inexperience is definitely the biggest weakness for the team. I like guys like Jay Bromley and Dyshawn Davis but the defense wont be successful unless the older guys bring this group together and lead.
WC: You’re absolutely right that losing Jones and Marinovich hurts the defensive front, but Deon Goggins shifting from tackle to end should help lessen the loss of Jones, and tackle Jay Bromley had a stellar Spring Game. I also think that JUCO transfers Markus Pierce-Brewster (2011 All-America Community College Defensive Player of the Year) and DT Zian Jones will be able to contribute right away. Shockingly, Syracuse had a better record without Jones last year than with him in the lineup, so maybe not all is lost on the front four. You mentioned Shamarko Thomas returning, do you think the secondary will be a strength or weakness?
BG: If Goggins can produce at the end like he did at tackle, then he can make up for Jones’ absence. But there’s no guarantee that he’ll be able to be as successful at the end. Even though he’s shifting just a few feet, the position takes a much different expertise. As far as the secondary goes, I think Shamarko Thomas can anchor that unit along with junior cornerbacks Keon Lyn and Ri’Shard Anderson who both struggled last season with injury. There are a few candidates for the free safety spot. Jeremi Wilks looks to be a good fit for the position, but sophomore Ritchy Desir could see some time, also. I was most impressed by sophomore Brandon Reddish in the Spring Game. He showed off his speed and a made a few good plays that proved he has some serious talent. Overall, I think this group has some good veterans to carry the younger players. I don’t necessarily think the group will be an overwhelming strength for the defense, but I definitely don’t think it’ll be a weakness.
WC: I think that unit could also be benefited by the offseason coaching changes. I like Marrone’s decision to bring in Donnie Henderson to coach the defensive backs. He’s got a lot of NFL experience — I’m hoping that helps out. The linebacker group should be a plus for the defense this year. They’ve also got a new coach (Steve Morrison) and are the most experienced unit on the defense. Some of the success depends on how well Marquis Spruill recovers from his lower body injury. But I’m excited to see how Dyshawn Davis builds on his freshman campaign. Earlier you mentioned that the veterans on this team have to step up and lead. A guy like Dan Vaughan, who’s in his fifth year on the team, can definitely fill that role. If you had to pick a best case scenario for the defense, and assumed that everything that could go well went well, what would it be?
BG: In order for the defense to be successful, they need to put pressure on the opposing quarterback and everything else will flow naturally from that. The defensive line needs to step up and collapse the pocket on every play. It’ll force the quarterback into throwing bad passes, helping out the secondary. It’ll for him to scramble, which will benefit our strong linebacking core. And most importantly, it’ll force turnovers, which is what the team needs. The more possessions the defense can give to the offense, the better.