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Syracuse Football’s Biggest Question Mark That Nobody is Talking About

Photo Courtesy of Syracuse Athletics

SU Football’s spring game is one week away! There seems to be a lot of excitement surrounding the program despite a third consecutive losing season last year. SU head coach Dino Babers reshuffled the majority of his coaching staff and added some talent through the transfer portal in the offseason. However, it seems as though everyone forgot that defensive line is a pretty important position in the sport. The Orange return ZERO starters in the trenches and lack both experience and depth. Can any of you out there name three Syracuse defensive lineman right now without cheating? No probably not, and that’s a serious issue.

Babers and Company return 17 starters from last year’s squad but none of those can be found in the defensive trenches. Here’s a look at the names Syracuse does have back:

Terry Lockett

The true sophomore might be the best player amongst returnees. The Massachusetts native played in eleven games last year behind an experienced d-line unit. The Springfield Central high product recorded twelve tackles, two sacks, and a quarterback hurry. This is solid production from a rotation player in his freshman campaign but how does he perform in a starting role?

Kevon Darton

The redshirt-sophomore has decent experience having played in 18 games thus far, however there isn’t much production to show for it. The Massachusetts native claims 14 career tackles with nine of those coming in 2021. Darton saw the field a decent amount last year but again, in a rotational role. Is he ready to be a starter?

Caleb Okechukwu

The redshirt-junior might be the safest bet amongst this returning cast. The Washington D.C. native has played in every game the past two years and 35 for his career. In that time, the St. John’s College product registered 35 tackles, three tackles for loss, and a pair of sacks. The 6-4, 269 lb. defensive end has waited his turn behind Josh Black and Kingsley Jonathan, now it’s his turn to lead this position group.

Steve Linton

The former prized recruit from Georgia has logged time at both defensive end and linebacker. Linton resembles an outside linebacker/edge type defender which is difficult to scheme with in a 3-3-5 defense but can be done. What the redshirt-sophomore excels in is pass rushing, but can he be a consistent threat? The Dublin high school product has only managed to get to the quarterback in the backfield once in 23 career games. On top of that, can Linton develop into potentially an every down lineman in this defense? With his frame, probably not.

Jatius Geer

Former three-star recruit who played in one game last season and subsequently redshirted.

Elijah Fuentes-Cundiff

Played in two games as a true freshman last season. The Bronx native tallied two tackles against UAlbany.

In Summation…

It’s obvious that there are few, if any proven options returning in the defensive line group. Expect Okechukwu, Lockett, and Darton to be the starters from left to right. Syracuse hurt itself a bit by not attacking the transfer portal over the offseason. SU’s d-line group was weathered by a wave of transfers following the 2020 season. Additionally, all the super seniors returned for last season which may have turned off any potential incoming transfers and recruits. Oh and also, Babers got rid of Vince Reynolds, SU’s former defensive line coach, following the ’21 season.

From the looks if it, the Orange will get dominated in the trenches against ACC offensive lines game in and game out unless two things happen.

Syracuse needs all of its linebackers to play at an all-conference level. If the d-line can’t put up a fight in the trenches, the second level defenders need to be elite with gap fills.

The other thing that needs to happen is the talented incoming true freshman defenders need to emerge quickly. Either Francois Nolton Jr. or Denis Jaquez Jr. need to grow up quickly and be ready to contribute from the get-go.

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The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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