Zaire Franklin is a captain and leader of the Orange defense. Franklin is smart, tough, physical and a sure tackler. As Syracuse makes the transition from the old scheme to the Tampa g2, Franklin is a critical piece. Not only is he responsible for making the play calls as the quarterback of the defense, but he also helps everyone else get lined up.
His role is also critical as he is responsible for covering the tight end over the middle. His ability to do so will be an important part of whether or not the defense is successful in year one.
Franklin is someone the coaching staff can trust, rely on and not worry about as they make the transition.
Syracuse has quality depth at every spot within the linebacking corps. Behind Franklin in the middle is the young but talented Troy Henderson. At the strongside spot, Jonathan Thomas and Ted Taylor will play and both are capable. Thomas should be the starter, however.
Thomas has all of the physical tools. He is long, athletic, quick and strong. His ability to grasp the defense and be consistent with his assignments will determine whether or not he breaks out this season.
Taylor is a solid linebacker who does everything well but not anything spectacularly. He has shown the ability to be a quality starter in the past.
At weakside backer, Parris Bennett is the incumbent and is trusted starter. He is quick and very athletic. Backing him up is Marqez Hodge, an experienced linebacker who has started inside and outside. He provides quality depth and versatility.
Waiting in the wings is Shy Cullen, a redshirt freshman with a perfect frame. He is thick, strong and agile with a lot of upside. He could push Hodge for snaps and should be a contributor on special teams.