Tim Daoust constantly asks his defensive linemen to challenge themselves, elevating their game each week. As the season has progressed for the Orange, Daoust has relied on those who have been tested prior to this season to lead the linemen.
"Brandon Sharpe, Jason Bromley, Deon Goggins. Those kids, they come to work every day," said Daoust. "And we've had some adversity [at] this point this season but you would never know going to practice with those guys every day.
"They've bought into it from Coach Marrone on down, so I'm extremely proud of the leadership I've received out of those three guys."
Not to count anyone out of the transformation he is trying to facilitate to take Syracuse's front line into a dominant presence on the field against any opponent, Daoust shared positive feelings on how the rest of the line has responded to his veteran leaders.
"I give credit to everybody else ‘cause they've followed suit and followed those guys," stated Daoust.
One of the newcomers evolving on the front line has been junior college transfer, defensive tackle Zian Jones.
"Well I know he's 300-plus pounds and he plays extremely hard, so I have no hesitation there late in the game," said Daoust of Jones. "I was ready to put him out there if we were called to duty again, so I'm really happy with Z.
"He loves football. He comes with a great attitude. Where he's come from since he got here, I'm really, really happy with him."
Daoust went on to talk about Jones' fellow junior college transfer from the state of California, defensive end Markus Pierce-Brewster, concerning where he is in his evolution.
"I thought he had a good start [versus Pittsburgh]," shared Daoust. "I think he was very, very close, so it's those three inches. I thought he was really, really close on a couple of sacks tonight. He came in here [against Pittsburgh] doing a great job of rushing the passer, and he's really involved nicely in the run game.
"He's shown he'll be a physical football player and I think he's a guy like Brandon Sharpe that I think he's on the cusp of doing some very good things for us."
Since before the first snap of the 2012 season, Daoust emphasized that he does not care about the depth chart. Players will play that can compete and help water the defense, growing it into a strong, fruitful tree. That tree has many branches, and Daoust is not afraid to use as many as it takes to provide an opportunity for victory. He discussed how he feels about his rotation after Syracuse's most recent win.
"Very confident," expressed Daoust. "You can watch it throughout the year. Second series of the game, I'm changing guys. Or if the first series were to go long, I'm changing guys immediately. Micah Robinson comes in and does a great job. He started a game for us this year. Eric Crume and Z (Zian) Jones get as much playing time as anybody in there, so I'm really happy with them. And then, Robert Welsh was able to get in there [against Pittsburgh], too, at defensive end, so I think I played eight guys [versus Pittsburgh]."
But Daoust is not giving sole credit to his defensive line for any success on that end of the ball. "It's an evolution of the whole defense," said Daoust. "Guys are fitting in their gaps properly. We really pin-pointed some things we needed to work on as a defense in [the] bye week, and the kids have bought in. So it's not just the defensive line. I think Dyshawn Davis did a great job…Marquis Spruill, Siriki Diabate. I think the defense is starting to evolve and then they're starting to see how it all fits together and hopefully we're [able] to build on this as we move forward."
The defense has found ways to condense the run since the second half against Stony Brook and have gotten to opposing quarterbacks to record double-digit sacks that have placed them second overall in the Big East Conference.
Different players have stepped forward at different times to provide the defense with stops and the offense with opportunities.
Now the focus turns to making sure the growing defensive tree is not trampled by the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers when the Orange face the most productive rusher in the Big East, Jawan Jamison, in their upcoming match-up on Saturday.