Fall camp: storylines to watch as SU approaches Week 1

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ In his first two years at SU, Babers’ had a clear-cut No. 1 wideout  — Amba Etta-Tawo in 2016 and Ishmael in 2017. Before Syracuse, Babers had Gehrig Dieter, who caught 94 passes for 1033 yards as a junior at Bowling Green.After the Spring Showcase in April, Babers said he was confident a No. 1 receiver would emerge.“I’m going to keep the faith that somebody is going to pop up over the summer,” Babers said on April 13.It seems no one popped up and SU is still looking for a top wideout with Week 1 quickly approaching.“Competition is still going on,” Babers said.Redefined defenseWhen Syracuse took the field defensively in its Spring Showcase, the Orange played almost exclusively in a 4-2-5 look — omitting a linebacker for the coverage advantage of a nickel back.Since, SU has worked on installing this new-look defense.The advantages are straightforward: The flexibility of five defensive backs makes coverage easier. In the age of five wide and hurry up offenses, fielding an extra corner or safety erases mismatches.After the 4-2-5’s Spring Showcase debut, Babers said the look was to combat opponent personnel groupings.“Any time you get a lot of 10 and 11, you’re going to get a bunch of nickel,” Babers said. “It was just based off personnel groups the offense was throwing out.” Comments But when opponents decide to hand it off, there’s a risk of the two remaining linebackers getting eaten up by blockers. To remedy this, the Orange will likely utilize some positional flexibility at the safety and linebacker positions.Strong safety Evan Foster, who weighs 223 pounds, is a defensive backfield option who can hang in the box. Safety-turned-linebacker Kielan Whitner has the ability to go between sticking his nose in it as a linebacker one play and falling into a deep zone the next as a safety.The shift to the 4-2-5 has also displaced certain players from their previous positions, like Whitner.“Some guys have moved positions… it’s been tough on them,” junior cornerback Christopher Fredrick said.Antwan Cordy has been bouncing between the safety and nickel back position during camp. But after changing between defensive backfield positions — and even a stint at wide receiver in his last three years — Cordy is guiding younger players through positional changes.“I think Cordy’s working with them. He’s doing really well,” Fredrick said.The upshot is Babers said the defense dominated the first scrimmage, and a strong showing against the Broncos on the 31st could expel any doubts about the defense.The trenchesIn 2017, SU gave up 32 sacks. Of the 129 teams in the FBS, only 23 allowed more sacks. In 2016, the Orange allowed 38 sacks.“The summer went a lot better than I’ve ever seen it,” redshirt senior tackle Cody Conway said, “I’m just expecting a great year all around and people doing better than we saw all last year.”The bright side is that SU returns four of its five starters from last year’s main core: redshirt sophomore Sam Heckel, redshirt junior Evan Adams, redshirt sophomore Airon Servais and Conway. The four have combined to play in 75 games. Conway will slot back in at left tackle, Adams at right guard and Servais at center. Heckel, according to his Cuse.com bio, is in a position battle at left guard with redshirt senior Aaron Roberts. Roberts played 15 games and started 12 at left guard during his freshman and sophomore years before a knee injury cost him his entire 2017 season.Filling the hole left by Jamar McGloster’s graduation is the biggest job for this offensive line. And it’s been filled by graduate transfer offensive lineman Koda Martin.The 6-foot-6, 304 pound tackle from Texas A&M appeared in 34 games for the Aggies during four years in College Station, Texas. Those 34 games are more than any SU offensive lineman has played collegiately.“He’s meshing really well,” Servais said of Martin. “Tackle position is something he’s really good at.”It’s also worth noting that Martin is the son of Syracuse quarterbacks coach Kirk Martin, who was hired in February. Koda Martin also married Babers eldest daughter, Jazzmin, in 2017.Combining Martin’s hard-won SEC experience with Syracuse’s four returning starters should keep Dungey upright and the offense moving forward.“Nothing’s new,” Servais said. “We know what to expect, we know how to react.”Sports Editor Josh Schafer contributed reporting. Published on August 24, 2018 at 3:53 pm Contact Andrew: aegraham@syr.edu | @A_E_Graham Syracuse’s season opener against Western Michigan on Aug. 31 is less than two weeks away.But as the focus moves from getting the Orange ready for the season to game-specific planning, SU head coach Dino Babers and his staff still have position battles to resolve, injured players who need resting and a new defensive scheme to master.Here are three storylines from Syracuse’s fall camp that will carry into Week 1.In good hands?As Babers’ high-flying offense enters a third year for the first time ever — Babers’ previous head coaching stints have all lasted two seasons — it remains unclear who the top pass catchers will be.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textUnconventionally, tight end Ravian Pierce is Syracuse’s most proven option. The 6-foot-3-inch tall, 244 pound senior isn’t the home-run hitter SU’s currently accustomed to, but Pierce caught 229 passes a year ago for 263 yards. He also led returning receivers in touchdowns a year ago, with four.The wide receiver position is murkier. The heir-apparents to Steve Ishmael and Ervin Philips are Devin Butler and Jamal Custis, who make up 35.8 percent of the Orange’s returning receiving yards. However, it’s Butler shouldering most of that with 327 yards to Custis’ 120.Still, neither was able to separate from the pack during camp.Much of the hype at wide receiver stems from the freshmen, namely Anthony Queeley and Ed Hendrix.Standing at 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-3, respectively, are young targets to haul in passes from Eric Dungey. Other names in the conversation are Taj Harris, Sharod Johnson and sophomore Nykeim Johnson.“We’ve got some talented freshmen,” Babers said. “Going to see if they can make a move.”last_img