Coaching 'em up: Syracuse

I started a series called coaching 'em up last month, where I take a look at one assistant coach whose unit will be in the spotlight this season. But the series got lost in the shuffle of media days and preview stories. So I am going to finish the job this week. We pick up where we left off with Syracuse.

Coach: Dan Conley

Position: Linebackers

Experience: Conley has served as linebackers coach since 2008, his first assistant coaching job on the FBS level. Before that, he spent time at Wagner College, Iona, West Virginia Tech, Canisius College and Southern Connecticut. Conley has deep roots in Syracuse, though, having played there. He served as team captain in 1994 and was voted to the school's all-century team.

His challenge: Syracuse lost its two top players and two emotional leaders in linebackers Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue. Hogue was a first-team All-Big East pick last season, while Smith made the second team. The two combined for 209 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss, and were a big reason why the Orange made it to a bowl game for the first time since 2004.

In at middle linebacker for Smith is Marquis Spruill, who played on the outside last season. Dan Vaughn is starting on the strong side, and true freshman Dyshawn Davis on the weak side. This group obviously has to grow up in a hurry in order to be as productive as the group last season. Spruill is the only one among the three that has started a game for Syracuse.

Defensive coordinator Scott Shafer likes Spruill in the middle because his speed and athleticism allow him to be effective sideline to sideline. Davis has turned heads since he entered Syracuse in the spring, running with the first team almost immediately. Defensive end Chandler Jones gave this assessment of Davis: "He’s doing exactly what I expected him to do. He’s making a lot of plays for us."

Previously spotlighted: