After taking a look at the offense, John Garcia, Jr., Mike McAllister, and Dan Tortora switched focus to the other side of the ball to select their standout defensive performer of the 2012 Syracuse Orange football season.
John Garcia, Jr.: Siriki Diabate
This one was a lot closer than the offense, but consistency again prevailed - with a side of progression. Brandon Sharpe was the book-end defensive end few expected him to be in 2012, against both the run and the pass, but the progression and play-making of Siriki Dibate was too much to ignore. Starting for the first time in his career as a senior middle linebacker, he entered the job with some question-marks after replacing the younger and more experienced Marquis Spruill at the spot. It turned out to be the right move, and Diabate became arguably the best downhill linebacker in the Big East as a result. He was once a fast-flow fire-the-gun-too-early player tipping with anxiousness and youth, but he has evolved into a calculated risk-taker and disciplined tackler. Diabate struggled some in passing schemes, but he made up for it with timely and effective blitzing to go along with superb tackle-to-tackle ability as a run defender. There wasn't a player on the roster who could fill the hole anywhere near as good as No. 18 all season long.
Honorable mention: Brandon Sharpe
Sharpe was well, sharp all year. He was disciplined in setting the edge as a run defender and he led the team in both sacks and tackles for loss. He would be def. POY 1A. Keon Lyn was also solid all season long, proving far and away the best cover-guy on the roster in addition to an improved physical nature at the line of scrimmage and as a tackler.
Mike McAllister: Brandon Reddish
Yes it's true you didn't hear his name a lot, but that's exactly why he wins this award. He was great all season at shutting down his man, and got better as the year went along. He had the mistake on a dropped pick-six against Cincinnati, but has been very good other than that. He's become better out of his breaks, and allows Shafer to use that pressure scheme he loves without worrying about Reddish on the outside. Only a sophomore, the sky is the limit for him.
Brandon Sharpe was the best pass rusher this season, and has given the Orange consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback.
Deon Goggins has been a leader for this team. He's been solid against both the run and pass.
Dan Tortora: Jeremi Wilkes
With many different players showing up on defense this season, especially as of late, this decision was not the simplest to make. However, my choice of Wilkes relies on the fact that he was not a late bloomer. Wilkes has been effective on the defense for Syracuse all season long. Registered as a free safety, the expectation is for Wilkes to help in coverage and stop plays in the open field. He did that, knocking away passes in the end zone and keeping with a catch, turning it into a fumble. But Wilkes also helped to condense opponents' rushing attacks by clogging the middle as well as moving to the ball in the open field. Add in his ability to sack the quarterback and Wilkes has been the one three-phase defender for Syracuse this season, helping the defensive line, linebacker core, and secondary.
Honorable mention: Brandon Sharpe and Siriki Diabate
Brandon Sharpe became the team's leader in sacks this season with six, which is a tribute to his hard work through his four-year career. Defensive line coach Tim Daoust said to me earlier in the year how Sharpe had a lot asked of him since Day One, and looking at what he has become says much in how well he has answered that call.
Siriki Diabate displayed more speed and power at the middle of the defense than last season, getting involved much more in condensing the yards gained by opposing rushers. Diabate also made a place for himself in the pass rush and in coverage. As far as taking a big step from last season to this season, Diabate more than fits the suit as the defense gained a new leader who was able to fly across the field to make stops, allowing for his teammates to have the help they needed to excel in their spots.