Syracuse will start training camp the first week in August as they prepare for the 2014 season. CuseNation.com takes a look at the defensive end position entering camp.
Current Depth Chart
Micah Robinson and Robert Welsh return as starters at the ends of the defensive line for Syracuse. Both were solid last season, and Welsh got off to a particularly fast start. But as the season progressed, both lacked a consistent pass rush.
This forced Syracuse to have to blitz frequently in order to generate pressure. This season, Welsh and Robinson have to take that next step in their development. Show a better ability to pressure the quarterback. Both are solid in run support, however.
Specifically, look for Robert Welsh to add a move or two to his pass rushing arsenal. To see if he has increased the quickness of his first step. Robinson has to use his hands better while pass rushing and has a tendency to get caught up engaging with the opposing tackle.
A big key for Syracuse this season is the ability of the defensive end to generate more pressure without needing to blitz. Training camp will tell the tale as to whether they put in the necessary work to improve during the offseason.
Ron Thompson showed flashes last season. He is an extremely athletic player who came into Syracuse as a tight end. Last season was somewhat of a transition for Thompson, but he performed well considering.
During the spring, Thompson often earned the praise of head coach Scott Shafer the defensive coaching staff. A breakout season where he ends up playing as many snaps as the starters is certainly a possibility.
Look for Thompson to continue to settle into the position, show a quicker first step, be more physical at the point of attack and the ability to shed blockers a bit better. Those skills combined with his raw athleticism could make him a force if he puts it all together.
Donnie Simmons is another name to monitor. He has not realized his potential since arriving on campus, and injuries have been part of the reason. He has the chance to become part of the rotation this season for the first time in his career.
Simmons has speed on the outside, but not much else has been seen because of his inability to get on the field. Still, that raw potential from when he was a high school prospect is still there. If he is able to put things together, he could be an important contributor as part of the rotation this season.
Chris Slayton was the lone defensive end in the 2014 class. He has a lot of upside with a combination of size, athleticism and agility. However, he is a bit raw. A redshirt season is the most likely scenario.
But that was the case with Isaiah Johnson last season and he was able to earn playing time with a strong camp performance. Given Slayton’s size and skill set, it would be naïve to rule out the possibility that he follows Johnson’s example.
Regardless of whether or not he has an impact this season, Slayton will be an important part of the defense for years to come.
Most Important Player
While Thompson may be the most likely to breakout, he is also the most important. Welsh and Robinson are solid players who can develop a better game. However, neither have the upside that Thompson has.
Thompson has the ability to be the best pass rusher on the team. For the Syracuse defensive line to take that next step, he has to become that type of a force. His production will be critical to the success of the defensive line this season.
Welsh and Robinson should be the expected starters when Syracuse opens the season against Villanova. However, if Thompson continues the trajectory he was on during the spring, he will certainly push the incumbents.
As is the norm for the Syracuse defensive line under assistant Tim Daoust, there will be rotation with several players earning snaps. This will keep players fresh and give several the opportunity to make an impact.