It’s no secret that depth is a major issue for Syracuse at defensive end. While defensive tackle is a similarly young and inexperienced group, there are a number of players who have already been on the field and shown what they can do, at least in glimpses. Defensive end, on the other hand, is another story.
Gone are Ron Thompson, Donnie Simmons, Luke Arciniega, Qaadir Sheppard, and Amir Ealey. For most of the year last season, Thompson, Simmons, Arciniega, and Sheppard made up the 2-deep at defensive end. Thompson and Arciniega combined for 11.0 of the team’s 23.0 sacks in 2015.
And now, not a single player on Syracuse’s roster heading into 2016 has taken a single snap for the Orange. Yes, transfer De’Jon Wilson has on-field experience from his time at Colorado, but even he sat out all of last season. In other words: literally no one at defensive end for Syracuse registered a single play at defensive end during the 2015 college football season.
Somehow, redshirt freshman Jake Pickard has already become the elder statesman of the group. The 6-foot-5 pass rusher from New Jersey is in line to start at one end, and certainly has a good amount of pedigree and hype after choosing the Orange over Michigan and Wisconsin when he came out of high school.
On the other side of the line, however, things get murkier. Wilson certainly has a chance to come in and win the job, but this spring it was Kenneth Ruff, a true freshman and early enrollee, who became the de facto starter opposite Pickard. And while Ruff certainly has a lot of talent, that was obviously at least in part due to the fact that there were basically no other scholarship defensive ends on the roster. Tight end Trey Dunkelberger made the transition to DE, but is obviously still new to the position.
That means that Ruff, along with his fellow true freshmen, Jaquwan Nelson, Joshua Black, and Kendall Coleman, will all have a chance to make an immediate impact. All four are physically ready to compete. Ruff, who was originally considered a middle linebacker coming out of high school, is listed on the Cuse.com roster at 6-foot-1 and 264 pounds.
Nelson is the lightest of the quartet at 235 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame, but he may have the most pure talent of any edge rusher on the roster, in terms of being able to get after the quarterback. He’s a terrific athlete and Syracuse had to fight off a late push from Georgia to keep the one-time Miami commit.
Black, meanwhile, is 6-foot-3 and 257 pounds, and has a chance to be a physically dominating force on the end. He’s an extremely powerful kid who excelled in shot put in high school, and has the build of a power lifter. Strength won’t be an issue for him, it’ll mainly be about getting used to the speed of the college game.
And finally, Coleman is similarly physically read to compete from a height and weight standpoint, but it should be remembered that he’s coming off a torn labrum. There’s no question that the 6-foot-3, 252 pounder has a chance to be an immediate playmaker. The only question is whether he’ll be back to 100% health by the time the season rolls around. Additionally, he may need a little extra time to get back up to full strength since, obviously, rehabbing a shoulder injury has meant more limited time in the weight room than the rest of the freshman defensive ends.
I put up a poll on Twitter yesterday asking you guys what you think about Syracuse’s four true freshmen. The feeling so far is that Ruff’s time on campus, getting first team snaps throughout the spring and getting such a big head start on learning the Tampa 2, will give him a leg up on his DE classmates.
The fact is, there’s really no right or wrong answer here. At the end of the day, Syracuse doesn’t need one guy to step up and make an impact. If the Orange are going to have success on defense, they’ll need all four guys ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Which freshman DE will have the biggest impact for Syracuse this year?
— OttosGrove.com (@OttosGrove) July 28, 2016