Syracuse had several big-time performances from defenders in 2011, but not many of the standouts were consistent on a unit that ranked just 75th in the country in term of allowing nearly 29 points per game.
Jones had a great campaign in 2011, but he had a pair of issues that were too big to ignore. First off, he missed a handful of games because of a knee injury, and he was targeted by the opposing offense more times than not toward the end of the season in the read-option. And UConn, South Florida, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh all found success running to Jones' side. Still, in just seven games he amassed 4 ½ sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception.
Davis, just a freshman, was praised by Jones after the final game of the season as the player on defense that stood out the most to him. He notched 10 ½ tackles for loss in 2011 to go along with four sacks. Davis was the team's best blitzer, and he made the big hit of the year against Rutgers' Jawan Jamison. The blitz led to a forced fumble, and subsequent touchdown return of 66 yards by SU cornerback Rishard Anderson.
Thomas, though suspended for the final two games of the season as well as most of next season, was a spark for an often-battered secondary. He led the team with six interceptions and tackles in tackles – finishing with 82. Thomas also notched 4 ½ tackles for loss, and often was the best player on the field for the Orange.
Spruill got off to a hot start as the "Mike" linebacker, but failed to register more than six tackles in each of the last three games. Still, the sophomore was able to notch 8 ½ tackles for loss to go along with three sacks and a forced fumble. Spruill struggled in pass coverage, but may have been the unit's best player against the run in 2011.
Winner: Phillip Thomas
The other three nominees had great seasons at times, but Thomas was the most consistently productive defender. He still was the statistical leader despite missing the final two games, and finished 2011 as the No. 2 interceptor in the country in terms of picks per game. He could have had a few more as well, especially against Rutgers. Still, Thomas was a sure tackler and the most reliable cover-guy either in man or zone. He was versatile, even playing the role of "jammer" against RU's Mohamed Sanu, considering how he played half the field against the pass and the alley in the running game equally as well.