Projected Starters: Zaire Franklin (MLB), Marqez Hodge (WLB) and Parris Bennett (SLB)
Biggest Question Mark: The biggest question mark for the Orange defense is both team and individual oriented. Despite up and down seasons the past two years, the defense has remained strong for Syracuse. Zaire Franklin (2) and Marqez Hodge (3) combined for five sacks last season, proving that the linebacker core was active in the rush. On an individual standpoint, the biggest question mark could be junior college transfer Ted Taylor. In 2014 at Dodge City Community College (KS), he recorded 84 tackles (53 solo) and two sacks. Those 84 tackles would have been second on the team last year based on SU’s defensive statistics. If Franklin and Hodge can combine their leadership with top newcomer Ted Taylor, the Orange should be stout behind the defensive line.
Most Important Player: The most important linebacker has to be Zaire Franklin. After being named a leader of the team by Coach Shafer at SU Media Day, Franklin’s performance as a freshman has in many ways made him the face of the defense as a sophomore. Last season, he recorded 44 tackles needing assistance for only 13 of them. Now taking a more prominent role, Franklin’s numbers should improve. When you see an underclassman make these strides, it really indicates a strong potential for Franklin at SU and beyond. Teaming up with Hodge and Taylor should be a strong threesome that will make SU dangerous against both the run and pass.
Outlook for 2015 Season at Linebacker: As stated above there are a lot of ifs and projections for the linebacker position. Potential is there as well as determination to prove that last season was a fluke. With a new and creative offense installed in practice, the defense has been forced to be more versatile and identify a variety of coverages. Sometimes, the best offense you might see is in practice, which can prepare you for anything in the games. From a statistical standpoint, this group needs to be more active against the rush, as SU gave up over 100 yards in 8 of 12 games last year, including 256 to Pittsburgh on the road. Each game but one (99) also featured opposing quarterbacks throwing for a minimum of 160 yards each game. This core has to tighten down each aspect of opponent’s offenses to allow the SU offense to return to the field.
What will constitute a successful season for this position group: A successful season from this group will include minimizing the significant advantage that SU opponents had in both the passing and rushing games this season. On a minor note, it also important for the defense to play well in order to take advantage of the Dome crowd and keep people in the seats! Statistically speaking, it would be a great year if around 10 sacks could be recorded from the linebacker position, accompanied by a handful of interceptions. The defense needs to take advantage of games where opponents’ offenses struggle, and hold them to three and out situations. Building confidence in Weeks 1-3 can really propel this group to make an impact down the road. With many question marks on offense, it may take the quarterbacks of the defense (the linebackers) to take charge of the energy for SU football.