What Syracuse has to replace on the defensive side of the ball this season has been well documented. Gone are three starting defensive linemen, two starting linebackers and three starting defensive backs. That is a lot of experience and production.
But there are talented players ready to step up. Zaire Franklin is now the man in the middle and the leader of the linebackers. On the outside, Marqez Hodge takes over one spot while Parris Bennett and Jonathan Thomas battle for the other.
Along the defensive line, Ron Thompson is looking to breakout as the only returning starter. Kayton Samuels emerged during the spring as a guy that will see plenty of snaps. Donnie Simmons may finally be ready to be a major contributor as the other defensive end.
The defensive line always rotates a lot of players, making the contributions of Wayne Williams, Chris Slayton and others of critical importance. Especially with the loss of players due to injury or transfer.
Even with all of this youth expected to give Syracuse major production, head coach Scott Shafer is not getting ahead of himself. He sticks to the mantra that the entire coaching staff has adopted in order to keep things in proper perspective; Win the day.
”For me, it’s pretty simple,” Shafer said. “I just want to see us improve daily and not look too far ahead. I’ve said in the past, from a statistical background, I always thought stats were a loser mentality because you can work the stats one way or the other. We were really good here and weren’t here. At the end of the day, the bottom line is are we getting better every day. Are we continuing to develop the young people throughout the course of every phase that we have.
”So we had the spring ball phase. They got to play real football for those 15 days. Now we’re in the winter program and there’s summer access we can do. We work on specific skill sets you’ll see on the field. So there’s a chance to create muscle memory in the summer before they play football again. We have to do a great job with that and the kids have to do a great job of taking that and running with it.”
Not only does Syracuse have to replace an immense amount of production and experience, but they have leadership voids to fill. Cam Lynch, Durell Eskridge and other defensive leaders have exhausted their eligibility.
Scott Shafer’s defensive system has been productive and has had success each season he has been at Syracuse. Even with the influx of youth and inexperience, that should not change drastically.
The familiarity with the system should help offset some of that youth, but they still have to solve the leadership issue.
”We also have important roles being set in place with leadership,” Shafer said. “Sometimes you think one or two guys are ready to do it. Sometimes you find out there’s someone you didn’t expect who has a good influence on his teammates. So coming out of spring ball, there’s some good football and some new learning.
"There was an opportunity for more repetitions once you turn the page, so you feel good about that. You start to work on those things I just mentioned. I think it’ll be key for the defensive kids just to continue to learn the system and master the techniques within the framework of the x’s and o’s. As opposed to truly learning something new like the offense has to do.”