first_imgOf 130 Division I FBS football teams, only No. 22 Syracuse returns more than one player with double-digit sacks in 2018: senior defensive ends Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman.The duo finished last season with 10 sacks each, helping lead an SU defense that sacked the opposing quarterback a whopping 43 times last year — a 27 sack increase from 2017.“I didn’t know that,” Coleman said of his and Robinson’s stats, “But that’s exciting news. I’m glad to know it now.”Coleman and Robinson are arguably the best defensive end pairing in the country, but they alone were not why SU’s defensive line was so successful in 2018. Former nose tackle Chris Slayton — now with the New York Giants — constantly commanded a double-team in pass protection and wreaked havoc in the run game. Slayton’s presence allowed Coleman and Robinson to work one-on-one versus opposing tackles, something they may not enjoy this year.Often, Slayton’s efforts in the middle allowed SU to pressure quarterbacks without blitzing. With him gone, Coleman and Robinson are sure to command more attention from opposing blockers while Syracuse sorts out its defensive line rotation in the middle. If the Orange can even somewhat replace Slayton’s impact in the middle, Syracuse could have one of the best front-sevens in the country. They are, as the signs in their meeting room say, “earning the right to rush forward.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“We wanted to make sure our coaches were comfortable with us and understand that we could do our jobs, basically,” senior tackle Kenneth Ruff said of the sign’s meaning. “Being aggressive up front, just taking up gaps, being able to be productive up there with just (the defensive line).”Being able to pressure the quarterback with only four pass-rushers creates a greater numerical mismatch for a defense. Without blitzing linebackers or safeties, the Orange can defend in the secondary with a seven-to-five player advantage. Playing with a nickelback instead of a third linebacker, SU’s defense played its best the second half of the season — save for Notre Dame — averaging 4.25 sacks per game in the final five games of 2018.With Slayton gone, the model to generate pressure has changed. Attention will shift to Coleman or Robinson, who may command now double-teams, leaving interior linemen like Ruff, Josh Black and Kingsley Jonathan a chance to collapse the pocket from head on.“Alton (Robinson) and I get a lot of attention,” Coleman said. “A lot of notoriety, but we’re not the only guys on this defense. So I personally feel that if they send double teams either of our way and leave it one-on-one in the middle, our opponents will find there are guys there too.”While much of what SU wants to do defensively hinges on the interior of the line, Coleman and Robinson are still the clear headliners.Robinson — who came out of high school as a three-star recruit with offers from Alabama and Michigan — looks the part of NFL pass rushing prospect at 6-foot-4, 260 pounds and a potent combination of speed and strength coming off the edge. Coleman, who came to SU as an undersized freshman, struggled in his first season, but has earned himself a starting spot opposite Robinson.Babers raves about Coleman’s football acumen and technique, noting he’s never coached another player remotely like him. As he honed his skills and mind, Coleman physically caught up and last season finally overcame his early struggles.Though each end has their own archetype — Robinson is the dominant athlete, Coleman the technician — they can mimic each other’s abilities seamlessly. Robinson can switch it up and use more technique-driven pass rushing moves and vice versa for Coleman with power and speed moves.“They’re a fabulous combination,” Dino Babers said of his defensive ends in camp. “I think sometimes Kendall doesn’t get his due because of the way Alton carries himself and rightly so. But I think you saw in the West Virginia game, where Alton didn’t play, how explosive Kendall is.”The Orange’s four listed starters for Saturday’s opener at Liberty are all upperclassmen: Robinson, Ruff, Black and Coleman. Three of those four have spent their entire careers at SU — Robinson transferred from a junior college — and played significant time as freshmen and sophomores on SU’s defensive line.As underclassmen during Babers’ first year, the defense surrendered nearly 40 points per game and helped generate a meager 16 sacks in a lost 4-8 season in 2016.But all the struggles and lows are paying off now. In a recent scrimmage, the sound died down for a moment and Coleman heard Robinson yell from the other end of the defensive line, “Hey Kendall, it’s coming your way!” The handoff went right at Coleman.The ability to decipher opponents plays pre-snap and communicate it quickly down the line is perhaps SU’s biggest advantage up front. With four players starting who have a combined 113 games played (66 starts), it’s arguably SU’s most experienced group of starters.“The keys, the backfield sets, even the eyes of the O-linemen,” Ruff said, listing different bits of information used to figure out the opponents call. “We know what we’re going to get.”In Liberty, the defensive line and Syracuse’s defense as a whole are dealing with the extra challenge of studying multiple sets of film. LU head coach Hugh Freeze has yet to coach a game for the Flames, so SU has doubled up on film, watching both Liberty’s personnel from last year and Freeze’s schemes from Ole Miss and other past stops.Luckily for Babers, the Orange has a defensive line that’s up to it. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on August 29, 2019 at 1:49 am Contact Andrew: aegraham@syr.edu | @A_E_Grahamlast_img