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Sports

2021 Syracuse Football Positional Preview: Defensive Line

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Cuse Athletics
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DE Josh Black (85, with football) celebrates his interception with teammates.

The Syracuse defensive line in 2020 can be summed up in one word: inefficient. The Orange averaged 2.4 sacks per contest, which placed them 10th in the 15-team Atlantic Coast Conference. Additionally, the SU front could not silence opposing rushers. Syracuse ranked in the bottom 20 nationwide in stopping carries at or behind the line of scrimmage at a staggering 14%. Head coach Dino Babers made a note about his defensive line at the ACC Media Day this summer, saying, “It always starts with the O-line and it always starts with the defensive line. You can't be good in football if you're not good at those two positions.”

Defensive line coach Vinson Reynolds utilized the 2021 recruiting class to answer Babers’ call for help. SU signed five defensive linemen, all top 15 prospects in their respective states. The second-year unit coach served as Syracuse’s exclusive interior coach from 2017-2019 and played a key role in the development of NFL draftees Chris Slayton and Alton Robinson. He has plenty of talented linemen, both repeating their seasons due to COVID and beginning their collegiate careers, to spark the Orange defense. Let’s meet the front three of SU’s 3-3-5 scheme.

Defensive Ends

Joshua Black, Redshirt Senior

If you’re an avid follower of Syracuse football on social media, Joshua Black might have graced your timeline during the offseason. From attending the ACC Media Day in a jet, asking his Twitter followers if he should play wideout, and doing backflips off brick walls, the 6’3, 270 monster showed his charismatic and light-hearted persona.

On the field, the defensive leader shined on the edge. He led all d-linemen on the team with 38 total tackles along with 4 behind the line for a loss of 13 yards. The Illinois native even picked off Georgia Tech’s Jeff Sims in SU’s lone victory. However, Black isn’t satisfied. On ACC Media Day, the sixth-year captain - accepting the NCAA’s COVID-19 year - made it clear he wanted to redo the misfortunes of last year and pave the way for future success.

“Felt like last year was not representative of who we are as a football team. It's part of my job to make sure we get on the right track before I head up out of here.”

Kingsley Jonathan, Redshirt Senior

Kinglsey Jonathan made a substantial jump from 2019 to 2020. Two years ago, the 6’4, 240 edge made 24 total tackles. Last season, he had 25 solo tackles and a total of 32. He exemplified his ability as a speed rusher, circling around tackles to lead defensive linemen with 3 sacks.

With 44 games under his belt, the native of Lagos, Nigeria has been a reliable option for Syracuse on the right side of the defensive line. His starting role stays with him entering 2021.

Cody Roscoe, Senior

2020 was Roscoe’s first season in the orange and blue after transferring from McNeese State. The number one depth option on the line saw action in every game last year. A dominant force off the weak side, he was in a team tie for 3rd with six tackles for loss. The 6,1, 270 end recorded a tackle for loss in three consecutive games in the middle of the season. Hailing from Houston, Roscoe has impeccable speed off the line that pressures the quarterback off the weak side.

Caleb Okechukwu, Redshirt Sophomore

From our nation’s capital, Caleb Okechukwu made his impact on the Orange for the first time last season. The 6’4, 265 power rusher was a consistent threat off the strong side last fall after battling through illness his freshman campaign. Okechukwu made an appearance in all 11 games and recorded 14 tackles along with one sack. Expect Okechukwu to make regular appearances in the d-line rotation for another season.

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Caleb Okechukwu chases down the quarterback versus Duke.

Latarie Kinsler, Freshman

Kinsler is listed as a freshman this season, taking his COVID-19 year given by the NCAA. The edge threat came into Syracuse as one of Florida’s top prospects. Rivals.com listed Kinsler as the No. 22 weakside defensive end in the Class of 2020 and the 68th best player in the state. It didn’t take much for the 6’3, 230 end to generate pressure in high school, recording 56 tackles and 14 sacks in his final full season. Although he didn’t see much action in the Dome last fall, Kinsler has traits to be successful from the weak side.

Jatius Geer, True Freshman

The headliner for defensive ends in the class of 2021 for SU is a 6’6, 255 freak of nature. Per 247 Sports, Geer is the highest rated recruit that coach Vinson Reynolds signed during his time at Syracuse. The South Carolinian was No. 14 in the state and received 17 offers, including Virginia Tech, North Carolina, and Georgia Tech. The future of the strong side defensive end lies in the hands of Geer. For this season, Geer may find himself in the jumbled defensive line rotation.

Chase Simmons, True Freshman

The Palmetto State was a hotspot for Vinson Reynolds’ recruiting class. Simmons comes in as one of three true freshman defensive ends. A three-star recruit according to 247 Sports, he led North Myrtle Beach High School to the 2020 state title. His dominating 6’4, 255 figure tallied 48 tackles and nine sacks. With his size, Simmons is a raw talent that could benefit under the coaching and development of coach Vinson Reynolds. It’ll be difficult for the 2020 All-South Caroline Defensive End to see significant snaps this fall.

Erik Slater, Redshirt Senior

Slater joins the Orange after four seasons at Lehigh. He made the move from Bethlehem to enroll in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, according to his personal Twitter account. Slater played outside linebacker exclusively for the past four seasons. The New Jersey native registered eight tackles in all three spring games for the Mountain Hawks. He could see an ample amount of special teams time, just as he did during his freshman season at Lehigh.

Patrick Alberga, Freshman

A native of Saranac Lake, NY, Alberga elected to take the NCAA’s COVID-19 year this season. Before coming to The Hill, the 2019 Champlain Valley Offensive Lineman and Defensive Player of the Year led Saranac Lake High School to the Section VII Championship. Standing at 6’3, 250, Alberga is a depth option for Syracuse entering his second season.

Derek McDonald, True Freshman

Rounding out this corps is the last of 3 true freshman defensive ends. In McDonald’s senior season for the Marist school in Atlanta, he put up a staggering 70 tackles and forced four fumbles. The three star recruit has quick jumps off the line of scrimmage and raw athleticism off the strong side. Expect McDonald to receive reps with the special teams unit this fall.

Interior Defensive Linemen

McKinley Williams, Redshirt Senior

When McKinley Williams is on the field, opposing offenses are in trouble. The tenured interior lineman led the team with eight tackles for loss on his way to 35 total wrap ups last fall. His redshirt senior season will be his fifth consecutive year starting at defensive tackle. McKinley Williams is a man on a mission. 2020 was a career year for the 6’4, 285 Floridian. With power moves off the rip, a low center of gravity good enough to rush through guards, and bursts of athleticism in the backfield, “Grizz” Williams is a player ready to make his lasting mark on the program.

Curtis Harper, Redshirt Junior

A story of patience and determination, Curtis Harper is a hard-working nose tackle for the Orange. After sitting out his first season and making only one tackle in his second stint in 2018, the DT from McKeesport, PA made sure he’d see more action. He appeared in 11 contests in both 2019 and 2020, starting every game last season alongside Williams. Harper registered 14 tackles while playing multiple positions on the line. With his 6’2, 285 frame, it wouldn’t surprise the Orange faithful to see the fourth-year stay at the interior position rather than move around in the rotation.

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Curtis Harper (52, white) celebrates towards the sideline in a game vs NC State.

Kevon Darton, Redshirt Freshman

With the defensive ends, the depth is a solid mix of veterans and first or second year talents. For the interior defensive linemen, it’s full of young bucks. We will start with Kevon Darton, who served as a reserve d-lineman in 2020. He starred in four ACC games, including two multi-tackle games against Wake Forest and Louisville. Darton stands at 5’11, 295, fitting as a power rusher that excels in run defense. Darton will certainly be in a reserve position this season as he attempts to see time throughout the entire regular season.

Joe Rondi, Redshirt Freshman

Rondi, from just outside New York City, returns to the Orange after missing last season due to injury. The reserve nose tackle saw two games of action his freshman season. He will be in the same role this season, a place where Rondi can get his feet back under him and develop into a more comfortable role. He is neighbors with former Syracuse and New York Giants wideout David Tyree, famous for the Helmet Catch in Super Bowl XLII.

Terry Lockett, True Freshman

The No. 7 recruit in Massachusetts had offers from Michigan and Buffalo on the table. Instead, he decided to dawn the orange and join an interior group needing depth. Right away, Terry Lockett will have an opportunity to make an impact on this team. The native of Springfield racked up 156 tackles, 11 sacks, and 34 tackles for loss. And he didn’t play a senior season. In camp, Lockett should be battling for a backup role for Syracuse, mostly against Rondi. As the season progresses, the 6’3, 265 standout could be included inside the entire defensive line rotation.

Elijah Fuentes-Cundiff, True Freshman

Fuentes-Cundiff represents the fifth and final true freshman on the defensive line. The 6-4, 275 nose tackle arrives at the Cuse from the Bronx as the No. 3 prospect in New York State. He bulldozes interior offensive linemen with quick bursts off the snap. Fuentes-Cundiff will fight for a reserve job alongside Wright and Rondi, but his upside is noteworthy.

Elijah Wright, Freshman

From one Elijah to another, Elijah Wright is no stranger to the Syracuse-area. He led Solvay High School to the 2019 Class B Championship in the Dome his senior season, receiving All-CNY First Team honors from syracuse.com with 46 tackles and 11 sacks. Wright will be a reserve defensive lineman this fall and list as a freshman after accepting the COVID-19 year from the NCAA.