If there's one aspect of the 2011-12 Syracuse University football team that doesn't need a large critique from fans or media types it's the defensive ends, wwith seniors Chandler Jones and Mikhail Marinovich featured there. Both players enter the season as three-year starters who have made an impact in about every game they've played in.
During the offseason, Jones (6-foot-5, 265-pounds) earned spots on many preseason All-Big East teams, including SB Nation's, and is expected to have a season that will make people forget that big brother, Arthur Jones, who was a two-time Big-East First Team performer at nose tackle, ever played at SU.
Jones has all the tools, speed, acceleration and power, to become the big-time, play-making pass rusher that the Orange have lacked since the graduation of Dwight Freeney ('02). However, Jones' stats, which feature just four sacks last season and 1.5 in '09, don't back up the hype. But,those numbers should increase after a lot of hard work in the offseason.
"Jones has been working on his pass rushing skills this offseason, in the hopes that he can be a double-digit sack man," wrote ESPN's Andrea Adelson in early August. "No question the defense will have to rely more heavily on him, especially with two new starters on the interior. He most certainly is up for the challenge."
On the other side of Jones is Marinovich, who also started every game last season and made 30 tackles, four for a loss. During Big East media day, held in early August, Marinovich (6-5, 253) relayed to the masses that the SU players, especially the veterans on the defensive line, know what's at stake this season.
"I think it’s important to show others that this wasn’t a one-year, a one-season thing," Marinovich said. "You know we lost a few guys, but the guys we brought in are stronger and faster. All they need is a little experience. The possibilities are endless."
According to SU's preaseson depth chart, backing up Jones will be junior Brandon Sharpe, who converted from line backer to DE in the spring of '09. Last season, Sharpe (6-2, 245) played in all 13 games. Behind Marinovich will be senior Torrey Bal (6-4, 253), while freshman Micah Robinson (6-4, 248) could see some playing time, too.
However, there seems to be two words -- inexperience and undersized -- that adescribe the interior of SU's defensive line. Those two words create a bit of uncertainty and doubt among Orange followers, who saw seniors Andrew Lewis (6-2, 285), Bud Tribbey (6-1, 290) and Anthony Perkins (6-4, 282) graduate after last season and don't know what to expect from fill-ins: Sophomore Jay Bromley, and seniors Cory Boatman and Deon Goggins.
Bromley (6-3, 280) and Boatman (6-1, 281) each are slotted as the starters heading into the season opener, which is Sept. 1 against visiting Wake Forest (8 p.m. on ESPN3). Last season, both players didn't start, but saw a lot of playing time. As a true freshman, Bromley played in 12 games and made eight tackles, while Boatman played in 13, mainly on special teams.
Now, Bromley and Boatman are not the biggest DTs and the Orange faithful are worried that the lack of size of the two starters and the rest of the interior line, which features only two players, freshmen Eric Crume (6-0, 330) and Ryan Sloan (6-4, 322), above 300 pounds, will be hurt by an opponent's running game. (A quick side note for perspective; The University of South Florida features two starters, sophomore Cory Grissom (6-2, 306) and Keith McCaskill (6-0, 282) near or above 300, while Louisville has junior Randy Salmon (6-3, 291) and freshman Jamaine Brooks (6-4, 328).) The positive of about Bromley's and Boatman's size is that both did bulk up during the offseason.
"...Defensive tackle Jay Bromley (went) up to 280 from 269," commented Syracuse Post-Stardard writer Dave Rahme in early August. "If he can carry that weight while maintaining his quickness it should help the undersized Orange inside. Nose tackle Cory Boatman reported in at 281 on a 6-1 frame, up seven pounds from the preseason depth chart."
Behind Boatman is predicted to be senior Ollie Haney (6-2, 279), who has battled a bunch of injuries during training camp, but will be looking to make an impact in his first and final year on defensive. Next in line is true freshman, Crume, who seems to be impressing coaches with his play in training camp.
"The true freshmen who have come in, their heads are spinning," SU offensive coordinators Scott Shafer said. "But there have been flashes of really good things with Eric Crume inside at the tackle position."
Meanwhile, Goggins (6-1, 272), who is expected to be the back up to Bromley, is coming off a season that featured him not playing a down. The JUCO transfer from California will be looking to make up for a lost year and prove to his critics that he's not a bust.
"We have some guys in that interior that are nasty; they just don’t care," says Jones. "That’s what we need on defense — somebody to risk their body and throw their body in there to make that play."
The inside of SU defensive line may look small and inexperienced, but there's a lot of potential considering that two of the best DEs in the Big East are lining up next to them. There could be some growing pains early in the season, but come the middle of the season look for this core to be the back bone to another stellar SU defense.
SB Nation New York has been previewing Syracuse football all week. If you've missed any previews, click below: