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Syracuse Football Preview: Defensive Line
Kevin Jobity Jr. (94) flexes during the Boca Raton Bowl.

A year ago, former SU head coach Dino Babers brought in well respected mind Rocky Long to head an SU defense that in back to back seasons had a top-30 total defense in the country. While Long’s 3-3-5 mindset put him on the map, it plummeted the Orange to 66th in total defense while being 13th in the ACC in pass defense. So with new head coach Fran Brown looking to build a program around him, he went to an old friend, Elijah Robinson, who made it very clear that there are some changes coming to the defense.

“We wanna bring this team down to two things: technique and effort... our guys are gonna buy into it,” Robinson said. “We’re gonna make sure that it’s simple where they can play fast, be in a four-down front and get out there and do multiple things. We want to be an aggressive unit. We don’t want to sit back and fish. We want to hunt.”

That four-down front is a big change from last year's 3-3-5, especially with Caleb Okechukwu and Terry Lockett Jr. both exiting the program, due to graduation and the transfer portal, respectively. So, how does Syracuse plan to fill the trenches?

Fadil Diggs

Arguably the biggest transfer on the defensive side of the ball, Fadil Diggs is primed for the best season of his career. The senior is coming in after four seasons at Texas A&M where he boasted 75 tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss and 8 sacks. Diggs has a speed rush mentality off the right side and has swim moves that made every quarterback in the SEC scared to stay in the pocket too long. Add his 6’5”, 260 pound frame with speed that could rival most linebackers, many running backs won’t look to test their luck towards the outside.

Isaiah Hastings

One former SEC player will add depth but another most certainly won’t hurt. Isaiah Hastings spent two seasons at Alabama where he played just one game but gained a plethora of experience from one of the best college football minds, Nick Saban. The Toronto, Canada native is still learning the game of football but his 6’4”, 300 pound frame makes his bull rush pass block style a perfect fit for the Orange. The former four-star recruit also has an almost 84-inch reach which allows him to swallow up any attacks up the middle on the ground.

Freshman Phenoms

While head coach Fran Brown hit the transfer portal pretty hard, he also fell on what brought him to prominence, recruiting. KingJoesph Edwards was the biggest name in the class of 2024 and has the potential to be a true x-factor. Growing up, Edwards saw himself as a tight end which explains his high intensity and quick changes of motion. As the four-star recruit got bigger, he focused more on the defensive side of the ball and became more of a hybrid. While he may be undersized to truly fit in the trenches now, time at the college level will allow that quickness to be dangerous at rushing the passer.

A big part of what Elijah Robison plans for this new defensive line is to be aggressive and fast. How about adding a fast and smart edge rusher that reads defenses all day long. Caden Brown, son of former SU linebacker Alban Brown, has the strength to understand when an offense plans to run the ball and he is able to capitalize. The three-star is just 215 pounds as a lineman which doesn't set him up for success but establishing that speed early will add much needed depth.

It is not often that an interior defensive-lineman sets up almost standing. However, 6’5”, 285 pound Maraad Watson does just that and there is a good reason for it. Watson possesses that speed coach Robsinson is looking for, and he uses it to trample offensive linemen to get to the pocket. Rushing the ball just isn’t an option given his freakish size and speed. If the three-star can improve his pass rush moves a little bit more, it won't be a pleasant time lining up across from Watson

Returners, Reassemble

SU did lose some pieces in the offseason but they kept a nice haul of to add experience to all the newcomers. Braylen Ingraham, Kevin Jobity Jr., Denis Jaquez Jr., and Elijiah Fuentes-Cundiff all return to the Orange. Those four were responsible for 66 total tackles and over half of the defensive line turnovers and quarterback hurries in 2023. If that same production can be replicated in 2024 with more playing time, Syracuse’s D-Line can bolster the Orange back to the top-30 total defense.