Oh, the boys in the trenches. They’re not going to show up on SC Top 10 but they might make the difference in winning Syracuse some football games this year. The good news? Of all positions on the SU roster, defensive tackle might have the least amount of turnover from last year.
Starters: McKinley Williams, Chris Slayton
Backups: Josh Black, KJ Ruff, Shaq Grosvenor, Curtis Harper, Chris Elmore
Last Fall, Williams, Slayton and Kinglsey Jonathan dominated most of the snaps. With Jonathan out of the picture, Williams is expected to see an increased role and start every game after making five starts a year ago.
Star of the Group: Chris Slayton
This is a no-brainer. Slayton is a key part of the backbone of SU’s defense and will be a veteran leader of the team as he heads into his redshirt senior season. He’s started 24 straight games and 29 overall in his career, which is the most by any active player on the SU roster. He’s a rock and Syracuse fans really don’t have to worry about his dedication and production week in and week out.
Something to Prove: Josh Black
You can’t say Josh Black has underperformed while he’s been at Syracuse because he hasn’t been healthy. However, this is a big year for him. After only playing four games last year due to injury, Black was granted a medical redshirt. The redshirt sophomore is now shifting from defensive end to defensive tackle this season. He has the highest ceiling of any of the reserves behind Williams and Slayton. By 2018, many expected him to be a fixture in the SU defense, if he stays healthy it’s time for him to prove them right.
Strength: Veteran Leadership
With Slayton, a redshirt senior, and Williams, a junior, carrying most of the load, this is one of the most tested positions on SU’s roster. Not to mention, reserve KJ Ruff, who should see the third-most playing time, is a junior.
At ACC Media Day, Slayton raved about the depth of this defensive line. However, three of the top four reserves on paper are transitioning from a different position. Ruff came to SU as a linebacker. Black, of course, used to be a defensive end and then Chris Elmore was playing strictly offense last year. When you add Grosvenor and Harper to the mix, who should play sparingly, the defensive tackle group is as deep as it’s been in a long time on paper. But with some likely growing pains to those reserves who are transitioning to a relatively new position, it’s crucial Williams and Slayton remain healthy.
This group could be the strength of the SU defensive when it’s all said and done. Slayton and Williams should only improve this year and it is as deep of a unit as Babers has had since coming to Syracuse. With that mind, I expect to see more blitzes from the defensive line as a whole this fall. Why not? Syracuse has the depth for it and it could help shield some projected secondary woes. It’s definitely not in the typical Tampa-2 formula but it could raise the ceiling on a group that’s destined to be as consistent as any on the field for SU this year.
Be sure to keep it locked here at orangefizz.net and on Twitter @OrangeFizz to keep up with all of our positional previews. Check out our other positional previews with the 2018 season right around the corner:
SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter/Kicker | Return Specialists (8/24)