An already thin position just got a hell of a lot thinner, as it was announced today that defensive ends Qaadir Sheppard and Amir Ealey have been dismissed from the Syracuse football program. This comes on the heels of both players being suspended for the final three games last season due to repeated failed drug tests, which was already going to carry over into the 2016 season.

Sheppard, a 6-foot-3, 247 pound player from New York, and Ealey, a 6-foot-3, 237 pound player from Pennsylvania, both played as true freshman last season and looked to have the potential to be the starting defensive ends in 2016 until their suspensions threw a black cloud over their futures. Now, their football futures will not be at Syracuse.

Now, the Orange are faced with putting defensive ends on the field who have never played a down for Syracuse. Jake Pickard, a highly regarded prospect at 6-foot-6 and around 250-260 pounds, is the odds on favorite to start at one end, while the other side of the line will be up for grabs. Pickard redshirted last season after picking Syracuse over Michigan and Wisconsin.

Kenny Carter, a bit of a project added late in the class of 2015, is another possible option at defensive end, but seems less likely to start than a true freshman or, potentially, a late addition (including a potential graduate transfer). Kendall Coleman and Josh Black are both physically ready to play, and it’ll now be a matter of seeing how quickly they adjust to Division I football. And Jaquwan Nelson, who Syracuse kept despite a late push from Georgia, suddenly becomes the most important player in the class of 2016.

Babers mentioned yesterday when talking about Nelson that he could wind up being the most talented player in the class, and we’ll have to see that talent from the start of his career as the 6-foot-4, 230 pound Floridian will almost certainly get a ton of playing time early in 2016.

It’s also possible that Syracuse could slide one or two defensive tackles out to play on the end, with Chris Slayton and Ty Cross being likely candidates. Kenneth Ruff, another 2016 recruit who is already enrolled, is a big, physical body who could play defensive end in an emergency situation. At 6-foot-2 and around 250 pounds, the middle linebacker certainly has the physical attributes to get some run at defensive end if needed.

Keep an eye on this situation as it continues to develop, because this is suddenly the most intriguing position to watch as we head into spring ball.

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