One-hundred and eight tackles, 15.5 sack, and 29 tackles for loss. Those are the combined stats that Jay Bromley and Marquis Spruill produced for Syracuse last season. The two defensive captains' departures left this season's squad looking for leaders.
But in his opening press conference this morning about spring practice, Scott Shafer and the defensive staff didn't seem worried about filling the roles. They seemed excited.
"I think that anytime you come off a bowl victory . . . the kids are going to have a sense of excitement going forward," Shafer said. "I think that there is a sense of pride to carry it forward.
"And there is a sense of excitement from the new kids that didn't have an opportunity to play a lot of football to step in and say now it's my chance to take over a role that is open."
The coaching staff plans to use spring practice to create competition among the players. Defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough believes this year's leaders will emerge in spring practice, just like they do in every season.
"Every team, every year has different leaders," Bullough said. "You cannot anoint leaders. They have to grasp it and take it."
The staff is already seeing guys like Eric Crume and Cameron Lynch step up to lead the defensive line and linebacker corps, respectively. But those were expected. Daoust said that this year's situation feels familiar.
"Every year is a new year, and kids step up," Daoust said. "We are in the same situation [as we were last season].
"I had a quiet confidence about what I knew my kids could do."
Though he has faith in this year's D-line, Daoust still has his questions. One of those is how Wayne Williams, a redshirt junior and juco-transfer, will perform. The six-foot-six, 335-pound defensive tackle will have to play this season, but according to Bullough, "he is a lot better, but still not where we want him."
"I tell the kids all the time, and I believe that you win with seniors," Daoust said. "If we are going to have a good year, that means our seniors are going to play their best football across the board."
Coach Clark Lea echoes that same sentiment about his linebacker unit. Lea said that Spruill set the bar for leadership that many current team members want to carry on.
"I expect Dyshawn (Davis) and Cam (Lynch)—and Josh Kirkland and Luke Arciniega—to have ownership of this role," Lea said. "It is going to be a huge help to me from a performance standpoint, but just to uphold the standards that we work on everyday."
As far as taking over for Spruill, Lea said that the battle would be between Arciniega, sophomore Marqez Hodge, and senior Oliver Vigille. Though Hodge started three games last year, most of their time on the field was as special teamers. Lea said that he is not worried about the inexperience, though.
"I am not concerned about filling that spot; I am excited about filling that spot," Lea said. "I think we have three really great candidates for it.
"That is the fun part of the spring. You don't have the pressure of the game looming, and you can just let the guys play and showcase their skill set."