Syracuse football's 2015 spring practices have already started at the Ensley Athletic Center. And as we prepare ourselves for another season, we'll spend some time previewing everything that matters on and off field for the Orange. Today's topic:
Evaluating the Primary Pass-Catching Options for 2015
Who's no longer at Syracuse?
Last year's leading receiver, Jarrod West, has graduated. Similar goes for Adrian Flemming, who wraps up his time at Syracuse following his fifth season last fall, and Jeremiah Kobena too. We'll include Kendall Moore as well, if only because it seems likely he's switching to offensive line for good, removing him from the tight end depth chart.
Who's on campus?
LOTS of people, which is why we're asking so many questions about them all. Due to injuries, offensive ineptitude and a general case of no one being "the best" last season, there's simply a large cast of characters on campus right now, and they're all ready to prove they deserve more snaps. Broken down by position below:
H-Back: Ashton Broyld, Brisly Estime, Ervin Philips
Tight End: PJ Batten, Trey Dunkelberger, Jacob Green, Cam MacPherson, Josh Parris, Tyler Provo
Wide Receiver: Sean Avant, Alvin Cornelius, Jamal Custis, Adly Enoicy, Quinta Funderburk, Troy Green, Steve Ishmael, Ben Lewis
Obviously, you know the names that matter most there. We'll dive in further shortly...
Who's arriving this summer?
Nobody. The crowded group you see here in spring is everyone who's going to be fighting it out for playing time come fall. Syracuse's recruiting cycle of mostly trenches one year, then mostly skill players the next is going to have to correct itself at some point. Though several players who could've played offense were brought in with the class of 2015, Dunkelberger is the only guy who will actually see time there (and he's already on campus).
Who are the likely starters coming out of spring?
The H-Backs are all going to figure heavily into the offense's emphasis on "multiplicity," as is Lewis, who saw time at the position early on in spring practice. At tight end, count on Parris and newcomer Dunkelberger to figure most prominently at this point. Wide receiver, however, is where things get the trickiest. Ishmael is the odds-on favorite to be the team's main option there after a stellar freshman season. But beyond him, most anything is possible. Could Funderburk finally live up to expectations in his final year on campus? Is Custis better suited for wideout than tight end? And what of older guys like Cornelius and Avant, who've been around but just never became primary options? There's the key position to watch both in terms of this spring's questions and this fall's biggest needs.
What's changing in comparison to last season?
With luck, everything. Syracuse players caught just 207 passes -- even less went to wide receivers -- and only 104 of those are back in 2015. In offensive coordinator Tim Lester's new attack, that needs to change immediately, and it starts with his emphasis on the "tight end" position. We've already learned that the position is probably less about featuring true tight ends and more about getting the best athletes on the field at all times, which should at least put some critics (including this one, a bit) at ease. So while Parris and Dunkelberger may have been listed as your main options above, it's much more likely they're part of a lengthy rotation of pass-catchers that include the H-backs, Lewis and Custis, among others.
If the above system doesn't work -- and "working" means being a stark improvement compared to last year -- that would likely spell the end of several staff members' employment at Syracuse.
Are there any "surprise" playmakers on the roster that we'll be hearing much more about this fall?
Unlikely, mostly due to the fact that we saw nearly all of these guys last year. But there's still a few things worth watching out for:
- Steve Ishmael potentially putting up the numbers to be one of the conference's top 15 receivers (I actually think this one's likely)
- Either Custis or Lewis carving out an extremely productive niche in the slot
- Adly Enoicy, whom we didn't see last fall, but has the type of size (6'5" and 230 pounds) that could make him an immediate factor in the passing game and open up defenses for Ishmael, in particular
How's that sound? Better? Worse? Are we willing to let this staff figure out the passing game as we go and sort out this jumble of receivers? Or do we need to see some playmakers emerge this spring (especially during the spring game next month)? Share your thoughts -- and #disloyalidiot comments -- below.