Syracuse spent springtime in secrecy. No media allowed in for football practices. No coach or player could talk about schemes But they promised fans would see some great changes to the offense.
Now it is time for fans to see what the team has been up to. New, sleek jerseys were shown off at Destiny USA on Wednesday. Saturday will be to show off the team.
The spring game will allow Scott Shafer and company to flex the new muscles of the offensive system since the team's Texas Bowl victory.
"We will be creative with things we do, too, to make sure we get everyone involved," Shafer said on Tuesday. "But we just look forward to having the kids play in front of the community again."
This will be a game that is focused on fun. That said, offensive coordinator George McDonald said that he wants to see the first-team offense come out with one or two strong opening drives.
"I think the one thing about the spring game is you don't show the whole gambit of what you've doing," McDonald said. "We won't run the whole offense, but we will run the nuts and bolts.
"The biggest thing, for me, is to see guys go out, have a lot of fun, play with a lot of confidence, and show what they have naturally been doing over the 14 practices we've had."
And fans should expect plenty of plays. A week ago in an open scrimmage, Shafer said the team ran 73 plays. McDonald wants to average 80 this season.
At the open-to-media practice last week, the team mostly ran three- or four-wideout sets, leading to quick passes and short- to mid- yardage gains. But the difference is in the run game.
Prince-Tyson Gulley fits in the starting role better than Jerome Smith due to overall quickness and pass-catching ability. Add in George Morris and Adonis Ameen-Moore to change pace, and fans may see a better running-back group than they did last season.
That potentially exciting run game is dependent on a still-forming offensive line. Earlier this month, Shafer said that five lineman had missed practice due to injury. As a result of that, the coaching staff is being non-committal about who may start at certain positions next year—specifically the gapping hole at center that belonged to Macky MacPherson. Coaches have given indication as to which they like so far, though.
"I think John (Miller) is a natural center, and I think that is what he's done over his career," McDonald said. "John's probably one of the most improved linemen that we've had."
But the focus of the offense will be on Terrel Hunt. According to McDonald and Shafer, Hunt has improved his decision-making and has increased his throwing strength. Though that can't be proven right now, Hunt should feel pressure to come out and show off on Saturday. And given the speed of the offense, he should have no problem finding scoring opportunities.
At this point, fans have so many questions around this team. But there is also excitement. Hopefully for Syracuse, this spring game can at least answer a few of them, and fans can carry more enthusiasm than doubt into the fall.
Things to watch for during the Spring Game:
• McDonald said wide receiver Brisly Estime has taken his "game to another level." During last week's open practice, Estime had a long pass reception with two or three well-timed jukes. He looked like he a chance to be a top option for Hunt.
• A.J. Long will get plenty of practice time as the second-team quarterback. Reviews for Long have been good so far, but he needs to prove that he can be a quality backup this year.
• Eric Crume has lost weight and he looks better than ever. Coach Tim Daoust said to look for him to emerge as the leader of the defensive line, and also for Marcus Coleman to get significant time with the first-team defense.
• Look to see the defense use multiple guys at the defensive-end position and the linebacker corp. Both Daoust and linebacker coach Clark Lea like the idea of having multiple guys to play and improve team depth.
• Ritchy Desir will be at one of the starting safety spot in Durrell Eskridge's place. He has been playing well throughout the spring, showing good hands and earning praise from Shafer almost every weekly media session.
• The spring game will start at 1 p.m. Doors will open at 10 a.m. and the team will start stretching at 11:30 a.m.