Syracuse football training camp is set to kick off this weekend with Syracuse Fan Fest on Saturday. It marks the official start of the 2015 season. Our members have asked a bunch of questions heading into camp, and we answer below.
Tell me about Lester’s offense.
Much has been made about Tim Lester’s new offense. What will it really look like? All of that is to be determined when the Orange face Rhode Island in week one. But we have been able to gather some information.
The running game will be downhill and more of an old-school type of approach. Yes the jet sweep with the express back will be utilized, but it will be primarily a quick hitting, power running type of approach. I’m expecting some zone blocking schemes within this as well.
The theory is that Terrel Hunt won’t have to run as much, but let’s face it is, his best weapon. I expect him to still be featured there. And everything we hear is that a mobile quarterback is desired for the offense. That means some rollouts, quarterback draws and moving the pocket are expected.
The ground attack should help take pressure off of him as well. Play action will be utilized much more frequently. The hope is that that will allow more shots down the field to open things up.
Minimal bubble screens, a lot of similar concepts in various formations, and a lot of chances for the express back to get the ball in his hands in space. Those are the theories.
Do we have a back-up QB who could actually step in?
My honest opinion as of right now is that if Hunt goes down, there will still be a major drop off. We will earn more during camp, but I think the best hope would be A.J. Long. No offense to Austin Wilson, but I think Long’s ability to be mobile is a better fit for this offense.
True freshmen are tough to throw in there, which could rule out Eric Dungey and Kenterius Womack. Look at Long last season. He really struggled. The ACC is a tough conference for a true freshman to navigate.
But as of now, Hunt is the best bet for a successful offense this season. Long seems to be clearly the next best option in my opinion.
How about those smallish safeties?
They look to be the smallest starting safeties in the ACC after looking around at projected depth charts. That is if the starters are Antwan Cordy and Rodney Williams. If Scissum cracks the starting lineup and/or Marquise Blair makes it to campus, then things are looking fine size wise.
Is that an area of concern? Yes it is. You generally want your safeties to have some solid size and height to them. But the coaches have to play the players they feel are the best ones. If Cordy and Williams win the jobs, then so be it. That said, Scissum will get some run as well.
As will Blair if he makes it this season. So there’s reason to be optimistic.
Who is going to have a breakout season?
There are several options here. Ervin Philips is the prime candidate on offense. He and Steve Ishmael both showed flashes as true freshman, but word is both have improved their strength and conditioning to the point where they are more ready for ACC play.
Philips looks to be a great fit at the express back position, and without Ashton Broyld, may see even more snaps there. Look for Syracuse to use him a lot as a dynamic weapon.
You don’t often think of offensive linemen having breakout seasons, but watch for either Aaron Roberts or Alex Hayes, whoever wins that camp battle, to potentially have one. Roberts had a very impressive spring, and I’m told that Hayes may be the most impressive lineman in terms of body transformation this offseason. I expect those two to be the starting guards in 2016.
Defensively, Chris Slayton is a name everyone keeps mentioning. Whether it be the coaching staff, other defensive players, etc. It sounds like Slayton may already be the strongest player on the team. He came into Syracuse with a reputation of being extremely athletic. Combine that with his strength and he may be a star before he leaves campus.
I also look at one of the linebackers to step up. We know about Zaire Franklin and even Marqez Hodge is a somewhat known commodity. But the other linebacker spot is intriguing. Parris Bennett or Jonathan Thomas, whoever wins the battle (most likely Bennett) could breakout.
We know the outside backers are used to put frequent pressure on the opposing quarterback in Scott Shafer’s system. That gives that player plenty of opportunities to make an impact.
With the way Cordy was discussed during the spring, he is also one to watch despite his smallish demeanor.
Can any of the young cornerbacks push the veterans?
Yes they can. Julian Whigham really struggled last season and Wayne Morgan is coming off of an injury. I think Corey Winfield is close to putting it all together. His combination of size and athleticism at the position is intriguing. He’s one to watch.
Hudson seems to be more solid now, but I think Dowels has more upside. Those two could be battling it out for the fourth corner spot ultimately, but that position is wide open. Any combination of four among those five would not surprise me. It is one of the battles in camp that will be fun to monitor.
The staff is very high on their young corners, it is just a matter of whether or not they are ready right now.
Can Special Teams rise all the way to average?
Special teams finally has some hope! Riley Dixon is one of the top punters in the conference. Cole Murphy showed he can be a solid kicker last season. Those two guys should solidify the kicking game to be solid and consistent.
The return game will have several options. I think Estime may get a shot as a punt returner. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dontae Strickland or Jordan Fredericks returning kicks. Shafer loves to use backup running backs as returners. I think there are options there.
The key for me are the coverage units. Can they be solid and prevent big returns? If they do, I think the Syracuse special teams will be pretty good this year. There seems to be more potential this season than in the last several years.
Is Palmer now legit at offensive tackle?
Omari Palmer is still a natural guard. That’s what he will always be. But he has worked exclusively at tackle from the spring forward. The staff is moving forward with him there. So the question is, how he is doing working at right tackle with that being his sole focus?
I’m told that the staff is very happy with his progress and considers him to be someone they do not have to worry about. Someone they view as a consistent solid tackle at this point.
His footwork and hand technique are the biggest things for him. It’s just a different animal at tackle than as an interior lineman. Your assignments and reads are different, where you can get beat is different and your reaction time is different.
With an entire offseason dedicated to improving those things and from what I’m hearing, I think Palmer will have a solid year. Don’t expect him to be an All-ACC type of lineman, but an adequate guy at right tackle.
Does Hunt have better touch and accuracy?
From what we’ve heard, Hunt has much more command of this offense and is throwing a more accurate ball on the intermediate throws. The deep throws are still inconsistent and his quick, short throws are solid but could get better.
Coming off of the injury, a lot of his work that could have been spent getting better was spent rehabbing. But since the beginning of the spring, he has worked hard at improving his accuracy and chemistry with the receivers.
I expect Hunt to show strides as a passer this season. That said, going into camp, accuracy is still a concern. His touch on deep balls is getting better, but still needs work.
How are new guys assimilating?
Everything I’m hearing is that they are doing well fitting into the Syracuse football program. There are some cases of homesickness that is normal. For example, Kenterius Womack is having a little bit of that.
But, his brother and a family friend will be coming up during the season to cheer him on during the Carrier Dome and spending a week with him as well. That will definitely help quell some of those feelings.
It’s normal for anyone to have some homesickness initially. But with football really just starting, that will go away for most.
Jake Pickard is doing very well. He is up to 252 pounds. As is Steven Clark. It sounds like they all viewed Syracuse as one big family during the recruiting process and have discovered their feelings were correct upon arrival.
How is Shafer evolving his approach to time management?
I don’t expect much to change in terms of practice. They have a pretty set schedule and have things down pretty well there. Same with planning for games. They have a weekly routine that they believe works for them. Maybe some small tweaks but largely the same as the last two years.
I think there will be more emphasis on execution of what Syracuse wants to do rather than reacting to what the other team does. It sounds like they will do more to set up the other team and then counter off of that at the right times.
Like anything, the more experience you get the more you can learn and tweak things. But you get the sense that the preparation, weekly routine and practice routine were not viewed as the problems from last season. Those seem to be in place and everyone is comfortable with them.
What’s the plan for reducing the injuries?
Syracuse did an extensive study on what went wrong last season. The conclusion? It was just a lot of bad luck. There wasn’t specifically anything that Syracuse was or was not doing that led to the injuries.
Still, they have done some things to try to prevent the issue from biting them again. It relates to a “performance team” and better monitoring of player’s fitness level with every aspect of their body.
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In case they meet in the playoff, what’s the plan for defending Georgia Tech’s triple option?
I will be honest. I do not think Syracuse has even discussed that possibility. They are focused on their offense, getting the young defensive guys ready, and preparing for teams that are actually on the schedule.
They would love to have that problem because it means they are in the ACC Championship Game. In that scenario, they would probably do the opposite of what they did last time.
Two seasons ago, they abandoned their traditional principles and switched to a 3-4 scheme. It went horribly wrong. The next time they meet, I expect Syracuse to stay in their 4-3 base, mix in some Okie, and try to be more disciplined in their gap assignments.
What’s the likelihood Tyrone Perkins plays this year?
Very, very small. The only way he plays is if there are more significant injuries and Syracuse has no choice. The plan will be to redshirt him after coming back from an injury. Even without Ashton Broyld. Don’t look for Perkins this season.
Who will be the biggest sophomore or redshirt freshman this year?
There are a few to watch. Steve Ishmael at wide receiver, Ervin Philips at express back, Kayton Samuels at defensive tackle, Chris Slayton at defensive tackle, Zaire Franklin at middle linebacker, Parris Bennett at outside linebacker, Antwan Cordy at safety and Rodney Williams at safety. Each of these players will play a significant role on the 2015 Syracuse Orange.
Who has the most to prove before game one?
This is an excellent question. There are several answers that jump to mind here, none of which are wrong. But I think it’s Chauncey Scissum. If he does not have a good training camp, he is in danger of getting buried on the depth chart and never becoming a significant contributor. With young Rodney Williams, Antwan Cordy, Christopher Fredrick, Daivon Ellison and potentially Marquise Blair, it’s not or never for Scissum.
Who has the best chance of jumping into a starting role throughout camp?
Another great question. There are two players to watch here. Chris Slayton is listed as a second string defensive tackle, but he could absolutely pull ahead there. Keep an eye on him throughout camp. Also, Alex Hayes could jump Aaron Roberts. Those two will battle it out and that could be a really, really competitive battle.
Who has the most to lose heading into camp?
I think both running backs. DeVante McFarlane and George Morris. Neither did much to separate themselves during the spring or claim a stranglehold on the position. That leaves an opening for true freshmen Dontae Strickland and Jordan Fredericks to steal carries. Morris specifically seems to have fallen behind. If he doesn’t step up now, he may be a career backup at Syracuse.
I would like to see some in-depth analysis of the offensive line.
Let’s start with the freshmen. I’ve heard very good things about this group. Evan Adams started out listed as a guard, but I’m told he will be a tackle when camp starts. Sam Clausman is a guard, Colin Byrne a tackle, Cody Conway a tackle and Andrejas Duerig a center. Adams is viewed as having the highest ceiling.
The year in strength and conditioning will do wonders for each as they are all expected to redshirt. Still need to work on their bodies a bit. If any could contribute this season, due to injury, it would likely be Adams.
Entering camp, all of the offensive linemen are healthy. Even Rob Trudo who has battled a bit of an injury during the spring, should be good to go without any limitations.
Regarding Jon Burton, Denzel Ward and Jamar McGloster, each will be a backup this season. Ward may be the furthest from seeing action. His conditioning is still a question as the staff works to try to get his body where they want it. He has made strides, but still a ways to go.
Burton is third string for a reason. I’m just not sure he will ever see meaningful action in a Syracuse uniform.
McGloster is getting better with his technique and has taken strides. He is a capable backup, but again, don’t think he ever becomes the fulltime starter.
The biggest weakness with the starting offensive line is pass protection. Specifically on the edge. I worry about the ability of Palmer and Ivan Foy to block speedy edge rushers when they pin their ears back.
Are Morris and McFarlane ready to carry a major load?
That is a huge question going into camp. I would have thought yes prior to the spring, but that period left a lot to be desired. Gut feeling is that both will prove they can be the one-two punch this season with the freshmen serving as more secondary roles where they take a couple carries here and there.
Is our secondary more talented than in years part?
There is a lot of inexperience there and some true freshman, but overall, it is very talented. The group last year was quite good, however. Brandon Reddish was underrated as a cover corner, Durell Eskridge is an NFL type of talent, and Darius Kelly was quite solid as well.
There is a lot of potential with this group. Can they realize it and cover ACC receivers consistently? Maybe not this year, but you see it potentially coming. The guy I am really intrigued by is Corey Winfield. If he can put it together, he could be a big time player.
A top three of Whigham, Morgan and Winfield gives Syracuse height, length and speed. There is plenty to like there.
Which players have made great strides in the offseason?
A couple of guys that I have already mentioned I’ve been told have really excelled in the offseason program. Alex Hayes has transformed his body and is now stronger, more muscular and has shed baby fat. Also, Steve Ishmael, I’m told, is stronger, specifically in the upper body. This should help him with press coverage at the line of scrimmage. The staff is very high on him for this coming season.
Who are the fastest players on the team?
Obviously Brisly Estime takes the cake there. He is clearly the fastest guy on the team. But behind him, Corey Winfield and Erv Philips are the top speedsters on the roster, not including the true freshmen.
How many plays do they work on that we won’t see until the LSU game and to a lesser extend the Wake game?
I suspect that will be the case. Syracuse should be able to line-up and beat Rhode Island without much in-depth scheming. That said, that mentality may have been why last season’s Villanova game was so close. I think Syracuse will do enough to show different looks in the first game in order to give teams more to prepare for down the road.
But some trick plays will be saved for the LSU game. The Wake Forest game will feature more of what Syracuse’s offense will look like in most games. That will be the real test. So expect to see a lot more in that game.
The LSU game will likely have a couple trick plays just to try to hit a homerun in such a big game. I wouldn’t say there will be a ton, but maybe a handful or so.
Was the lack of production from the running backs due to McDonald’s offense?
There were several factors in that. First of all, teams were loading up the box and daring Long or Wilson to beat them. That strategy worked. Second, there was not enough of an emphasis on the ground attack. Third, neither Morris nor McFarlane took the expected leap to give Prince-Tyson Gulley some much needed help.
Instead, freshman Ervin Philips did that. Still, with teams loading up against the run, it put Syracuse in a very difficult position. The coaches feel that with the new offense and a healthy roster, that issue should disappear.
Would Strickland and Fredericks be redshirt candidates if they won’t see meaningful field time?
Meaningful is the key word here. Maybe they won’t see meaningful snaps on offense depending on how training camp goes, but that doesn’t mean they can’t contribute on special teams. My gut feeling is that neither redshirt, both will play a bit on offense and more so on special teams. Likely as returners. I think both players could handle redshirting if needed, but if the coaches believe they can help on special teams this season, they will use them there.