Hope springs eternal during the offseason, and Syracuse is set to begin preparations for the 2014 season. Spring football is back in Central New York, and the Orange are looking to build on a successful inaugural campaign in the ACC.
Syracuse lost players at key positions to graduation or leaving early to pursue a professional career. Several other players are out this spring with injuries. Those departures provide youngsters with an ample opportunity to make their case for playing time when the season begins this fall.
The wide receiver position is wide open. Yes Ashton Broyld and Jarrod West will likely be the starters, and Brisly Estime will see plenty of action. But behind that those three are big questions marks. Adrian Flemming returns after being injure for the majority of last season. Quinta Funderburk finds himself as a primary backup with an opportunity to impress this spring.
The most likely scenario is that Winfield will step and garner some snaps. Cooper could find himself in the slot at times as well, but Avant may end up being the odd man out. Once the incoming class makes it on campus over the summer, Funderburk and Flemming could be fighting a losing battle. This is a key time for each of these five players.
Tyler Provo could earn some run at tight end with his ability to block in the run game. Kendall Moore will look to build on his freshman year with improved hands. Far too often last season Moore would find himself running open, but unable to hang on to a Terrel Hunt offering. Moore is athletic, but has to improve his technique both catching the ball and blocking. Syracuse will look to establish one of these two as the compliment to Josh Parris.
Up front, injuries have opened the door for several players to gain some important reps. Jamar McGloster is backing up Sean Hickey at left tackle, which will only help his development. He is still a ways away from contributing, but has upside. The more reps he gets the quicker his development will be for Syracuse.
Omari Palmer slides in at left guard as Rob Trudo moves over to the starting center spot with Macky MacPherson finishing up his eligibility last season. Trudo has established himself as a solid interior blocker who can open up holes in the ground game. Palmer is now a redshirt sophomore and should be ready to step up. Palmer is a physical, strong guard who struggles with consistent technique and footwork. This spring will be critical for him as he looks to grab a starting spot this fall.
Redshirt freshman Alex Hayes is behind Palmer and will gain valuable experience running with the twos. Hayes is very athletic but needs to refine his game and learn how to use his hands a bit better. He tends to be a bit stiff in the legs as well.
With Nick Robinson out with an injury, Kyle Knapp has an opportunity to start. In previous seasons, he was a backup tackle, but slides inside this spring to try to gain recognition. Knapp has performed well during prior camps and now has a chance to prove to the staff what he can do. Knapp has the size and athleticism to be successful.
Junior college transfer John Miller, who redshirted last season, will backup Knapp and also be afforded an opportunity to impress. He was quiet during fall camp last season, but provides solid depth up front.
Michael Lasker and Jon Burton will benefit from Ivan Foy's academic issues. Lasker stepped in last season when Hickey had injury problems. He played well, but still needs to work on consistency and technique. When he committed as part of the 2013 class, the staff thought they grabbed a huge steal. Now it is time to prove they were right.
Burton was a project with tremendous upside. Running with the backups will give more opportunity to work on his technique. Burton has prototypical size for a tackle but is still learning the position to some extent.
Along the defensive line, the most intriguing position will be defensive tackle, where Syracuse is trying to replace Jay Bromley. Eric Crume remains one starter, while Ryan Sloan moves in for Bromley. That's a bit of a surprise as many expected Wayne Williams to be the guy. But Williams has arrived on campus overweight and will need to work hard to move up the depth chart. The raw talent is there, but he has to hit the playbook and weight room.
Sloan has shown promise in previous camps, being noted as a standout prior to the 2012 season. He will get his chance this spring.
Donnie Simmons jumps Isaiah Johnson as the primary backup to Micah Robinson. Both should see plenty of action, as defensive line coach Tim Daoust likes to rotate his front four. Simmons could be the pass-rush specialist Syracuse missed last season. Johnson showed a lot of promise as a true freshman. The battle to backup Robinson will be fun to watch. Keep an eye out on Simmons, who could become a big contributor this season if he can stay healthy.
Young talent at linebacker will have an opportunity to shine. Marqez Hodge moves into the middle with Marquis Spruill's graduation and Luke Arciniega's injury. Hodge was solid in limited action last season, earning the praise of the defensive coaching staff. Hodge is a bit quicker than the other options in the middle, has good instincts and solid tackling technique.
On the outside, Alryk Perry backs up Cam Lynch. Perry was a late addition to the 2013 class, but was a bit of a project. He has raw speed and many thought he would be a special teams contributor during his career. Perry has an excellent chance to develop and earn playing time as he runs with the second string. He is still raw and not as physical as you would like, but is athletic.
In the defensive backfield, Wayne Morgan moves back to corner while Chauncey Scissum switches to safety. Scissum was always thought to be a safety long-term, and has bulked up significantly since arriving last summer. Scissum is a physical defensive back with coverage skills. He has a lot of upside at safety.
He backs up Darius Kelly, who will look to solidify his position as the starter at free safety.
There is competition all over the field. Syracuse has done a solid job at adding depth throughout the roster with young talent ready to step up and make an impact. Spring football in Central New York will be fun to watch.