ACC: Marcus Coleman

Syracuse loses two of its best defensive players from a year ago in linebacker Marquis Spruill and defensive tackle Jay Bromley, bringing up an intriguing question:

[+] EnlargeEric Crume
G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty ImagesSyracuse hopes senior Eric Crume will step up and help replace the productivity of DT Jay Bromley.
Who will be more difficult to replace?

Bromley manned the interior of the front, leading the team with 10 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. Spruill manned the middle of the field, matching Bromley with 14.5 tackles for loss, finished second with 5.5 sacks and ranked third on the team with 66 tackles. Not only does Syracuse lose their production, it also loses the veteran leadership both provided at their respective positions. The two combined to play in 101 career games, with 82 career starts.

You understand why coach Scott Shafer and defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough could not choose between them when posed with the question. Both players will be difficult to replace for separate reasons. But it may be a bit more difficult to replace Bromley based on depth questions at his position. Syracuse spent the spring cross-training ends to play inside and were pleased with how Micah Robinson and Ron Thompson responded to the challenge. The Orange may have to play true freshmen to help out on the line once they arrived for fall practice.

Still, Shafer said he does not want to have to rely on the young players. He expects Marcus Coleman, Eric Crume, Ryan Sloan and Wayne Williams to step it up during the offseason. Crume and Sloan are seniors and Coleman is a junior; while Williams is the most intriguing possibility. Overweight when he arrived on campus, Williams has done a good job slimming down but still has a ways to go.

"We've got to get to Phase 2, being summer conditioning and summer preparation and working your butt off when the coaches aren't around, and then when we get into that August mode, I look forward to seeing a new and improved Wayne Williams, and I'm very confident that we will," Shafer said.

As for replacing Spruill -- who started 49 of the 51 games he played in for the Orange -- Bullough and Shafer were pleased with the job Marqez Hodge did this spring. Hodge played as a true freshman a year ago, so he does not bring nearly the same amount of experience to the position. Bullough has challenged him to know the ins and outs of the defense before training camp begins. But Hodge is a quick study and has put in extra time in the film room, oftentimes watching completely alone.

"Spruill and Bromley, they were veterans and leaders. That’s the big part you’re missing," Bullough said. "Now new guys have to start leading. That is never something us coaches can do. They have to take it themselves, and that comes with a lot of things. When you look around them, out of defensive line, well Micah’s a year older, Robbie [Welsh] is a year old, Crume, all those guys are a year older so they should be a lot better than they were this past year. Hopefully with all that group being better makes up for Jay Bromley.

"Same thing on the linebackers. Dyshawn [Davis] is older, Cam [Lynch] is older, so you hope those guys, [Josh] Kirkland, [Alryk] Perry, them being a little better makes up for a little bit of Spruill not being there."
Syracuse has major depth concerns at defensive tackle. So the coaching staff has gotten creative this spring.

Defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough and defensive line coach Tim Daoust decided to start cross-training their defensive ends to play defensive tackle, hoping that a few play well enough inside to be even more valuable in 2014.

Call it a tryout of sorts.

"We told the defensive linemen, 'You have to know every position,'" Bullough said in a recent phone interview. "We only have four defensive tackles right now. You’d hate to go through spring ball and one gets nicked up and God forbid, two get nicked up and then you can’t practice. So they all have been rotating in, and it also helps them, too, helps toughen them up because there is a lot more pounding in there with a tackle and guard on you. We have been pleased with that. They’ve been picking it up. The benefits of them going in there and getting toughened up outweigh the negatives."

Losing starting tackle Jay Bromley leaves a gaping hole inside, but depth concerns have compounded his departure. John Raymon, who severely injured his knee last year against Georgia Tech, remains out. Bullough said Raymon may not be able to play at all in 2014.

Wayne Williams, whose arrival at Syracuse has been years in the making, is too overweight to contribute meaningfully right now. Bullough said Williams arrived on campus weighing 350 pounds and is now down to 340, but needs to shed even more to get a spot in the rotation.

"He gets tired so fast," Bullough said. "He is doing everything he can. It’s probably not going to happen during spring ball, so he will have to use the rest of the spring and summer to cut that weight."

Right now, Syracuse has returning starter Eric Crume at one tackle spot and Marcus Coleman and Ryan Sloan competing to win the spot Bromley left behind. Bullough said he may have to rely on the two freshmen the Orange just signed in February once they arrive on campus.

The cross-training idea makes perfect sense, especially since the Orange do have some depth at end.

"The thought is to get them in there now to see how they progress," Bullough said. "Micah Robinson is the first guy who comes to mind. He’s a big, tough kid. Right now, we’ll work them all, but in the end we will know, ‘OK these two defensive ends, or this one, can help us inside but the other ends don’t have to.' I have never been in this situation, where you are so low at one position. Freshmen have a hard time to come in and play, especially at the beginning. So we said, 'Let’s figure out now what end we’ll have to put in there if somebody gets hurt.'"
Syracuse opens its second spring in the ACC this week, and head coach Scott Shafer thinks there’s plenty for the Orange to be excited about. We talked with Shafer about some of the key issues facing Syracuse as it gets back to the practice field.

Winning the final two games of the season the way you did, how much does that momentum and energy carry over into a new year?

A: Any time you can finish a season with a bowl win, it gives some momentum going into the offseason. I think it affects the offseason program more than anything. The way the kids approach the strength program, conditioning, early morning workouts -- there’s just a sense of excitement across the board and anticipation for the next guys in. We lost a lot of good football players that played a lot of football, and now the kids that have waited their turn are competing to see who’s going to win the next opportunity. It’s right out there for them and they get to jump into a situation where the momentum is coming off a high note.

[+] EnlargeScott Shafer
Brett Carlsen/Getty ImagesScott Shafer went 7-6, including a bowl win, in his first season in the ACC.
Terrel Hunt made such big strides down the stretch. With that experience under his belt, what can this spring mean to him?

A: The thing with Terrel that always is the starting point is his ability to adapt. He’s had to adapt in his real-life situation with a lot of tough situations, coming up with his parents passing away, that sort of thing. He’s always been an extremely resilient kid. Now adding the confidence level that he’s played well toward the end of the season, the kids see him as a leader, which is natural for him. I think his command can continue to really affect the team, not just the offense.

From an Xs and Os and technique point of view, it’s important that he continues to grow with Coach [Tim] Lester coaching him every day, and I know he’s excited to do that. I think he can have a really good spring that can catapult him into being extremely prepared for a great fall.

Offensive coordinator George McDonald has talked about upping the tempo this year as Hunt gets more comfortable. How much could that help you guys offensively?

A: I think we finished fourth in the ACC in snaps offensively [at 73.7 per game]. We were right up there. If we can get four or five more a game, I think that would be a good goal, a good objective to try to reach. Being a former defensive guy, the tempo teams always cause you a little extra preparation. At the end of the day, it’s still execution between the whistles, but if we can put four or five more plays per game to our offense, it’ll help us a bunch.

That and being able to open it up a little bit with some of the wide receivers and kids we got back. Adrian Flemming we were excited going into the season and he got injured. He’s back and ready to go. I’m excited about the progress some of the kids that haven’t played yet for us offensively. Everybody knows Brisly Estime had a good season for us, especially the last half. But we’ve got some guys -- Corey Winfield is a young guy who’s had a great offseason. Sean Avant, I’m excited to see what he can do. Corey Cooper is another kid. On the outside, Jarrod West coming back and leading the way, Alvin Cornelius did some good things for us later in the season. And, of course, we’re always excited to get the ball in Ashton Broyld's hands. So I think there’s a sense of excitement for those kids to compete and be alongside with developing Terrel. The passing game scenario, we definitely have to continue to improve upon. And we have to stay strong with running the football.

You lose a big impact player in Jay Bromley. Do you think filling that hole on the defensive line is your biggest question mark this spring?

A: Yeah, I do. Losing a guy like Jason Bromley, it’s always tough to replace a guy who has played that much football. Eric Crume has played a ton of football for us, and he had a great offseason. I’m excited to see Eric step up to the plate. Some new names: Marcus Coleman hasn’t played yet but we’re going to put him on the field. We have a kid that we’ve recruited for a couple years in Wayne Williams that started at the midyear. He’s a kid we’re really excited about and now he’s ready to go after he went junior college. And then Ryan Sloan will get a bunch of snaps this spring. It’ll be definitely difficult to replace Jason, but in the same breath, I know these kids are excited for the opportunity.

Injuries were a big problem in the secondary last year, particularly at corner. But can the added experience that some of the backups got in 2013 be a bonus for you this spring?

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
AP Photo/David J. PhillipTerrel Hunt has another season in the Orange's offensive system after totaling 17 TDs last season.
A: That’s a great point. Julian Whigham was our third corner going into the season, but he was sitting behind two guys that had started for a few years each. When Keon [Lyn] went down and Julian started playing more, he and Brandon Reddish -- Brandon was the third, Julian was a three-and-a-half type of guy -- but Julian came in and had three interceptions. I’m excited about him. Brandon Reddish is a kid that’s played a lot of football and is now a senior. Wayne Morgan is a fast guy that we’ve moved around a little bit because we had depth at corner, but now we’re locking him back in at corner. Those guys, it was a little bit of a difficult situation at the time, but you move to the season after the injuries and those kids have played more than we anticipated, and you have more experienced depth, which is key.

Bromley, Jerome Smith, Macky MacPherson -- you lost some important leaders on your team. Who do you see stepping up to fill that void?

A: Only time can tell. You never want to try to force or anoint leadership. A guy like Cam Lynch on defense, he walks into a situation that’s natural for him. He’s well-versed in football and is an excellent student as well. He carries himself where he’s already been a natural leader as an underclassman. Dyshawn Davis is an excitable player who loves the game, and he’s got some qualities that are different than Cam. His sense of excitability has its own merit. We have a couple quiet leaders in Micah Robinson -- it’s not always the guy that stands up and says things. It’s a guy or a group of guys that establish themselves as guys that show the way, model the way, and other guys get on board. We have a lot of those guys. On the offensive side, Terrel is still an underclassman, but he’s a natural leader. Kids follow him. And then Sean Hickey decided to come back and we’re very happy and excited he’s back. He’s one of the best silent leaders you could have. He works every day. He’s a perfectionist, and when you have guys doing things right consistently, sometimes those are your best leaders.

Syracuse’s first ACC season was largely successful, but you’re in a division with the defending national champions in Florida State, the Orange Bowl champs at Clemson and a team in Louisville that has won 23 games the past two seasons. Is that something you remind your team about as motivation this time of year, or is it something that can be intimidating?

A: It’s just one of those things that’s reality. We don’t talk about it much. We talk about controlling the things we can control, and that’s where we start off every meeting almost. We talk about what we can do to get better. We understand the bar is high, especially on our side of the division, but that’s what we signed up for. As coaches, we wanted to play in those venues with the best teams in the country. As players, you always imagine yourself playing the best. Now we get to live it. That’s exciting. I can think about all my biggest victories in my career as a coach and say they wouldn’t be the biggest victories if we didn’t get a chance to knock down the giant. So we’ve got a couple giants on our side of the division, and now what we want to do is really focus in on the business at hand -- spring ball, a civil war, offense and defense getting after each other, focus on improving by trying to knock the guy down that’s across from me and then pick him up as a teammate. We’ll have our goals with winners and losers this spring and understand that you learn a lot when you win, you learn a lot when you lose and really embrace that mentality, and not focus on the other teams right now.