Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Syracuse Football Preview: Defensive Line

Syracuse defensive linemen prepare for a snap at the line of scrimmage against NC State.
Syracuse defensive linemen prepare for a snap at the line of scrimmage against NC State.

As Syracuse football's season opener draws near, WAER Sports will release articles previewing position groups. A list of published articles can be found at the conclusion of this piece.


After back-to-back seasons with a top-30 finish in total defense, SU brings in new defensive coordinator Rocky Long to replace Tony White, who departed to Nebraska. Long comes in with boatloads of experience and high praise from head coach Dino Babers.

"You guys, he's really good I mean, check his record ask Alexa or Siri how good he is okay, you can't put what he's done in the past behind him, and we're very fortunate to have somebody with that type of experience."

No need to ask Alexa or Siri; Long spent the last three years as the defensive coordinator at New Mexico State. But before that had stints as head coach at San Diego State and New Mexico State. Long is currently the winningest coach in Mountain West Conference history and is largely credited for bringing the 3-3-5 defense to prominence. The first line of defense is the three D linemen, and the veteran coach has some studs to work with.

The Syracuse defense gang tackles Notre Dame running back Audric Estime.
The Syracuse defense gang tackles Notre Dame running back Audric Estime.

Caleb Okechukwu

The leader of the D line last season has returned for year 6. After pacing the team with seven sacks and ten tackles for loss, Okechukwu won the Tim Green Award, presented to the team's most outstanding defensive lineman. The veteran's impressive combination of burst off the edge, strong hands, and physical stature is a nightmare for opposing tackles. The DC native should be geared up and ready to lead this defense and potentially land a spot on one of the all-ACC teams.

Caleb Okechukwu runs home a pick-six against Purdue.
Caleb Okechukwu runs home a pick-six against Purdue.

Kevon Darton

It's not often you see a former walk-on front and center of a Power 5 defense, but SU is an outlier. At just 5'11, the undersized Darton made 11 starts at nose tackle for the 'Cuse last season. The redshirt junior is coming off the best season of his collegiate career, piling up 54 tackles, four tackles for loss, and three quarterback hurries. At the end of the season, Darton received the Ted Dailey Award for the defense's most improved player. The Massachusetts native should be a mainstay of SU's defensive front this season.

Sophomore Squadron

A great defense requires depth and SU has plenty of backup options this season to supplement the expected starters. Sophomores Terry Lockett, Denis Jaquez Jr, Elijah Fuentes Cundiff, Chase Simmons, and Kevin Jobbity Jr will all be in the rotation this season.

Jaquez Jr. has been named the third starting defensive lineman, along with Okechukwu and Darton. He appeared in just six games last year, recording three tackles and half a sack. Jaquez Jr. suffered a mid-season injury against Wagner that forced him to miss the final seven regular season games.

He played in the Pinstripe Bowl against Minnesota, and has earned a starting spot throughout the spring and fall.

Lockett and Jobbity Jr are the other headliners of the group. In Lockett’s first year in 2021, he appeared in 11 games, totaling 12 tackles and a pair of sacks. Heading into 2022, Lockett was poised for a big season. However, he suffered a season-ending injury against Virginia. Jobbity Jr on the other hand, saw loads of time last season with 13 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks.


While there is a lot to look forward to in 2023, the SU defensive front lost two of its leaders from last season, Jatius Geer and Steve Linton. Both players hit the transfer portal this offseason, with Geer off to South Carolina and Linton going to Texas Tech. Geer started 12 games on the edge and finished the year with 3.5 sacks, the fifth most ever by an Orange freshman. Linton was right with Geer in terms of productivity with 6 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Both players had significant impacts on last year’s success, and their loss will provide opportunity for new faces.

Fresh Faces

A new season also brings new contributors to the 315 to replace the old ones. The Orange bring in some exciting freshmen to this D-Line unit. 3 Stars Ty Gordon, Rashard Perry, Jalil Smith, and David Omopariola are the newest members of Rocky Long’s unit and will look to make an early impact on campus.

2023 Syracuse Football Preview Articles
Coaching Staff
Special Teams
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Running Backs