Last year, Syracuse's veteran-led offensive line was a direct contributor to the team's high-powered offensive attack. With Justin Pugh, Zach Chibane and Macky MacPherson manning the line, the Orange racked up over six yards per play as the Big East's best total offense (in terms of yards per game).
But in 2013, a lot's changed. With Pugh and Chibane gone and SU in a new (and tougher) conference, there are a ton of question marks hovering around the offensive line in particular. Can they replace the two former standouts? Will the offensive line -- undersized, weight-wise -- be able to hold up against bigger, more aggressive ACC defenders? And is Sean Hickey ready to man the all-important left tackle spot for a full season? We dive in below; first addressing the starters, before taking a look at the reserves.
Sean Hickey: Hickey replaces Pugh as the team's best tackle, and he may just live up to the example set by his predecessor. At 6'5" and 287 pounds, he's a hulking force who's proved his mettle on both the right and left sides of the line before (started all 13 games last year at either one spot or the other). For Syracuse to repeat last year's success (both running and passing), they'll need Hickey to come up big -- and for what it's worth, I think he will. Orange fans have seen glimmers of All-Conference potential with him, now as a junior, he may finally be in the spotlight.
Rob Trudo: Trudo brings experience with him after starting at guard last year as well, and should find himself manning the left side along with Hickey. The smart Pennsylvania product has been fairly healthy since entering the regular rotation, though there's always the dreaded LBI to worry about. With not a whole lot of experience behind him, losing Trudo for any amount of time isn't much of an option for Syracuse this fall.
Macky MacPherson: The standout of this year's offensive line, MacPherson is the "leader" of the group at center and will even be representing the entire offense at the ACC Kickoff event in Greensboro. It's MacPherson's (who as you already know is Dick MacPherson's grandson) third year starting for SU and his reward so far has been a spot on the 2013 Rimington Award watch list (for the country's best center), plus some light buzz for All-ACC honors. He's also added some weight (he's up to 286 pounds now), which should certainly ease concerns about a lack of size in the middle.
Nick Robinson: And here's where things start to get a bit disconcerting. Robinson's seen game time as a backup last year, and as an extra tight end, but he's yet to experience the brunt of a full season at guard (or any position). As a 281-pound redshirt sophomore, he appears to be a bit undersized compared to opposing defensive tackles, but with hope he can make up for that differential with agility. The fact that he's also academically-minded will certainly help him make adjustments on the fly against defenses SU has yet to see in-person.
Ivan Foy: Foy spent some time at the guard position last year before losing out to Trudo, but that doesn't mean he's not a worthwhile starter at the right tackle spot now. Of all of 2013's projected starters, Foy's the biggest of them all, coming in at a looming 6'4" and 318 pounds. O-line coach Pat Perles told Syracuse.com it's taken a bit of adjustment for Foy to go from guard to tackle, so early on in the season, this may end up being a weak spot until he's fully acclimated. Undoubtedly, Penn State is already well aware of this information (gulp).
Reserves-wise, the Orange find themselves about two-deep (and sometimes three-deep) at each position, though the players in those spots don't exactly have the most experience. John Miller (sophomore) and Jesse Wolf-Gold (junior) appear likely to get into the rotation for playing time, though neither has seen the field much, stuck behind what was once a pretty deep group at every position across the line. They'll be playing along the right side of the line, and it may actually benefit Syracuse to try and get them extended minutes against an opponent like Wagner.
Elsewhere, Omari Palmer is a big guard (6'2" and 311 pounds) with a lot of upside as just a redshirt freshman. Dan saw him at the 2012 Empire Challenge last year, and actually thought he was game-ready, though he still never suited up for SU. Expect the Orange to start recruiting more players in Palmer's general mold as the team looks to upgrade its size disadvantage at nearly every offensive line position.
At center, Jason Emelrich (another redshirt freshman) also received rave reviews from Perles, who believes he could be starter right now. Like MacPherson though, he'll need to add a bit of weight his frame, as he's only about 277 pounds at this point. Still, it's encouraging to see there's a center on deck, both for the future or in case MacPherson has to miss some time (please, no).
Other possibilities for playing time could include redshirt freshman tackle Kyle Knapp and senior Daniel Anyaegbunam, both of whom are currently second on the depth chart at their respective positions. But the issue we've been skirting around this entire time is experience. Despite what is perceived as a very serviceable starting five (even with the work Robinson needs), there's little to calm fears past those players. Without much extended playing time for the next guys up, Syracuse has to hope and pray the dreaded LBI and UBIs don't start showing up, or else we could be throwing some very green linemen in against bigger, faster teams like Clemson and Florida State. Let's hope that doesn't happen.
So what do you guys think? Is the line's lack of experience cause for alarm? Are we one injury away from a very rough fall? See any of these reserves as future stars for the Orange? Share your thoughts below.