The battle in the trenches is not one of the sexier things about football, yet it is still of critical importance to the success of any team and any program. The Syracuse Orange have used several young players along their defensive line, specifically at defensive tackle. That position has two redshirt freshmen and one true freshman in the rotation.
That is a lot of youth to rely on, but is the reality for Syracuse this season. One of the standouts has been true freshman Steven Clark, who continues to develop as the season goes along. Head coach Scott Shafer likes what he has seen from his young buck, but realizes he still has work to do.
"The two most difficult positions to play early are defensive tackle and offensive line," Shafer said. "Been really pleased with Steven. (He's) done a really good job. A real physical young man. (He's) real strong in the weight room. Really smart and picks up football really well. He is still learning to play down in the trenches with his hands, but he plays with great effort."
Shafer and the other defensive coaches believe that because of Clark's intelligence, work ethic and natural athleticism, once his technique is perfect, he can be a special player for the Orange. He appeared to have something click against Florida State, using technique to shoot the gap and pressure the quarterback on a few occasions.
Coach Shafer echoed those sentiments, seeing improvement game to game and week to week with Clark as the season progresses.
"Up front, we're an attack and react mentality," Shafer said. "I see those young guys learn how to attack and then react on a daily basis and then on game day. They're still going to have tough ones when you have 600 pounds coming down on you on a combination block. But I've been pleased with them.
"In high school, they can dominate because they're so strong. When they get here, they learn how important it is to play with their hands and with the right pad level."
Shafer added he is excited about the potential of all of his young defensive tackles, including Kayton Samuels and Chris Slayton. The experience they are gaining this season will prove invaluable as they become upperclassmen.