Syracuse shuffles defensive linemen through front in search of stability
Ziniu Chen | Staff Photographer
As of right now, there are no defensive tackles in the Syracuse locker room. There are no nose tackles or defensive ends, either. Only defensive linemen.
That’s the way defensive line coach Tim Daoust and the rest of the Syracuse coaching staff are addressing the units at least, shuffling them regularly through spring ball in search of finding a successful rotation.
With Jay Bromley off to the NFL, the group is left with no leader and a number of questions.
“It’s really been by committee,” Daoust said. “We’re playing a lot of guys in there.”
With three rising seniors — nose tackle Eric Crume and defensive ends Micah Robinson and Robert Welsh — there is experience on the line, but the production has been limited. The trio managed just seven sacks and 17.5 combined tackles for loss last season, compared to Bromley’s 10 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss despite regular double teams.
Each showed flashes of potential, but none were consistent playmakers.
“It’s a different road that I’m not used to as far as being a leader,” Crume said, “but I’ve just got to step into my role and keep getting better. Like everybody else on the D-line, we’ve just got to keep getting better.”
Also in the mix are rising senior nose tackle Ryan Sloan and junior defensive tackle Marcus Coleman, rising sophomore defensive end Isaiah Johnson and Ron Thompson, a rising junior tight end-turned-defensive end.
And by fall, it’s possible 6-foot-4, 330-pound junior college transfer Wayne Williams could crack the rotation, as well.
But currently, he’s focused solely on improving his conditioning. Defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough said he can only go for 5-10 plays at full speed.
“When we first got to winter running, it was like, ‘Oh my God, he’s out of shape,’” Bullough said. “He was huge.”
Sloan and Coleman have gotten first-team snaps in Syracuse’s Okie and other three-down linemen sets, while Daoust emphasized Johnson’s improved conditioning and Thompson’s elite talent.
But in the team’s open practice last Tuesday, the highlights for the group came few and far between.
A swim move by Welsh, playing right defensive end, led to his swatting of a Terrel Hunt pass attempt, and ensuing championship belt celebration.
Surrounding that, though, were five lengthy touchdowns and limited pressure on the quarterback.
“Developing leaders right now is essential for our defensive unit,” Coleman said.
Last year, Bromley would keep the group in line after a lengthy running play or ineffective pass rush. As of now, no one has stepped up.
Crume, Robinson and Welsh seem to be the logical choices, but none have filled the role yet. And none have the talent that the NFL-bound Bromley did even as a rising senior.
It’s clear there will need to be more balanced production from the group. But only time and repetition will tell which defensive linemen become tackles and ends, and which are pushed to the back of the pack.
Said Coleman: “We’re trying to be one of the most aggressive and attacking defenses in the country.”
Published on April 15, 2014 at 12:10 am