Linebackers Get Makeover in 3-3-5 Defense

Stopping the run will be a key to improving the defense

Andrew Armstrong
Syracuse linebacker Andrew Armstrong lines up against UConn. Mandatory Photo Credit: Initra Marilyn, The Juice Online.

When Syracuse takes the field at Boston College to open the season on Sept. 4, the Orange will unveil a new 3-3-5 defense. This will be a stark change from the Tampa 2 defense the Orange had employed since Dino Babers was hired.

Defensive coordinator Tony White, hired away from Arizona State in the offseason, is charged with implementing a new defense that will ideally get the opponent’s offense off the field quickly while getting the ball back to Tommy DeVito and the offense. More possessions allow the offense more chances to score while tiring out the opposing defense and making the scoreboard ring like a pinball machine.

The new defensive scheme is certain to utilize different types of players. Namely, bigger linebackers. That is evidenced by a couple of recent commitments Syracuse received for the Class of 2021:

  • Malik Matthew is a 6-foot-3, 210-pound outside linebacker from the Bronx. He chose the Orange over offers from BC and Rutgers.
  • Two days after Matthew pledged, Syracuse landed another LB commit from Austin Roon out of Byron Center, MI. Roon stands at 6-foot-4 and weighs 220 pounds.
  • A third recruit that Syracuse is high on is Jason Henderson from Milford, PA. Though Henderson is slightly shorter than Matthew and Roon at 6-foot-1, he’s already 210 pounds.

If Henderson eventually commits, that will give Syracuse three linebacker recruits who all have the potential to add muscle and strength under the guidance of the Orange’s strength and conditioning program.

» Related: Who is Syracuse football prioritizing in recruiting for its 2021 class?

And there is room on the team for some additional linebackers. Juan Wallace and Kadeem Trotter both recently entered the transfer portal. While that certainly doesn’t mean they’ll leave, it’s a good indication that they don’t see significant playing time in the future.

Need more proof that the 3-3-5 is bringing a changing of the guard at linebacker? Simply look at the Spring Depth Chart.

Tyrell Richards – 6-foot-4, 236 pounds, Geoff Cantin-Arku – 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, and Steve Linton – 6-foot-5, 226 pounds are the three listed starters. Lee Kpogba – 6-foot-1, 219 pounds and Mikel Jones – 6-foot-0, 210 pounds are listed as back-ups. Both Kpogba and Jones were high-profile gets from the 2019 recruiting class.

So how will bigger, stronger linebackers help the defense? Start with stopping the run.

Syracuse had the third worst run defense in the ACC last season. The Orange surrendered 2,419 yards on the season, good for 201.6 YPG. Only Louisville and Georgia Tech gave up more yards. They also gave up the second most – 26 – rushing touchdowns in the league.

Look back two years ago at the loss at Clemson. The Tigers used a 94-yard drive capped by a 2-yd touchdown run by Travis Etienne to pull out a 27-23 win.

For the game, Etienne carried 27 times for 203 yards and three touchdowns. Of those 94 yards, a whopping 79 of them came on the ground as Etienne and Tavien Feaster pounded away at a tired Syracuse defense.

Last season’s 5-7 finish, fresh off a 10-win campaign, left a sour taste in the mouth of not only the fans but the players and coaches too. No doubt Babers and White have big plans for a revamped 3-3-5 defense. Stopping the run should be a top priority.

Let’s see if they have the bigger, stronger linebackers to do it.

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About Steve Auger 165 Articles
Steve Auger is a freelance writer whose work has covered a variety of topics including sports, pets, parenting, healthy living, local government and human interest stories. Steve’s been a diehard Syracuse sports fan for over 25 years. To this day, the words “Smart takes the shot” still make him cringe. And according to Rutgers' fans, he's "not a take."