For a successful 2020 season, Syracuse football looks for key players to carry the load. After recent departures, take a look at who could step up.
Following a 5-7 season, Syracuse football is looking to rebound. The defense last season struggled at times, and opposing offenses moved down the field with ease. Problems on defense translated to a coaching carousel this offseason. Defensive coordinator Brian Ward was fired midseason last year and left a void. After the season, Syracuse believed they found its coach in Zach Arnett, but they struck out. Eventually, they secured Tony White and his 3-3-5 defensive scheme to come to the Hill.
While the defense is adopting a new style of play, some critical players will make the transition easier. At each level from d-line to secondary, there is one player that sticks out as an x-factor. If these players can perform at a high level, then Tony White can call his first year at ‘Cuse a success.
With almost no contest, Andre Cisco is the most talented player for Syracuse and will lead the defense. This year is especially important for him because it will help boost his draft stock and potentially become the highest-drafted Syracuse player in recent history. But for now, he lines up as a safety for the Orange and already has the accolades.
His freshman year, Cisco tied for most interceptions in the nation with seven. In 2019 he added five more interceptions making him the FBS active leader in that category with 12 INTs total. Cisco is a two-time All-ACC selection and was the first true freshman to win All-America honors in program history.
Now that all of his accolades have been laid out, it’s apparent that Cisco is the key that turns the defensive wheel. With players graduating upfront, the Orange must find a way to rush the passer. However, if they have trouble doing so, there’s a lot of pressure on Cisco and the secondary to limit the passing game. But as we have already seen, Cisco is a ball-hawking safety with a knack for highlight hits. Expect Cisco to make an even bigger leap this season and lead the defense. Don’t be surprised if his play warrants consideration of being a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Syracuse football has seen players come and go, and recently the defensive line has seen an overhaul. With Kendall Coleman and Alton Robinson now in the NFL, they look to the current roster for answers. Josh Black is the name to watch to fill the pass-rushing need for ‘Cuse. Black enters his redshirt senior season and has more experience than most on the d-line. He’s a powerful, versatile pass rusher that can start at nose tackle or move to the end spot.
Last season Black had his best year yet finishing with 39 total tackles. He also brought down opposing QBs four times, which ranked top five on the team. As the Syracuse defense transitions into a new era, expect Josh Black to be a leader on the defensive line. It’s vital that the Orange cause havoc in the backfield this season. While the group does have some youth and inexperience, Josh Black is a welcomed veteran presence.
Mikel Jones could be the overall x-factor for the Orange. He has a ton of talent and is only a true sophomore. He followed in the footsteps of Andre Cisco and came to Syracuse from IMG Academy. In his first year, he already broke some program records and simply added some nice numbers. Jones led all Syracuse freshman in tackles with 38. His play led to him being selected as a third-team All-American by Pro Football Focus. He suited up in all 12 games last year and recorded four starts. Even though he’s a young player, he already has a full college season under his belt.
Syracuse needs a new leader at the linebacker spot after recent departures of solid players. Over the past few years, players like Andrew Armstrong, Kielan Whitner, and Lakiem Williams have held down the fort and were great at the position. But now it’s up to Mikel Jones. The talent is there for Jones, and he just needs to execute this season.
Syracuse football has talent throughout the defense, but now it’s all about cohesion and getting all the pieces to come together to bounce back this season.