3 storylines for Syracuse entering the 2019 season

first_imgSyracuse wrapped up fall camp Friday and has turned its attention toward Week 1 opponent Liberty.Through four weeks of camp, SU’s defense maintained its claim as the team’s best unit while the offense, still determining the hierarchy of reps, comes into focus. As the Orange finally enter a game week — opening the season at Liberty on Aug. 31 — for the first time all season, here are three storylines from fall camp.A dominant defenseFor the first time in the Dino Babers era at Syracuse, the defense is poised to be the team’s better unit — at least in the beginning of the season.“I saw a defense dominate the entire scrimmage,” Babers said on Aug. 7. “If you’ve got a good defense, suppose you have a chance to win, right?”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textHeadlining the Orange’s defense are seniors Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman, a defensive end duo that each delivered 10 sacks a season ago. Robinson and Coleman’s success rushing the edge was predicated on nose tackle Chris Slayton, now a member of the New York Giants, drawing double teams in the middle.Syracuse doesn’t have an immediate plug-and-play option to replace Slayton. The likeliest path to replacing Slayton’s production is rotating defensive linemen in the middle. Upperclassmen Josh Black, McKinley Williams and Kenneth Ruff contended for reps in camp, while defensive ends Brandon Berry and Kingsley Jonathan could also rotate inside at times. The development of options in the middle bears extra importance now, since Williams is out indefinitely with a left lower leg injury.“I’d be very disappointed if we don’t have the same type of production out of those three guys together that we got out of (Slayton),” Babers said on Aug. 5.Amy Nakamura | Co-Digital EditorIn the secondary, the Orange have an array of diverse options at cornerback and two returning anchors in Evan Foster and Andre Cisco at safety. Sophomores Trill Williams and Ifeatu Melifonwu are young and tall cornerbacks, standing at 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-3, respectively. Seniors Chris Fredrick and Scoop Bradshaw, both 5-foot-11, have a combined 52 starts and 22 passes defended.Foster is the physical presence at the back of Syracuse’s defense, delivering hits and hovering around the box; the senior is SU’s leading returning tackler (86). Cisco erupted out of the gate as a freshman, earning All-American honors while tying for the national lead in interceptions (seven).The only — and biggest — question mark for the Orange defense is at the linebacker position. Senior Andrew Armstrong brings the most experience but only has one start. Junior college transfer Lakiem Williams, sophomore Juan Wallace and two freshmen, Mikel Jones and Lee Kpogba, are all in the mix to play, too.“This is what, the third year? I can’t keep track,” Babers said of replacing linebackers. “It seems like we’re always putting new guys in there. But after this year, there should be some depth built at that position.”Tommy DeVito, offensive line a work in progressIn the last three years, DeVito and Babers have developed a repartee that Babers called “cool,” noting the two are aware of what will upset the other. And while DeVito and Babers remain in sync, the redshirt sophomore quarterback has shown some signs of inexperience. Babers pointed out timing with receivers, on-field communication and “mental stuff” as areas of improvement. Throwing with more touch and not always rifling throws is another tweak Babers has pushed for, DeVito said.“I think offensively we got frustrated a little bit because we’re not used to seeing the ball move like that,” Babers said after Syracuse’s first scrimmage, where the defense dominated.Providing a clean pocket for DeVito will be crucial, but Syracuse’s offensive line is in limbo. The coaching staff has played several different combinations of guys during camp and players have attested to positional flexibility. Seniors Evan Adams and Airon Servais should end up starting again, along with redshirt junior Sam Heckel, who played as Syracuse’s sixth lineman in 2018.Besides those three, freshmen Anthony Red Jr. and Carlos Vettorello have seen time with the starters in practice, along with redshirt sophomore Darius Tisdale and graduate transfer Ryan Alexander.With a dearth of skill position players vying for the ball, it’s a matter of DeVito and the offensive line meeting lofty expectations.“Last year is the standard and that’s the lowest we want to be,” DeVito said. “And we want to be better than that.” Who emerges at receiver and running back?It’s the classic SU fall camp question: Who will be the No. 1 receiver? And, for 2019, it seems there really isn’t a clear answer to that question yet.The best bet might be redshirt junior Trishton Jackson. The Michigan State transfer spent the summer in Syracuse working out with DeVito and the other receivers. Jackson broke out in last year’s Camping World Bowl, can play in the slot and outside and has shown flashes in limited action in camp.But sophomore Taj Harris — who caught 40 passes for 565 yards last year — could become a top target. The same for Sean Riley, who reeled in 64 catches for 756 yards. Both caught three touchdowns in 2018. Sophomore Nykeim Johnson has near identical numbers to Harris, but one more touchdown, from 2018. Deeper down the depth chart, Anthony Queeley, Courtney Jackson and Sharod Johnson could all also play.Moe Neal has been the starting running back since the spring, and figures to stay there for the time being. But Neal likely won’t become a feature back, and Syracuse’s other options, primarily Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard, should get plenty of looks in SU’s up-tempo offense. All three runners are different in their playstyles, too, ensuring some division of carries.“They need to get the knowledge that Dontae (Strickland) had,” Babers said of the running backs. “Dontae was like a quarterback on the field. If they can gather that knowledge, they definitely have the physical skills to be the same or better.”—Senior Staff Writer Eric Black contributed reporting to this story Comments Published on August 25, 2019 at 10:26 pm Contact Andrew: [email protected] | @A_E_Graham Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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