They say injuries are part of the game, and Syracuse‚Äôs defensive end unit learned that the hard way last season. Three players at the position endured some sort of health setback, which clearly proved difficult to overcome. The Orange struggled to wreak backfield havoc, ranking 11th¬†in the ACC in team tackles for loss. Looking to improve upon last year‚Äôs showing, SU can feel a bit more confident. Kendall Coleman is back, and the unit as a whole does not have any subtractions from last season.
Along with the aforementioned Coleman, Dino Baber‚Äôs‚Äô defensive ends will be Alton Robinson, Brandon Berry, Zach Morton, Caleb Okechukwu, and Jake Pickard.
Star of the Group:¬†Alton Robinson
With Coleman battling injuries in the final third of last season, Robinson rose to the occasion. After coming over from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, he led the Orange with five sacks. Robinson now has a year at SU and a full offseason under his belt, two things he didn‚Äôt have this time last year. If any of that offseason work pays off, he and Coleman could form a nice two-way edge rush attack. That is health-permitting, of course.
Something to Prove:¬†Kendall Coleman
Coleman‚Äôs absence was felt last season, with SU often having trouble penetrating from the edge opposite Robinson. Coleman battled a shoulder injury, but made 28 tackles, with 2.5 of them for loss. In just eight games, Coleman nearly matched his total tackles as a freshman (29), and exceeded his tackles for loss (1.5). That is encouraging for Orange faithful, and Coleman is expected to be back fully healthy for his junior year. With him and Robinson starting at the two end spots, there is no reason Dino Babers‚Äô team doesn‚Äôt improve upon its ranking of last in the ACC in sacks.
Unit Strength:¬†More Experience
For a unit that suffered injuries and looked anemic towards the end of the season, a fresh start may be its biggest asset. Equally important to this group, however, is its experience. As mentioned prior, no defensive ends from last year‚Äôs team are gone. Sure, Coleman and Robinson are back, but players like Brandon Berry and Kingsley Jonathan return more experienced and are destined to make impacts as well. Berry was the one called upon to fill in for Coleman last season and showed some promise, which could force Babers to get him opportunities alongside Coleman and Robinson.
Unit Weakness: Getting to the Quarterback
Atop the list of things this unit needs to improve upon from last season is getting to the quarterback. Ranking last in the ACC in sacks was bad enough, but it didn‚Äôt end there. SU was also last in the conference in passer rating against, and 4th-lowest in third down efficiency percentage against. Those things improve with a better pass rush, and the Orange may be able to get it done with a healthy, more experienced bunch. However, for now, Syracuse fans can only await improvement.
All told, the key cogs in this unit are all coming back healthy and a year older. That is a great recipe for improvement, which will be needed in building on back-to-back 4-win seasons. Year three is going to be a big one for Babers, and it‚Äôs not crazy to think that the play of his defensive ends could contribute to where he will be this time next 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 (8/15) | Return Specialists (8/24)