Football

Syracuse football’s defensive line is out to prove people wrong

Daily Orange File Photo

Chris Slayton and the Syracuse defensive line is motivated by its critics and has plenty to prove in 2016.

First Ron Thompson left for the NFL Draft with a year of eligibility remaining. Then graduate transfer Gabe Sherrod backed out of his Syracuse pledge to join Michigan State. And when Jake Pickard dressed in sweats for a recent practice, it couldn’t seem to get any worse for the Orange’s defensive line.

Pickard, who was listed as a first-teamer on the post-spring depth chart, is now a backup wearing a brace on his left knee. The only freshman starter, Kendall Coleman, jumped him on the depth chart and 296-pound Chris Slayton shifted from defensive tackle to the outside to help Syracuse at arguably its most depleted unit.

“If you’ve got a son or a friend who’s playing defensive end, get excited,” first-year SU head coach Dino Babers said. “Buy some tickets because they’re going to be in the game.”

For a team that ranked 12th out of 14 teams in the conference in rushing yards allowed per game, and last in average opponent yards per rush, losing three starters on the defensive line — Thompson, Donnie Simmons Jr. and John Raymon — certainly didn’t help. Instead, Syracuse will rely on an 18-year-old who’s never played a collegiate snap, a converted defensive end who put on eight pounds as he was supposed to anchor the interior with fellow defensive tackle Kayton Samuels this season and a host of others to plug the gaps in SU’s first line of defense.

On paper, there’s not much to believe in. But the defensive line is out to provide exactly that.

For starters, an ESPN article is pinned on the wall inside Syracuse’s locker room, Pickard told Syracuse.com. It ranks each of the Atlantic Coast Conference front sevens. The Orange is dead last.

It’s no surprise given the turnover and youth, two elements that leave more unknowns to be proven than sure bets. On one end, that’s been Syracuse’s hitch when it comes to offseason criticism of the defensive line. On the other, it’s right where the players waiting for their chance in the spotlight want to be.

“I just want people to be like, you watch Syracuse, you know, ‘OK, the D-line is bringing it,’” Samuels said. “No matter what age, no matter nothing.”

The two “veterans” of the unit are both redshirt sophomores. Samuels was a consistent starter last season and Slayton started five games. Aside from Samuels at nose tackle, don’t expect to see the same player at any of the other three spots up front.

Sophomore Steven Clark will get significant minutes. So too will Pickard, presumably, once his injury fully heals. Then there’s graduate transfer De’Jon Wilson at defensive end and freshman McKinley Williams and sophomore Anthony Giudice up front to provide some depth. Slayton, too, may even shift back inside if the Orange has enough to cover on the outside.

“Me and Chris are definitely the vets,” Samuels said. “(The young guys) are ready for it, just as much as we were ready for it.”

Slayton has the potential to be a breakout star on the defense. He’s the strongest player on the team and showed flashes of domination last season, recording six tackles for loss, good for fourth on the team.

“I’m just trying to be comfortable playing end, you know what I’m saying?” Slayton said.

Like the unit he leads, Slayton isn’t offering anything extravagant. He and the three others who will line up beside him Friday night aren’t in the position to make those statements given last year’s struggles.

But this is a new year. And the defensive line just wants people to wait and see.

Comments

Top Stories