With the dismissal of Qaadir Sheppard and Amir Ealey from the Syracuse football team, defensive end suddenly becomes even more of an area of extreme need than it already was. Amazingly, despite being redshirt freshmen, Jake Pickard and Kenny Carter are suddenly the elder statesmen of the group, soon to be joined by 2016 signees Jaquwan Nelson, Kendall Coleman, and Josh Black. But that’s not enough depth, and it might turn out that Dino Babers and his staff look inward to find more options.
There’s a very good chance that the Orange will turn to the graduate transfer and junior college ranks in an effort to shore up the defensive end position, and there could be a sleeper out there who’s still unsigned in the high school ranks. But as we head into the spring, none of that does the team any good. They need bodies, and they need them now. After all, Pickard and Carter certainly can’t take every single snap, which they’ll have to do right now as the only two scholarship defensive ends returning for spring ball.
So, who are some viable candidates to get some work in at defensive end?
The first names to spring to mind are obviously current defensive tackles, such as Chris Slayton and Tyler Cross. Slayton was originally recruited as a defensive end, after all, before growing into a DT. Cross, meanwhile, is a quick and athletic player who isn’t quite as bulky as some of the other tackles on the roster, and could conceivably slide outside.
Steven Clark, meanwhile, has the motor and quickness to play on the edge but is likely in line to start in the middle, so for right now, I’m crossing him off the list. He’s a possibility to get a little work there, for sure, but I think the coaches will realize the team is better served having him clogging up the middle.
The first name I’m going to throw out there is one I’m not sure a lot of people would immediately jump to, but who I think has a very real chance of being used on defense, if it comes to it: Andrejas Duerig. The 6-foot-4, 297 pound freshman is currently thought to be in line for a spot on the two deep at center, but he’s a natural athlete who should be able to make the transition fairly well.
Duerig was a tight end before growing into an offensive lineman, so he’s certainly got some speed and quickness to add to his big, powerful frame. He also played plenty of defensive line in high school, both in Indiana and later when he transferred to Mount Carmel in Chicago. Of all the linemen on the roster, I think Duerig is easily the most likely to switch to the other side of the ball.
The other strong possibility to get some work on the defensive line is Kenneth Ruff, the 2016 middle linebacker signee who certainly checks the box when it comes to being physically ready to play in the trenches if needed. He’s about 6-foot-2, and while he’s generally been listed in the 235-245 range, I’m told he came to campus weighing in at 255. He’s a big, strong kid, and his athleticism could make him a promising (if slightly undersized) player on the edge.
I already mentioned Slayton and Cross as strong possibilities to get some time at defensive end, and Anthony Giudice is certainly another possibility among the current defensive tackles. Giudice saw some action as a true freshman last season, though I think it’s likely the 6-foot-1, 273 pound Connecticut native winds up staying mostly on the inside.
Keep an eye on this as spring ball begins, however. Bodies will be needed to play defensive end, and right now, I’m leaning heavily toward Duerig and Ruff getting long looks from the coaching staff.