By Sean Fernandez
Next up on our ‘Orange Outlook’ series is the linebackers. They are looking to make a name for themselves this year after struggling for the majority of the 2011 season.
5th year senior Dan Vaughan started 11 games last year as the OLB on the strong-side. He had 40 tackles and 2 sacks throughout the course of the year, and is the starter on the post-spring depth chart. He played his best game of the year in the finale against Pittsburgh, when he recorded 8 tackles against his hometown Panthers. We’re all crossing our fingers, hoping that Vaughan can carry this unit and play like he did in the game against Pitt. If he can continue that momentum, it’ll be a good sign for the Orange.
Marquis Spruill was one of the few bright spots of the Syracuse defense last year. In his first year at middle linebacker, Spruill earned Second-Team All-Big East honors after notching 62 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 fumble recoveries.
Unfortunately, a lower-body injury has forced Spruill to miss a good chunk of the offseason, including the annual spring game. All reports indicate that he’s currently healthy, but Doug Marrone has been adamant about injured players having to earn back their playing time. Spruill is currently listed behind senior Dan Vaughan at strong-side OLB, so he’ll have his work cut out for him if he is to return to the lineup as a starter.
For the time being, senior Siriki Diabate is your starting middle linebacker. He saw his first taste of the action on occasion last season, and impressed coaches when he was on the field. He’s a little small (5’10” 210lbs), but he is very active, and always seems to around the ball-carrier. If Diabate plays well, he’ll likely keep the job at MLB. If not, Spruill will have an opportunity to move back to the middle.
Dyshawn Davis saw the field frequently during his freshman season last year. He was impressive at times, but he also had his fair share of 'freshman' moments. He is a 6’3” 213lb outside linebacker that predominately plays on the weak side. Davis is very fast and has earned a reputation for being a hard-hitter. With another year under his belt, I wouldn’t be surprised to him see him shine this year as a member of the Syracuse defense.
Juniors Lewellyn Coker and Femi Allyu are also listed on the post-spring depth chart, but a significant amount of playing time for either of them is unlikely. These two will likely continue their limited roles on the defense and special teams.
The Syracuse defense, linebackers included, couldn’t stop a nosebleed during the second half of last season. The D conceded an average of 31 points a game during the brutal 5-game swoon that began after the WVU game. Looking ahead to this year, the expectations for the SU LB’s are pretty high. The performance of this unit will be a key for the Orange from day one. Vaughan, Davis, and Spruill will enter this season with experience, and Diabate is eager to prove his worth in the middle. It’ll be interesting to see how this unit performs in 2012.