August 7, 2007

Sack attack

A handful of players stood out last season in big and unexpected ways. Delone Carter wasted no time at all turning his freshman season into a showcase of his incredible ability. Before his injury, receiver Taj Smith showed that he could be an offensive playmaker and the Orange's number one pass catching wideout.

But Carter was a highly touted recruit and Smith's season was cut short. So perhaps the biggest surprise for Orange fans last season was defensive end Jameel McClain. In 2005 McClain was hidden in the long shadow cast by defensive ends James Wyche and Ryan LaCasse. The two incredibly talented players didn't allow McClain to see much time at defensive end, and he finished the 2005 season with only one sack. When the duo graduated, though, McClain saw his opportunity and took full advantage.

Last season McClain emerged from relative obscurity to lead the Big East in sacks with 9.5 and finish 18th in the country in that category. His season ranks 11th all-time for Orange players. In hardly any time at all, McClain went from an unknown backup linebacker to the one player opposing quarterbacks were watching out for coming around the end.

But quarterbacks weren't the only ones McClain punished. His 14.5 tackles for loss were good enough for fifth in the Big East.

However, had anyone been paying attention to the company McClain was keeping, his success shouldn't have come as such a surprise. McClain got advice and tips on his pass-rushing tactics last off season from a former Syracuse legend: Dwight "The Fright" Freeney. Freeney terrorized opposing quarterbacks in the Dome before going on to be a key piece in the defending Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts' defense. He amassed 34 sacks in an Orange uniform before becoming the highest paid defensive player in NFL history.

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