If there’s one position that’s been a strength on the Syracuse University football team’s defense over the past several years, it’s been linebacker. This year, however, the Orange will be forced to replace a pair of stalwarts out of the linebacking corps in Cam Lynch and Dyshawn Davis. Fortunately for the Orange, not only is there a lot of outstanding young linebacking talent already on the roster, but Scott Shafer and his staff will be bringing in a pair of true freshmen who should have a chance to make an immediate impact on the field.
We’ve talked before about Shy Cullen, a 6-foot-1, 210 pound athletic freak at the outside linebacker position. Along with Cullen, the Orange will also be welcoming in Troy Henderson, a 6-foot-1, 215 pound prospect from Ohio who comes in with a personal connection to Syracuse football history: his grandfather grew up with Orange legend Ernie Davis.
Cullen was an early commit, verbaling to the Orange before any of the other big boys really came calling. Because of this, he continued to fly a bit under the radar despite being a physically dominant specimen. One other reason for his under the radar recruitment, which we learned from his stepfather, John Brewer, was that he had some early issues with getting his grades up, which have since been resolved.
Henderson, on the other hand, reportedly started getting plenty of interest from big time programs after committing to the Orange. Fortunately for Syracuse, Henderson was locked and loaded for Syracuse, and politely declined any further recruiting pitches while staying firm to the Orange.
Syracuse has plenty of depth at the linebacker position at the moment, with players like Marqez Hodge and Zaire Franklin expected to start this year, and right now Parris Bennett looks like the front runner to round out the starting trio. The Orange also feature Colton Moskal and Jonathan Thomas, while players like Oliver Vigille and Alryk Perry provide added depth. Junior college transfer Ted Taylor could also factor into the 2-deep when fall rolls around.
But considering how young the Syracuse linebacking corps is – Hodge is a junior, while Bennett and Franklin are sophomores – don’t be surprised to see Cullen and Henderson work their way into the rotation early on. At the very least, both seem poised to contribute on special teams, as both come in physically ready to play at the Division I level. Cullen’s workout regimen is already turning into the stuff of legend, and Henderson recorded a staggering 171 tackles as a senior at St. Edward’s in Cleveland. Henderson is also a member of the National Honor Society, meaning picking up the playbook will most certainly not be a problem for the talented linebacker.
Syracuse loses a lot from its defense, which ranked in the top 30 in overall defense a year ago, but the Orange coaching staff did an outstanding job addressing those losses with this year’s recruiting class – particularly with regard to the front seven. The Orange only bring in two freshmen linebackers, but in Cullen and Henderson, it looks like they’ve got two potential All-Conference caliber performers joining the mix. Don’t be surprised to see either one getting significant snaps when fall camp rolls around.