Syracuse Football Living on the Edge: Why Defensive Depth Could Hurt the Orange

Dan Kelley@DanKelleyWritesCorrespondent IAugust 17, 2009

The Syracuse defense is officially walking the tightrope without a net.

As is normal with any regime change in college football, a number of players have left the Syracuse football program since the firing of Greg Robinson and the subsequent hiring of Doug Marrone.

Thus far the total of scholarship players who have left the program has reached 17. On paper at least, the majority of the defections don’t jump out at you as season changing losses individually. The real problem for the Orange is how concentrated the losses have been to key positions.

The areas hit the hardest have been the defensive line and the linebackers, with four players leaving from each squad.

The losses at linebacker so far have been Mike Mele, Parker Cantey, Dan Sheeran (who was converted from wide receiver), and JUCO transfer Derek Hines.

The loss of Hines was particularly alarming for this group because he had been penciled in as the starting weak side linebacker heading into fall practice and left the team within a week of training camp’s start.

Taking over the starting role vacated by Hines is true freshman E.J. Carter from Orlando with junior Ryan Gillum backing him up. With Hines gone, the Orange have only seven remaining scholarship linebackers.

In an effort to counter the lack of depth, head coach Doug Marrone has mentioned the possibility of using a defensive scheme involving two linebackers and five defensive backs, most likely replacing one linebacker with a safety.

A two linebacker and five defensive back formation wouldn’t help the depth problems on the defensive line, but fortunately for Marrone the situation there is a little less dire.

This unit has also suffered four losses so far, but it remains a little deeper than the team’s group of linebackers. So far Lamar Middleton, Zary Stewart, Romale Tucker, and Elon Mitchell are the four linemen who’ve left the program.

This group is currently starting three seniors and the line is anchored by one of the best defensive tackles in the country, Arthur Jones. The lone underclassmen listed as a starter is Art’s younger brother, Chandler Jones at defensive end.

Behind the starting lineup are two veteran defensive tackles, junior Bud Tribbey and senior Anthony Perkins. The second string ends are JUCO transfer Torrey Ball and sophomore Mikhail Marinovich, who has impressed in the first week of practices and could be pushing senior Jared Kimmel for his starting spot.

The linebackers and defensive line both look like they will have respectable first strings, with the defensive line even having a somewhat decent two-deep. However, both units could be looking at disaster if they’re stricken with injuries or more defections.

As a Syracuse fan, this situation is obviously a huge concern.

However, being the eternal optimist that I am, I choose to look at the bright side of this. As I mentioned before, the majority of the players among the departed probably would not have made big individual contributions to the team this season.

All of the players who left were recruited by Greg Robinson, and let’s face it; the amount of talent he left for new head man Doug Marrone is underwhelming to put it gently.

The defections will open up an additional 17 scholarships for Marrone to recruit with and the faster that he’s able to fill the roster with his own players; the faster he’ll be able to turn this once proud program around.


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