The graduation of senior linebackers Derrell Smith, who signed as an undrafted free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Doug Hogue, who was drafted in the fifth round of the NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions, were huge losses for SU's linebacking core, which enters the 2011-12 season with a lot of questions about its lack of experience.
Currently, the Orange seem to have their starting positions settled as senior Dan Vaughn will be the strong-side linebacker, sophomore Marquis Spruill will hold down the middle linebacker spot, and freshman Dyshawn Davis is the weak-side linebacker.
Despite being just a second-year player with little experience at MLB, Spruill enters the year as the new leader of the squad. Last season, the true freshman started all 13 games at linebacker for SU, but it was alongside veterans Smith and Hogue. This season, the 6-foot-1, 216-pound Spruill moves to the middle, where he's expected to use his one-year of learning from the vets to become an impact player in the Big East Conference.
Finally getting his chance to start is Vaughn, who played in all 13 games last year, but was mainly a specal-teamer. In 2010, The 6-2, 219-pounder recorded just one solo tackle, while assisting on four others. Meanwhile, Davis is looking to be just as productive as Spruill was during his rookie year. Davis (6-3, 213) transferred from the Pennsylvania prep school Milford Academy, where recorded 35 tackles, 13.5 for a loss, and teammate, defensive lineman Chandler Jones, thinks he'll fit in just fine.
"He showed me a lot of flashes of Derrell (Smith) and Doug (Hogue) this spring," said Jones. "Maybe he can play like them, or even better. He's a great player, and I'm excited to see him develop."
Behind the starters are: Junior JUCO transfer Siriki Diabate (MLB), sophomore Lewellyn Coker (MLB), junior Dom Anene (WLB), and freshmen Cameron Lynch (SLB) and Oliver Vigill (WLB). Out of those five, Coker, who played in all 13 games last season and seems to be the biggest hitter out of the group, is the only player who has seen any game action, which could make for a frustrating beginning to the season.
Despite their lack of playing time, this group may make up for it while its athleticism and speed.
"It looks like there’s some good speed on the field right now," said Marrone on Monday. "We’re flying around and running around. Now, it’s just a matter of if we can sustain blocks, make tackles, make plays … that’ll come along as the installation goes along. And then when we’re really able to start scrimmaging, then we’ll know better where we are."
What will help the young LBs will be the coaching and game planning of defensive coordinator Scott Shafer, who has proven that he can build a solid defense without a bunch of four- or five-star recruits. (Statistically, last season was the best defensive year since 1999.) Also, the LBs will be helped out by one of the, if not the best, defensive line in the Big East.
In conclusion, the Syracuse LBs are young and inexperienced, but talented and fast. Orange nation is hoping that the two things can cancel each other out and the LB core doesn't hamper, but is an asset to the team's progression.