Position Preview: Defensive Line

Taking a look at the defensive line for Syracuse football entering the 2016 season.

The Syracuse Orange football team starts their first season under head coach Dino Babers on Friday. Heading into the opener, the defensive line has a lot of questions despite two returning starters. 

Depth Chart


Starter: Chris Slayton
Backup: Jake Pickard           


Starter: Kendall Coleman 
Backup: De'Jon Wilson                    

DEFENSIVE TACKLE 1              

Starter: Steven Clark  
Backup: McKinley Williams                           

DEFENSIVE TACKLE 2             

Starter: Kayton Samuels  
Backup: Anthony Giudice          

Steady on the Inside

Yes the Syracuse defensive line has questions, but those are mostly on the outside. At defensive tackle, Syracuse has three quality players that will all see plenty of snaps.

Steven Clark and Kayton Samuels are both solid starting tackles who have shown promise. Clark is one of the strongest guy on the teamBoth are athletic as well, with quickness being a strong attribute. Clark shed over 30 pounds since last season and is poised for a breakout season.

Becoming more consistent in terms of shedding their block and being disruptive will be key this season. Especially as Syracuse transitions to the Tampa 2, where they look for a pass rush from the defensive line.

Despite potentially starting at defensive end, Chris Slayton will see time on the inside. He started at tackle last season and has the body type and athleticism to play both spots well.

Behind those three is where Syracuse is looking for someone to emerge. Tyler Cross had a decent spring, but is looking to add consistency. Anthony Giudice fell behind Cross and may be the odd man out. 

True freshman McKinley Williams has had a solid camp and is likely to make the rotation.

Questions at End

At defensive end, there is a very different story. There is a severe lack of experience despite having some intriguing talent. Jake Pickard emerged as a starter during the spring. He is a long, athletic body without elite speed or quickness. He has done a nice job packing on the pounds and is a high IQ football player. 

Pickard needs to become a solid, steady force for Syracuse at defensive end and that starts this fall. Even if he loses his starting gig to true freshman Kendall Coleman, he will still have a large role. 

Coleman has had a great training camp and emerged as someone the coaching staff trusts. A big body with a bit of burst off the edge, Coleman should show flashes this season.

Graduate transfer De'Jon Wilson will factor into the rotation at the other end spot. He comes from Colorado where he did not play much, largely due to their scheme switch from a 4-3 (which he was recruited for) to a 3-4. The 3-4 did not suit his talents. 

Wilson is someone who can be productive on first and second down, but is not a pass rushing force. On obvious passing downs, he may come out in favor of a pass rushing specialist. Still, Wilson is big and strong, and should provide some stability. 

Slayton, however, could be the guy who starts there. The reason is to get Syracuse's best defensive linemen on the field at once. That includes Slayton in addition to the other two defensive tackles. Slayton played end in high school, and has been solid during camp.

Kenneth Ruff is a true freshman who enrolled in the spring and emerged as a starter then. The reps and experience he earned during that time as a starting defensive end will be invaluable. He will be a part of the rotation and see time as a reserve. He also cross trained at tight end, where he could also see snaps. 


Syracuse has plenty of incoming freshmen to bolster their defensive line depth. Dino Babers has said that all of the defensive ends will play. 

At defensive tackle, McKinley Williams comes from Florida. He is strong, plays with low pad level and is agile. A bit raw with technique, Williams still may have more upside than other reserves. That is why he is expected to play this season. 

At defensive end, Syracuse brings in Jaquwan NelsonJoshua Black and Kendall Coleman

The most talented of the group may be Nelson, who has burst off the edge and is an explosive talent. He may be the best best to emerge as a pass rushing threat who plays situationally on third downs and obvious passing situations. 

Black is a bigger defensive end who has done a nice job bulking up during the offseason. He can also play inside, to give Syracuse an athletic, quicker tackle. He has a lot of potential. 

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