Chuck Bullough had a lot on his plate while coaching in the NFL the last two seasons. The former Browns coach admitted he didn’t know a lot about the new Orange group he’d took over during the spring and summer months. The new defensive coordinator was on the lookout for a group of leaders. That ended up being Syracuse’s stout linebacking corps.
This is SU’s strongest bunch on the defensive side of the ball. It not only features a perfect blend of size, speed, athleticism and agility, it also possesses the necessary leadership needed to venture into year one of the ACC. The three key returning figures – and current starters – Dyshawn Davis, Marquis Spruill and Cam Lynch compiled 173 tackles last year, 27.5 of those for loss. More importantly their ability to guide their defense and new players has been second to none. Spruill will anchor the middle the field this season, and is blown away by the strides his teammates have made throughout the summer.
“Compared to the spring, people’s technique’s have gotten better like Cam [Lynch] and Dyshawn [Davis]. Even new guys like Luke [Arciniega] and [Josh Kirkland], everybody has gotten better and faster. Cam and Dyshawn have matured, they were like my little brothers at first, I had to watch them, pull their ears, beat them up sometimes. But now, they’re becoming young men.”
This group has a knack for the football. Linebackers accumulated nine sacks last season, compared to 13 from the defensive line. Expect the LB’s to have an even more impactful pass rush this year. Orange Nation knows how much Scott Shafer likes to blitz, and with a defensive line that features two new starters in Robert Welsh and Micah Robinson, why not bring more from the edge with your LB’s? Syracuse has a ton of size on the interior of the line that can clog the run lanes, and pave the way for Lynch and Davis to get the quarterback effectively.
Lynch will be the X-Factor this fall. He recorded 4 sacks last season, and now as a junior with an expanded starting roll, his quickness will lead to even more success. His eyes just light up at the thought of blitzing. Davis thinks the group will also get a necessary boost from a true freshman this season.
“Marqez Hodge. He kind of surprised us at the first scrimmage at Fort Drum just the way he moves, he’s very twitchy, he’s always flying to the ball, accelerates at contact. He gives 110% of effort all the time, he has impressed me the most by far.”
The Miami native was ranked the 55th best LB in the Class of 2013 by Scout, and possesses a maturity that landed him a back-up role in his first year. Bullough loves the senior leadership of the entire defense. And because of it, guys like Hodge have emerged as potential game-changers.
“That’s the great thing about this team is they are a tight knit group. You see guys like Cam who has Hodge behind him [on the depth chart], and he’ll be working extra with him, and they’re battling, but they’ve been really good about helping the younger guys. They know the competition at their position makes the team better.”
Filling out the rest of Bullough’s packed linebacking corps are JuCo transfers Luke Arciniega and Josh Kirkland. They bring size (Arciniega is 6’2” and nearly 245 lbs) and experience (Kirkland played for Butler Community College, the powerhouse of the JuCo world, which won 5 National Championships over the last 15 years).
It’s certainly been a tough summer for the entire defense. Spruill jokingly recounted the defense has been working for TWO drill sergeants in preparation for this season.
“I thought Coach Shafer is crazy, he doesn’t have anything on Coach Bullough. [He’s] absolutely mad, but he’s a great coach. (laughs) It’s kind of like having two [Scott Shafer’s]. They’re both great, they don’t hold their tongue for anything.”
This is what’s driven the defense. A constant work ethic, one that won’t be satisfied until they’re hoisting another bowl trophy like the one they collected at Yankee Stadium late last December. Bullough may be tough on the group, but Davis admitted his philosophies will benefit the team when they go toe to toe with much more speed in the ACC.
“We’ve been focusing on controlling our body in open space. That’s what the defense is going to depend on a lot, first year in a new conference. Making tackles in the open field, being able to breakdown and control our body movement.”
They may not be the biggest group, but the Orange LB’s will live on speed and conditioning against some of the fastest offenses like Clemson and Florida State. They’re strength is the blitz, and with Shafer around, Orange Nation knows it will see a lot of it. The Orange senior leaders will make sure of it.
Posted: Kevin Fitzgerald