Syracuse lost six starters on defense, a unit that was a big reason why the Orange made it back into a bowl game.
So it comes as little surprise that the biggest question left unanswered for coach Doug Marrone is this: Who is going to step up as a leader on D?
“Who’s going to step up and take over there?” Marrone said recently from the league’s spring meetings. ”We work on it as coaches, and the players work on that type of accountability. That’s what the concern will be.”
The Orange lost two of their best players in Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith, who combined for 209 tackles, 19.5 TFLs, three interceptions and four forced fumbles. But they were also big-time leaders, guys their teammates could rely on both on the field and off.
Syracuse also lost its starting defensive tackles and starting cornerbacks. So how is leadership developed?
“We do a lot in leadership,” Marrone said. “We take a lot of time away from X's and O's and really train the players. You can’t really pick them. We found that out last year. We opened up some development sessions for the players last year and then see which ones rise to the occasion. We give everyone the opportunity to become a leader.”
Among the candidates: senior defensive linemen Chandler Jones, who has the potential to have a breakout year, and Mikhail Marinovich. Dan Vaughn is a senior and the man in the middle of the defense, so he has a chance, too -- even if this is his first year as a starter.
Marinovich and Jones are the only two returning starters who are going to be seniors so their leadership is going to be important. Safety Phillip Thomas, quite outspoken himself, has a chance to lead as well as a junior.
“It’s like that song by Kenny Chesney, ‘The Boys of Fall,’” Marrone said, referencing the end of the music video. “When Bear Bryant’s speaking to the team and they all go to leave, he says, ‘You’re all leaders. Everyone’s a leader.' It’s just a matter of what their role is.”