A Win is a Win, Part II

I know yesterday's column had kind of a negative feel to it, but I'm not really that down on this team. There are a lot of things I'm encouraged about from this Syracuse team: the main one, being the new coaching staff. I buy into their attitude, I really do. I'm also convinced Greg Robinson is genuine.

The moment that did it for me happened when tackle Kurt Falke went down during the Buffalo game. Robinson ran out onto the field to make sure his player was alright. It's not like it was his star running back either, this was an offensive lineman. It was a flashback to the old Dick MacPherson days when he would sprint out to the field anytime his player did as much as stub a toe. 


That emotion is something that has been missing around here. I don't know if it's because Paul Pasqualoni was so devoid of emotion, or Greg Robinson is so full of it, but either way the change is a positive. When you have the ability to get your players fired up, like I believe Robinson does, you can get them to do all kinds of amazing things.


I'm not just impressed with Robinson's demeanor either. I really like the way he runs his defense. He goes after it. On most third down and more than five situations this season, the defense has blitzed instead of sitting back in coverage. And, so far, it has worked. Syracuse's defense has only allowed three points this year.


Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Syracuse is the Ravens. Yes, some of the defenses success has to due with the quality of offenses the Orange has faced, but they're definitely for real. Ok, enough banter, time for the defensive report cards:


Defensive Line: If the secondary weren't playing so well, this would be far and away the best unit on the team. James Wyche may be the best end in the Big East, and on the other side Ryan LaCasse is a maniac. He never stops running. I bet he's doing swim moves around his dorm room right now. Kader Drame is good at stuffing the run, and seems to have a knack for knocking down passes. The unit combined for 27 tackles against West Virginia. That's insane. They may not have Dwight Freeney on the team anymore, but together, this line could make a similar impact.


Linebackers: As a unit, I like the way they've shown up, although the coverage has slipped at times. I don't think it's a lack of playmaking ability, just being out of position. For the most part though, they are doing their jobs. I never thought I would say this was the weak point of the defense, but it looks to be that way. As for individuals:


      Kelvin Smith- I couldn't be happier with him moving to the middle. He is the best tackling linebacker, and he's tough too. You need that in your middle linebacker. He has to be a nasty, mean kind of guy. I remember when I played in high school our middle linebacker had internal bleeding in his thigh and never mentioned it to the trainer until after the season. See what I mean? Nasty. Smith fits the bill here. He leads the team in tackles after two games, and barring injury, is set up for a great year.


     Kellen Pruitt- First off, having two guys named Kelvin and Kellen playing right next to each other is always a good thing. Second off, Pruitt seems to have lost weight. Whether it was intentional or not, I don't know, but his speed has improved. He seems to have transformed himself from a run stopper into a reliable coverage guy.


     Tommy Harris- Probably the weakest of the three, he was in intense competition with Jerry Mackey, until Mackey hurt himself during the preseason. We saw him a lot last year, but he didn't really do too much (12 total tackles). I see him splitting time if with Mackey if Mackey gets and stays healthy.  


Secondary: Wow! How can a unit get so much better in one year? There were points in the West Virginia game where Anthony Smith was single handedly keeping Syracuse in it with an interception and forced fumble at opportune times. His playmaking abilities may be the reason you see him on Sundays next year. The guy has a little bit of that Donovan Darius flare to him. His counterpart Dowayne (that's DOwayne, not Dwayne) Davis has been a pleasant surprise too. He is fourth on the team in tackles. Not bad for a position that has been an "uh-oh" spot for three years.  


The cornerback spot is probably the biggest improvement from last year's team. What was coach P thinking last season when he moved Steve Gregory to receiver? Probably one of the reasons he's not coach anymore. Gregory has been great so far this year, and that shouldn't surprise anyone.


He did well his freshman year. In his sophomore year, he was the best corner on the team. That meant in his second year, he had to guard the best receiver from every team. There were some great receivers in the Big East that year. Guys like Larry Fitzgerald from Pitt and Andre Johnson from Miami. You can't expect him to excel as a sophomore against those guys.


Anyway, after that they moved him to receiver, and took away all the progress he had made at corner. Now he's back where he belongs and excelling.


Tanard Jackson has been great too. I feel like Jackon and Anthony Smith are tag team partners. It seems like one of them is always in on every big play Syracuse's defense has. Between them they have caused six turnovers in two games.


Punter/Kickoff Guy: Somebody call the NFL about Brendan Carney. Every year he adds five yards to his kickoffs. He's already hit all but one of into the end zone, and at this pace, by next year he'll be booting it into the beer man in the fifth row. That's not even the best part. It's his punting. He skies the ball every time and is averaging almost 47 yards a punt. He has bailed Syracuse out a lot already. Not to mention he's pretty much the most relaxed guy I have ever met. I'm convinced you could punch him in the face, and he would probably buy you a beer (do not try, only a hypothetical). That relaxed poise is a quality all great kickers have, nothing gets them worked up. I want to see him kick field goals personally.


Ok, it's time for the disclaimer. I have been pumping up the defense for the last 800 words or so, but they have played only two games against sluggish offensive performances. West Virginia bailed Syracuse out with five turnovers, and Buffalo was … well … Buffalo. I'm sure there will be weaknesses that I haven't seen yet showing themselves, and I'm sure I will be disappointed at times, as will you. But let's take it for what it's worth; this defense is the best since at least Dwight Freeney's senior year.


During next game against Virginia, we should learn a lot more about them. The Cavaliers have a shifty quarterback and a good offense that will really challenge Syracuse. So for now, I'm saying the Orange's defense is good, but if it can manage to shut down Virginia somehow, then we will really have something to talk about next week. See you then.


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