Position Preview: Defensive Line

CuseNation.com previews the defensive line entering the 2014 season.

Depth Chart

Starters: Robert Welsh, Eric Crume, Marcus Coleman, Micah Robinson
Reserves: Ron Thompson, Donnie Simmons, Trevon Trejo, Wayne Williams, Isaiah Johnson, Jalen Harvey, Kayton Samuels

2013 Statistics

Welsh: 32 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks
Crume: 28 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks
Robinson: 22 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.0 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries
Thompson: 20 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks
Johnson: 5 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 interception

What We Know

Robinson and Welsh return as the starting defensive ends. Both are solid players who provide an occasional push against the opposing quarterback. Both are also strong against the run. Neither is a big time pass rushing threat, however.

In the middle, Eric Crume returns as a space eating nose tackle who helps clog the middle against the interior rushing attack. He is looking to become the leader of the front four. He was limited during part of practice but has returned to full participation recently. Crume will be fully healthy when the season starts.

Marcus Coleman emerged as a started during the spring and has performed well this fall. He will be in a rotation, but will see meaningful snaps for the first time in his career.

Freshman standout Isaiah Johnson slides to the inside after playing at end last year. His athleticism and quickness off the ball will give Syracuse a more dynamic threat who can rush the passer up the middle.

Newcomer Wayne Williams has worked hard to shed over 60-pounds in order to get down a reasonable playing weight. He may have the most raw ability of the tackles and will look to become part of the rotation. Williams strength is his biggest asset. It may take him some time to become a consistent player, so look for improvement as the season goes along.

Ron Thompson will be the primary backup to both defensive end slots and will receive plenty of snaps. During the spring, he received praise for stepping up as a consistent pass rushing threat. A former four-star tight end prospect, Thompson could take a big leap this season as he focuses on the defensive end position.

Trevon Trejo and Donnie Simmons will also be part of the rotation. Simmons is finally healthy after an injury plagued career previously. Now he has the chance to show the raw pass rushing ability that made him a high school standout.

Biggest Question

Who will replace Jay Bromley’s production? Bromley was a force last season, leading Syracuse in sacks with 10. He provided a consistent push up the middle to help collapse the pocket. Despite returning three of four starters, Syracuse lost their most dynamic player up front when Bromley graduated.

The likely answer is that Syracuse will replace him by committee. Coleman, Williams and Johnson will all receive snaps. The freshmen also have a chance to get some playing time potentially. Using all three will keep them fresh for maximum impact.

Season Outlook

The defensive line is a solid group with quality depth at the end positions. What this unit does not have is a standout. A dynamic force like Bromley was last season or like Chandler Jones was before that. The depth at the tackle spot is not as strong and they are looking for someone to replace a pro. This is the unit on the defense with the most questions marks entering the season. They need someone to emerge as a consistent pass rusher without having to blitz and expose the back seven on a regular basis. How this unit does will go a long way in determining how good the Syracuse defense is this season.

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