Line ’em up: Unproven linebackers must make up for loss of Hogue, Smith

first_imgSyracuse’s linebacking corps keyed the Orange’s rise up the defensive rankings in 2010. The Orange had a top-10 defense and much of the credit goes to senior linebackers Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue and the leadership they provided. But both are now in the NFL, which leaves Syracuse with a couple of major holes to fill. Marquis Spruill, Dan Vaughan and Dyshawn Davis enter the season as Syracuse’s starting linebackers. There are also a handful of guys behind them striving to get on the field this season. One thing’s for sure: There is more youth and inexperience at linebacker than last season. But there might be more athleticism at the position than SU has had in years. StartersAdvertisementThis is placeholder text Dyshawn Davis Height: 6’3′ Weight: 213 Class: Freshman Hometown: Woodbury, N.J. Dyshawn Davis was never a linebacker before coming to Syracuse. At Woodbury (N.J.) High School, he caught 80 passes as a wide receiver and committed to Syracuse as a receiver for the Class of 2010. Then he spent last season at Milford Academy in New Berlin, N.Y., where he played receiver and safety. Davis would be an intriguing option at wide receiver for sure. At 6 feet 3 inches, 213 pounds, he has the size to wreak some havoc in the passing game. But when he enrolled early last spring to practice with the Orange, the coaches made the decision to move Davis to linebacker — a position that needed bodies after Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue graduated. And he excelled right away. So much so that he left the spring as a starting outside linebacker. In preseason camp, it looks like he has held on to that job. ‘Dyshawn Davis runs as well as any linebacker that I’ve ever been around on the field,’ SU head coach Doug Marrone said. ‘Now his 40-time may not be that way, but as far as on the field, he can flat run.’ Linebacker Dan Vaughan said Davis has really progressed in learning the defensive schemes and knowing where to go. He said he’s at the point where even though Vaughan talks to him in between plays, it isn’t needed nearly as much. ‘On the field, I’m kind of talking with Dyshawn in between every play really, and we kind of know what we’re thinking,’ Vaughan said. ‘I’ll try and go say something, and he’ll like cut me off. He’ll be like ‘yeah, yeah,’ and he’ll finish my sentence.’ Marquis Spruill Height: 6’1′ Weight: 216 Class: Sophomore Hometown: Hillside, N.J. Marquis Spruill has a lot of responsibility this year. He’s the lone returning starter after spending last season alongside two savvy seniors in Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue. He recorded 51 tackles and nine tackles for loss last year in a solid freshman campaign, but he has moved inside to the ‘Mike’ (middle) linebacker position. It is a position that Spruill has never played before, but linebackers coach Dan Conley said though his transition has not been seamless, it has been comfortable. ‘Has he picked up where he left off in spring ball? Yeah, I think so,’ Conley said. ‘And he’s continuing to learn the ‘Mike’ linebacker position, where Derrell had experience going into that position.’ Spruill looked good in preseason camp, even while being hobbled by a leg bruise. For the SU defense to repeat its success from last year, he may need to put up the same production as well. He’ll at least have to make up for some of Smith’s leadership. ‘I’ve been trying to educate him and let him know that’s a really important role,’ Conley said. ‘That if you’re the ‘Mike’ linebacker of that defense, there’s a lot of times you’ve got 10 sets of eyes on you.’ Dan Vaughan Height: 6’2′ Weight: 219 Class: Senior Hometown: Gibsonia, Pa. Dan Vaughan is finally getting a chance. He spent the past two seasons primarily on special teams, and even when he was placed at the top of the depth chart at the beginning of spring practice this year, there were questions as to how long he would stay there. But he has flourished. Linebackers coach Dan Conley said Vaughan knows the ins and outs of all three linebacker positions in SU’s defensive scheme. He could trust Vaughan to know where to be at any of the positions. Vaughan said he’s really improving throughout preseason camp. ‘I feel great. I mean, even I’m learning new things,’ Vaughan said. ‘Even if it’s not, I’m learning new things on the defense, I’m honing what I know. Coach Conley and coach Anselmo are great, and they’re really getting us all tuned in to the defense.’ Vaughan recorded 10 total tackles over the past two seasons. Outside of Spruill’s 51, those are the only 10 tackles recorded by Syracuse starting linebackers. SU head coach Doug Marrone said he feels very good about the starting linebacker corps, though. Vaughan has the football IQ and knowledge of the defense. He just has to utilize it. ‘Danny’s always been a very good technical player,’ Marrone said. ‘Making plays, knows how to line up, tough. Injuries have hurt him in the past and he’s been healthy (this camp).’ Reserves Cameron Lynch Height: 5’11’ Weight: 223 Class: Freshman Hometown: Lawrenceville, Ga. In the middle of Southeastern Conference territory, Cameron Lynch dominated. He’s a bit undersized for a linebacker at 5 feet 11 inches and 223 pounds, but he played big for Brookwood (Ga.) High School. As a senior, Lynch racked up 188 tackles and a school-record 18.5 sacks. As a junior, he had 135 tackles. All of this coming at the AAAAA level — the highest in the state of Georgia and in the Atlanta area, which is one of the most highly recruited parts of the state. Yet the Southeastern Conference coaches stayed away. ‘Some of the defensive coordinators in the Southeastern Conference that I ran into said, ‘Well, hey, if he was three or four more inches bigger we might have taken him at our school,” head coach Doug Marrone said. ‘Well, that’s good for us.’ So Lynch, a three-star prospect as rated by Rivals, signed with the Orange. He turned down offers from Air Force, Akron, Harvard and Vanderbilt. Early in camp, Lynch has impressed with his high football IQ and foot speed. He’s part of a linebacking group that is the fastest SU has had in recent years. Linebackers coach Dan Conley and assistant head coach John Anselmo both feel Lynch can earn playing time on special teams at the very least in 2011. Because Marquis Spruill is the only returning starter at linebacker, perhaps Lynch can even work his way onto the field with the rest of the defense. ‘Sometimes we get caught up in, ‘You have to be this tall. You have to be this amount of weight,” Marrone said. ‘Sometimes we lose sight of the guy that can just flat out play football. And I think Cameron Lynch can go out there and just flat out play football.’ Lewellyn Coker Height: 6’1′ Weight: 218 Class: Sophomore Hometown: Warren, Ohio Lewellyn Coker played mostly special teams last year, but did make it onto the field in every game for the Orange. At 6-foot-1, he is among the taller linebackers on the team. He only weighs 218 pounds and uses his speed to make plays. At Warren G. Harding High School in Ohio, he ran varsity track and field for four years. He also made over 100 tackles as a senior in high school. Coker was listed as the first backup to Dyshawn Davis at the weakside linebacker spot entering training camp, but his biggest contributions this year will likely come on special teams again. He has since switched with Siriki Diabate and will play outside linebacker this season. ‘If they’re not starting, then a lot of those guys will be a part of the special teams,’ linebackers coach Dan Conley said. ‘They’re guys that can run, get off blocks and make tackles on the defensive special teams like punt, kickoff coverage, the teams that you can get scored on, those are defensive mentality type of special teams.’ Coker made six tackles for the Orange last year. Siriki Diabate Height: 5’10’ Weight: 210 Class: Junior Hometown: Bronx, N.Y. Siriki Diabate joins the Orange this season after dominating the Northeast Football Conference with Nassau Community College for two years. The Ivory Coast native recorded 92 tackles and scored three defensive touchdowns for an 11-0 NCC team last year. That led to his selection to the All-NFC First Team in 2010. He played running back and linebacker at Doug Marrone’s alma mater, Lehman High School, in the Bronx prior to Nassau. Diabate is another one of the smaller but quicker linebackers that have joined the unit for SU this season. ‘You’ve got to have a kid that’s athletic enough to go out and cover a slot receiver, go out and run with him man-to-man,’ linebackers coach Dan Conley said. ‘But he’s got to be physical enough and strong enough to come in the box and play against teams that are running iso and power.’ Even though he is the shortest backer of the group, he was listed as the first backup to Dan Vaughan at the strongside linebacker spot entering training camp. He was moved to middle linebacker in preseason camp and has been backing up Marquis Spruill at that position. Oliver Vigille Height: 6’3′ Weight: 212 Class: Freshman Hometown: Miami The difference between this group of linebackers and that of last year’s Syracuse team is speed. The 2011 bunch is loaded with smaller, faster guys that can run like defensive backs. Oliver Vigille is one of those guys. He has a nice height at 6 feet 3 inches tall, but he’s a bit lanky right now. He weighs only 212 pounds. Nonetheless, Vigille, Cameron Lynch and Lewellyn Coker have worked in the backup outside linebacker spots with Siriki Diabate in the middle throughout camp. Vigille moves extremely well and matches up nicely against tight ends because of his height. ‘Oliver’s done a really nice job,’ SU linebackers coach Dan Conley said. ‘He can run. You look at him and you say he could be a safety. He’s one of those kids who’s real smooth through transitions.’ Like Lynch, Vigille’s best chance to get on the field is on special teams. Aside from that, Conley said Vigille’s main focus will be on taking advantage of the weight room at Syracuse. He said Vigille has a body that can really be strengthened throughout the course of this year to turn him into a more complete player. ‘I think he’s a guy that will benefit from being in the program this year and being in the weight room and coming in early,’ Conley said. ‘He’s got a body that he could put probably another 15 or 20 pounds on of weight-room muscle.’ Vigille chose Syracuse over Florida International, South Florida and Central Florida. Who are they replacing? Derrell Smith Height: 6’1′ Weight: 232 Class: Graduated — signed with Tampa Bay Buccaneers The defense lost its leader, plain and simple. Linebackers coach Dan Conley will be the first one to tell you that the ‘Mike’ linebacker is one of the most important positions on the field, and Derrell Smith played it well. ‘That’s a position, in my opinion, the ‘Mike’ linebacker where he’s the leader of that defense,’ Conley said. ‘I don’t care if he’s a freshman or a senior.’ Last season, Smith and fellow linebacker Doug Hogue anchored the Syracuse defense. Smith tallied 114 total tackles, the most on the team. He was the only person to top 100. He also forced three fumbles. But perhaps even more important than his on-field production was his leadership. In addition to leading the defense, Smith was a leader in the locker room for the Orange. When the coaches were not around, Smith was one of the players who took it upon himself to be a voice of reason. ‘When Derrell Smith said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get the team together,’ there was no discussion of whether or not we were going to have a team meeting,’ Conley said. ‘Derrell had a team meeting, and everybody got in there.’ Though he was originally a running back for SU, he leaves as one of the best linebackers in recent years. He is 10th all-time in tackles for loss. Smith was not drafted, but he signed with Tampa Bay after the lockout was lifted. Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris had been impressed with Smith early on and said he could compete for a starting spot. Doug Hogue Height: 6’2′ Weight: 226 Class: Graduated — drafted by Detroit Lions Now entering his rookie year with the Detroit Lions, Doug Hogue started his career at Syracuse as a running back. He piled up 483 yards on 112 carries in his first two seasons before jumping over to the defensive side of the ball. From there, he teamed up with inside linebacker Derrell Smith to become one of the key pieces of the Orange’s No. 7 overall defense a year ago. Both head coach Doug Marrone and linebackers coach Dan Conley said losing Smith and Hogue to graduation meant losing a great deal of leadership and experience. ‘Not only were they two good football players, they were better people and great leaders for us in the locker room and off the field,’ Marrone said. ‘That’s probably our No. 1 concern on the defensive side of the ball is leadership.’ Hogue was a big pass rush threat in his first season as a linebacker, recording 9.5 sacks as a junior. He set a Syracuse record with 6.5 tackles for loss in a single game against Rutgers in 2009. The sack numbers tailed off in his senior year, but he made 95 tackles in 2010 compared to 72 the year before. Conley also put the loss of Hogue and Smith into numbers. ‘The production for the linebackers, they had over 200 tackles last year,’ he said. ‘We had 950 plays. It’s roughly 20 percent.’ Brice Hawkes Height: 6′ Weight: 216 Class: Sophomore — dismissed from team in April Hometown: Pembroke Pines, Fla. There were high hopes for Brice Hawkes. After Malcolm Cater was dismissed from the team in December, Hawkes looked like the next-best young linebacker to step into a starting role. But he has always been in trouble. He and defensive tackle Andrew Lewis were both suspended for the Pinstripe Bowl in December for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Hawkes was suspended again for the start of spring practice, but did enter the spring as the starting weakside linebacker on SU’s pre-spring depth chart. He was not on the field for long before trouble struck again. This time, head coach Doug Marrone dismissed Hawkes from the team without explanation. Freshman Dyshawn Davis took the starting job and ran with it. Hawkes recorded 12 tackles last season for the Orange. Published on August 31, 2011 at 12:00 pm Facebook Twitter Google+center_img Commentslast_img

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