Syracuse freshman quarterback A.J. Long showed flashes early, but faded late in the 2014 season after Terrel Hunt went down with an injury. During the offseason, he is spending some of his time working with former Orange quarterback Madei Williams (1998-2000) in order to improve entering the 2015 campaign.
CuseNation spoke with Williams about Long how their work will be beneficial to the frosh signal caller.
CuseNation: You and A.J. started working together on Wednesday. What is the plan going forward?
Madei Williams: ”It was our first opportunity to meet face to face. He and I and his father have chatted for some time now. We were just trying to find the right path and opportunity to get some work in. He enjoyed it, I had a blast and he had a blast. He’s going to come back again on Monday. In addition to that, he’s going to try to come up as often as he possibly can between now and when he has to report back. In between that, any time he’s able after school lets out in late spring and early summer.
”Just try to get the ball rolling so he can improve his prospects of being an elite level college quarterback. Probably between now and whatever time in January he has to get back, we’ll do it once a week. At some point, once we iron out the schedule, we will try to do it a couple of times per week and maximize our time. We’re serious and he’s serious. He wants to be the best he can possibly be. We’re going work hard. We’re going to do everything within our power to make sure he gets where he needs to be.”
CN: How did things go on during day one and what are you planning to work during your time together?
MW: ”My primary focus was to see where he was from a developmental standpoint. Just test him. I put him through a series of drills that tested his balance. Seeing how he moves. Seeing how he transfers his weight when he’s throwing. Just watching how he moves to see how smooth it is or lack thereof. He did a tremendous job. He’s a hard worker. He pays close attention to detail. He was all ears. He had the opportunity to learn some things that he hadn’t worked on in the past. It’s really all about player development. Sometimes being where he is now, I have a great understanding that the coaches do a great job up there.
”The thing is, it’s very hard when you’re trying to teach to the game plan, it’s very hard to find time during the course of the actual regular season to work on the key fundamentals that are going to allow him to be as efficient and consistent as he possibly can be. During the season, you have to hammer home what it is you have to prepare for week in and week out. The game plan and the x’s and o’s. To work on his technique, to work on his mechanics, to work on his fundamentals, that’s going to allow him to be as polished and clean and as consistent as he can be. That’s hopefully where I can step in and help out. Because coaches really can’t touch him over the summer. Coaches can’t coach the kids over the summer. Strength and conditioning coaches are available as far as lifting and getting stronger. But as far as actual skill development, that’s where I can come in and help out.”
CN: What did you notice from A.J. after watching him from afar during this past season?
MW: ”He’s a very mature kid for his age. He’s a true freshman, but at the same time he has the passion to be better. He wants to be better. He had an opportunity to get his feet wet. He was thrown into the fire and to the wolves this past season so to speak as a true freshman. Especially in his first experience as a starter against Florida State, that’s a lot to put on the shoulders of a true freshman. Through it all, I think he handled himself tremendously.
”He finally understands what it takes to not just be a fill-in, but be an actual starter and make a difference in the program and be that leader. Understand that he’s going to do what he needs to do to further his development. He’s completely open to the possibility of improving his game.”
CN: What are your first impressions A.J. after working with him and what is going to be the focus of your time?
MW: ”I like him. He’s an exceptional athlete. The thing is, you can’t rely on your athleticism and be consistent as a quarterback. There’s certain things that you have to develop and add to your arsenal in order to be the most efficient quarterback you can be. Just in terms of being more comfortable in the pocket. Having better pocket presence and knowing how to respond to what’s presented to him. Just in terms of different types of rush techniques, different types of blitzes, different types of stunts and how they are moving at him. He has to be able to be more confident in his response to that. Feeling the rush not staring it down and still be able to keep his focus and attention downfield. If you’re not confident, there’s no way for you to go out and execute that in live game action.
”What I’m going to try to do with him is push him as far as I can so he can be as comfortable and confident as he possibly can working from the pocket. If he needs to extend plays, he can extend plays. He has to understand that the pass option has to be first. He has to exhaust all of his passing options before he allows his physical instincts to take over. That’s where a lot of athletic guys get themselves in trouble. Their first instinct is to run. Whereas, a lot of the guys, the more seasoned veteran guys who are more successful, those are guys that are moving and scrambling in an effort to distribute the ball downfield first. You’re always a passer. He has to be ready for that.”
CN: What’s it like being a quarterback at Syracuse from the end of the era in which they were last nationally relevant and working with a current Orange quarterback who is trying to get the program back to that point?
MW: ”It’s an amazing feeling to be honest with you. It’s an extreme invested interest on my end working with him. Just for the simple fact that I understand fully what he’s going through. I understand where the Syracuse program was and where it can potentially get back to. When Syracuse was good in the past, there was always stability at the quarterback position.
”When there has been a lack thereof, that’s when the program has not been as good as it should be. I want them to get back to that glory. I understand where it was. I’m going to do whatever I can to assist A.J. in helping Syracuse get back to that national respect. I don’t think we have that national respect that we had 10-15 years ago.”
CN: Do you think Scott Shafer can get the program back to where it was?
MW: ”Yeah he can. As long as he utilizes all of his resources and all of the coaches on his staff that have connections with the high school coaches wherever they’re responsible for. It’s about preaching the tradition and let these recruits know what Syracuse football and the Syracuse tradition is all about. People from this neck of the woods, where I am in New Jersey, they have strong respect for Syracuse football.
”They know there was a time we were competing for Big East Championships. We were in BCS bowl games. That’s where we’re trying to get back to."