Sean Hickey has had a lot asked of him this season. After not starting a single game in his career at Syracuse, Hickey was called upon to take the place of one of the most prominent blockers on the Orange offensive line, when Justin Pugh was forced out with a shoulder injury.
The right side of the defense lost both of its starters from the previous season, so the left side was expected to be the dominant side, putting the spotlight on Hickey before he even played a down.
Speaking of returning starters, left tackle Justin Pugh was cleared to play against Pittsburgh, meaning that Hickey would be challenged once again as he would now take the reins of the right side to play right tackle. Hickey shared what he underwent to handle the transition, something he has become accustomed to.
"The first few practices I felt uncomfortable with my hands and sometimes in my stance just ‘cause the beginning of my career, I was left tackle then switched to right tackle for about a year and a half and then I was asked to go back to left tackle, so I had to throw right tackle out of my head, switch everything back to the left.
"I got that imprinted in my muscle memory, and then they said, ‘Okay, now you have two weeks to go back to the right,' I'm like, ‘Okay, so I gotta go back to the right.' And you just have to switch everything up. You just gotta get more comfortable again, get the muscle memory back. And once you get that back, it's okay. So it just takes awhile to get that muscle memory back, but I got that back and I feel pretty good out there."
Having a week off from gameplay meant that Hickey would have an additional week to prepare his body to transition once again back to the right side.
When asked whether or not that extra time helped, Hickey responded, "Big time, yeah. I'd a been a little worried if it was within one week just because I just needed some time to get used to it, but that bye week was big. I was very happy it came at that point."
Despite success on the left side, Hickey would still have to train his body to handle pressure in a different way, manning the right side of the offensive line.
"I play a little different at right tackle than I do at left tackle," Hickey shared. "But that's not necessarily a bad thing…my footwork's a little different, but it's not necessarily a bad thing, and I felt pretty comfortable out there."
Besides his feet, Hickey stated that he had to work on his upper body's response to the move, saying he worked on "[Getting] my hands right, because on the left side, your right hand's the most important hand and I'm pretty right-hand dominant. And I had to make sure my left hand when I switched to the right side was gonna be dominant."
With his first game on the right side coming against Pittsburgh, the running attack had a respectful outing that aided in the team's second victory of the season.
Syracuse brought in little used running back Adonis Ameen-Moore to run out the clock at the end of the game.
"We instituted our goal-line package and decided to run it at the end of the game to get those first downs…and that's what we did and we felt pretty good out there," said Hickey. Moore and the offensive line were successful, pushing forward for two first downs on four rushing attempts to close out the contest.
Hickey spoke on the play of Moore after the win.
"Like all of our running backs, Adonis has a motor that doesn't quit," Hickey shared. "And Adonis happens to be a strong, big back and it's tough to bring him down. He can run at a low level and keep the pile moving, and that's exactly what he did. And he might have contact, say at the 30-yard line, but ends up getting to the 33-yard line, and that's one of his best assets and we used that and it helped out real well."
Rutgers, Syracuse's upcoming Big East opponent, has had success against the run, allowing a mere 60.6 yards per game.
"They have a great rush defense, one of the best in the nation," Hickey expressed. "They move their fronts a lot and want to make you start thinking about your assignments and they want to make you get out of your comfort zone. And they've done a good job of that so far so we gotta be on our A game and we gotta just stick to our assignments and know our technique and we should be okay."
On establishing the run early, Hickey stated that, "It's important because it keeps the clock moving, it keeps their offense off the field."
"It helps out the pass game, it helps us in the pass protection, and it opens up routes in the pass game," Hickey continued. "So establishing that run game is important and if your pass game isn't working, you just go back to the run, so we wanna get the running game established."
Hickey and the rest of the offensive line will have their opportunity soon enough, when Syracuse meets Rutgers at noon eastern on Saturday.