Syracuse begins its first season in the ACC with four nonconference games and a bye week -- plenty of time for league opponents to scout the Orange defense, and that’s exactly what the rest of the ACC is going to have to do.
First-year coordinator Chuck Bullough isn’t giving away any clues as to what his defense will look like this fall.
“I want our first few opponents to try to figure out what we’re doing,” Bullough said. “I don’t want to tell them we’re doing what we did last year, I don’t want to tell them we’re doing what I did with the Browns, with UCLA. Scheme-wise, I want them to have to figure it out the first couple of games on game day. I know they’re looking at all of our quotes just like we’re looking at all of their quotes. That’s probably the NFL in me, because in the NFL you give away no secrets.”
Bullough was hired at Syracuse after spending the 2011-12 season with the Cleveland Browns. Before that he was a defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at UCLA for five years. Considering he has been friends with coach Scott Shafer, who was the defensive coordinator at Syracuse for four years before being promoted to head coach, it's not surprising the two of them share a similar philosophy based on a 4-3 attacking scheme that is blitz-friendly. The two have known each other since they met at Western Michigan in 2005 and a shared appreciation for the scheme was a big reason for the hire.
Bullough, though, will put his stamp on the defense this fall. Syracuse opens with Penn State before facing Northwestern, Wagner and Tulane. It’s not until Oct. 5 -- at home against Clemson -- that Cuse will play its first ACC game.
Not only will Clemson have had plenty of film by that point, but Syracuse will also have had more than a month to work the kinks out and perfect its system. Most of the questions right now are up front, where Cuse lost three starters on the defensive line in ends Markus Pierce-Brewster and Brandon Sharpe and tackle Deon Goggins. Also gone are the team’s top two tacklers in linebacker Siriki Diabete and safety Shamarko Thomas.
Despite the questions that remain, Bullough said he is confident in what he saw this past spring.
“I feel good,” he said. “I feel confident with the guys. I think there’s going to be a large learning curve on their own between now and training camp. I think they got a feel for us at the end of spring for what we want. They have to coach themselves, but I feel we have some good strong leadership that will make sure that those guys are doing whatever they do without us. I think we have strong leadership that will help us improve before fall.”
Right now, nobody really knows what it will look like in Week 1 -- and that's part of the game plan.