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Spring Football: You Talkin' Bout Practice

With the Spring Game less than two weeks away, the Orange held its first practice for the media on Tuesday. Here are my observations and updates from the Carrier Dome.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

When Terrel Hunt led the offense in Tuesday's practice, one of the only things that changed since his Texas Bowl performance was his starting center junior John Miller.

Hunt, unofficially, completed over 70 percent of his passes in a scrimmage held in the Carrier Dome. It was the first one this spring open to the media. With Wayne Morgan and Brandon Reddish, two defensive mainstays, out of the lineup and possessions starting near midfield, it turned into an offensive outburst. If you like low-scoring games, you probably wouldn't have enjoyed this display.

"We started the scrimmage and I was like ‘Holy mackerel, we may not gain a yard’," Scott Shafer said. "Then all of a sudden – bam – it took off."

On several occasions, Hunt got rid of the ball almost immediately after dropping back. The offense featured quick bubble screens and wide receivers curls near the line of scrimmage. Shafer emphasized that it's something we will see more of when the season begins.

"Anything we can do to get the ball in those guys’ hands in space is going to be part of the game plan," he said.

Last season, the Orange didn't have an array of playmakers, who could accumulate YAC (yards after catch). In 2014, it will be a little different.

One of the biggest plays of the day came from wideout Brisly Estime. He caught a short pass and was angled by a few defenders to the sideline. It appeared that the play was over and I, admittedly, looked down at my notebook to scribble some notes. When I looked up, he had a clear path to the endzone. Estime somehow weaved around a few players and scored a 50-yard touchdown.

The prettiest play of the day may have been a 35-yard pass from Hunt to Jarrod West. Hunt rolled out of the pocket to his left and floated the ball to West, a few yards into the end zone. Hunt reaffirmed himself as the most polished passer heading into next season. He's also best suited for Syracuse's up-tempo scheme. The offense would be set at the line within ten seconds after most plays.

Freshman A.J. Long and Mitch Kimble got their chances to audition for the starting job. Long's highlight of the day came on a 30-yard touchdown. He threw a beautiful touch pass to Ben Lewis, standing in the end zone. Kimble, who is recovering from a lower back injury, took a little while to get comfortable. On his first drive, he bobbled a snap and then dropped the ball a few plays later. Kimble's longer throws weren't well placed, but he threw good slant passes and had good chemistry with tight end Tyler Provo.

"I was pleased with what (Kimble) did in his first real action, the first live action here at Syracuse," Shafer said. "I thought he did a nice job and I thought A.J. Long made some great plays again."

Other takeaways:

-OL Kyle Knapp's playing career is over after having three separate concussions at Syracuse. "Some things are more important than football," Shafer said. "Kyle realizes that, but it’ll be a tough time for him. He’ll grow from it and be a stronger man."

-Including fullback Adam Harris and defensive end Tyler Marona, Syracuse now has three recent players who have had career-ending concussion problems. The Orange practiced with helmets covered with a soft black pad. Shafer said Syracuse consulted with Clemson, Boston College and Temple, who have already used them to prevent head injuries. Said Shafer, "Even if it helps just two kids, it was well worth the money spent."

-Who's the "best kept secret" of training camp? That would be John Miller, according to HCSS. Miller was moved from guard to center as a possible replacement for Macky MacPherson. Shafer said he likes Miller's recent improvement and the idea of keeping Rob Trudo and others at their respective positions rather than shifting the entire line.

-Adonis Ameem-Moore was a non-factor last season. But he had a prominent role on Tuesday. He's lost some weight and was able to cut outside on a few runs. After only five carries last season, it's safe to say that we'll see more AAM in 2014.

-At this stage of spring, the offense is clearly ahead of the defense. On the defensive side, Dyshawn Davis, Robert Welsh and Ritchy Desir were the only players to stand out.

-Devante McFarlane and Corey Cooper were the two notable offensive players absent from practice. Prince-Tyson Gulley left the scrimmage, but Shafer confirmed afterwards that it was a precautionary measure. He said he doesn't think any of the current injuries are long-term.

-And your "Shaferism of the Day": "Our limbs are in pretty good shape, for the most part."