Syracuse lost a veteran presence in the linebacker room yesterday when redshirt-junior Tyrell Richards announced his decision to enter the transfer portal.
In 2020, Richards appeared in eight games as a linebacker and started three. He racked up 24 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks in a productive campaign. The Canadien leaves the Hill with two years of eligibility available and should get some good opportunities elsewhere. Of course, Richards also has the option to return to Syracuse if Head Coach Dino Babers allows him too.
This is a tough loss for SU, anytime you lose an experienced player who has made big plays and played in the big games that’s a tough blow. We slotted Richards in the two-deep at outside linebacker in our post-spring depth chart. While Richards transfer is a big loss for Syracuse, it might mean that an underclassman is showing out.
It’s kind of a strange time for an impact player to unexpectedly transfer. Spring football is winding down and the typical period to make this announcement would’ve been between January-March. So this seems to in relation to playing time, frustration with the depth chart outlook.
Is Leon Lowery stepping up? Is Geoff Cantin-Arku setting himself apart? Is Jason Simmons the guy? These are all valid questions and potential reasons why Richards is transferring.
Leon Lowery is a freshman (soon to be redshirt-frosh) linebacker that had a reserve role last season, but may have the speed and size combo defensive coordinator Tony White wants on the field. The New Jersey native is 6-4, 225 which is comparable to Richards 6-4, 234 frame. Lowery appeared in three games in 2020. He made three tackles against Duke and registered two tackles and a tackle for loss against NC State. Maybe he was starting to take some of Richards’ reps?
Geoff Cantin-Arku should be a household name for Syracuse fans. He started 10 of 11 games last season at middle linebacker and led all SU defenders with 4 sacks. The Orange have plenty of options at linebacker and at times last season it was hard to get all the talent on the field at once.
There are only 3 linebacker spots (typically) in Tony White’s 3-3-5 defensive scheme. So there’s Mikel Jones, Marlowe Wax, Lee Kpogba (formerly), Stefon Thompson, Tyrell Richards (formerly), Steve Linton, and Geoff Cantin-Arku who could all play and rotate. That’s a lot of mouths to feed, perhaps Richards was unhappy with his standing amongst this talented group.
The final potential answer is what I think is the most likely, the emergence of the rover position. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, Jason Simmons transferred to Syracuse in February from New Mexico State.
Simmons is a perfect fit at the rover spot (OLB/DB) hybrid. However, SU is already set at that position with Rob Hanna who saw plenty of action last season. I think White and Company are trying to convert Simmons to either WLB or SLB which could mean less minutes for Richards. On the other hand, maybe White is tinkering with personnel sets that have two rovers on the field at once in an increased effort to stop spread offenses.
Whatever the reason might be, Richards is a starting caliber player at linebacker who likely wants to go somewhere he can be a significant impact and potentially start.
So with Richards out the door, how does the linebacker room look? Well not much changes, you still have Cantin-Arku/ Marlowe Wax at WLB. Mikel Jones is at MLB, but Richards was the backup so the Orange need to find a replacement at that spot behind the sophomore. SLB is set in stone with freshman all-american Stefon Thompson and Steve Linton at 1a and 1b.
The Orange also have some linebackers coming in this summer from the 2021 recruiting class. Stay on the lookout for Malik Matthew, Derek McDonald, and Austin Roon to perhaps crack the two-deep somewhere. Syracuse has an embarrassment of riches at the LB spot, credit to Babers and White bringing in high-caliber talent over the last three cycles.