The Syracuse Orange football program will begin its 2012-13 season this Saturday, as the Northwestern Wildcats visit the Carrier Dome (12 p.m. ET on ESPN2). The season opener begins, hopefully, a bounce-back campaign for the Orange who're looking to improve on last season's 5-7 record.
To prepare for the season, SB Nation New York is previewing each aspect of the SU football program. Today, we're breaking down the defense. (The special teams preview can be read here.)
If there's one word to describe the SU defensive line its solid -- both in experience and size.
Anchoring the tackle positions are returning starters junior Jay Bromley (6-foot-4, 293 pounds) and redshirt seniorDeon Goggins (6-1, 275).
In the offseason, Bromely tacked on 10-extra pounds and looked very good in the Orange's Spring Game, which featured him making three tackles, two of them sacks.
Unfortunately, Bromley missed most of preseason camp with an ankle injury, so its going to be interesting to see how that well effect his first step in the season opener.
meanwhile, Goggins is a bit more versatile lineman. The plan is to mainly pair him with Bromley in the interior but he will also see action on the outside.
"He has the ability to play both defensive tackle and end for us this year," said Marrone about Goggins, who last season led all SU linemen with 43 tackles. "Deep into Spring he played defensive end and, obviously, we had a couple players that were hurt that have comeback now. And we have a couple players that have been added to our team that will be playing at the defensive end position. So, we feel very comfortable."
"He's playing very well for us inside. He's done some nice things and we're expecting the same, if not more from him, from the inside this year."
On the outside, junior Markus Pierce-Brewster (6-3, 257) is the newcomer while senior Brandon Sharpe (6-1, 253) moves from a backup to a starting role.
Both will be asked to makeup for the loss of Chandler Jones, who was last year's defensive anchor and the New England Patriots' first-round pick in the NFL Draft.
The question about Brewster, the JUCO transfer from City College of San Francisco, will be: Will his junior-college play, which featured him earning the California Community College Defensive Player of the Year, translate to the Division I level?
Meanwhile, Sharpe will need to show he's made enough offseason progress to be a consistent starter.
All-in-all, the defensive front line has the talent/potential to be a force, but it will need to stay healthy because there's not much depth.
Entering the season, the SU linebacking corps is expected to help carry the defense -- which was not the case last season.
For now, Spruill and Davis will be the outside starting linebackers, while Diabate will coordinate the attack from the middle. Both Spruill, a 2011 All-Big East Second Team selection, and Davis are returning starters, but maybe the biggest surprise coming out of preseason camp was Diabate earning the starting MLB nod over last year's starter Vaughn.
"Siriki has done a good job," said Marone about Diabate. "He worked extremely hard and did an excellent job for us during the Spring when Marquis Spruill was out. So, we feel fortunate to have him in there and, obviously, he needs to continue to keep playing the way he has. We are excited about seeing him play."
The knock on this crew is its lack of play-making ability, as no player last season showed the ability to take over a game. If the Orange's defense is going to rebound from a lack-luster season, the ability to make plays will be the biggest reason.
The crew that will be tested the most in the season opener, and maybe the most all season, will be the Orange's secondary. Senior strong safety Shamarko Thomas (5-10, 210) leads a corps that has both experience, with veteran corner backs Ri'Shard Anderson (6-1, 189) and junior Keon Lyn(6-1, 196), and young potential, with sophomore cornerbackBrandon Reddish (5-11, 186) and freshman cornerback Wayne Morgan (5-10, 190).
Coming out of Spring ball and preseason camp, Reddish has been, by far, the most impressive player, and his play helped him leapfrog Lyn as a starter. Reddish is very good in both zone and one-on-one coverage and that why he came out of camp as SU's No. 1 coverage guy.
On the opposite side, Lyn and Anderson will push each other for playing time but don't underestimate the talents of Morgan, who could sneak into a starting role if both veterans don't produce. The difference between starting and sitting will be consistency.
"You look for people that you know what to expect when they go out there and play," said Marrone.
Up the middle, Thomas is the leader but he's shown lapses in judgement as well -- sometimes, instead of making the right play, he goes for the big hit.
Look for redshirt freshman Durrell Eskridge (6-3, 205) to make a push for more playing time either at strong safety or free safety, where junior Jeremi Wilkes (5-9, 189) is expected to be the guy.