This is the last week of Syracuse Orange football practice before the much-anticipated spring game on Saturday, April 2. Obviously you've got plans that day... we'll get to that tomorrow. But we still need to talk about one more position group before all of that.
Today's topic: How does SU special teams replace Riley Dixon?
Who's on campus?
Your next Orange special teams legend (hopefully) Sterling Hofrichter, who redshirted last season. Kicker Cole Murphy and long snapper Matt Keller return as starters. The team also has a couple reserve specialists on the roster, such as Alex Grossman (kicker) and Nathan Hines (long snapper).
Over on the return teams, Brisly Estime -- who received an honorable mention on last year's All-ACC team -- will be manning both punts and kicks again. Dontae Strickland returned some kicks as well last year, and could do so again.
Who's arriving this summer?
Nobody, unless Babers adds a walk-on punter or something to back up Hofrichter.
Who's NOT here anymore?
Riley Dixon, his Heisman campaign and his various feats of strength are no longer members of the Syracuse roster. He'll take those talents to whichever NFL team is smart enough to draft him or pick him up as a free agent. He will be sorely missed in both spirit and actual play. Despite his status as a folklore hero, he was also a pretty good punter and you'd have to think he deserves a shot to give it a go in the pro game.
Can Sterling Hofrichter step up?
That's usually why you redshirt a punter, right? The Florida product, henceforth known as "the Hof," was ranked in the top-10 nationally at both the punter and kicker positions. He can step right into the punter role this year, and perhaps eventually pull double-duty as a kicker when Cole Murphy hangs'em up too. If Dino Babers's offense is as effective as we hope, we won't be needing his talents as much as we needed Riley's. So perhaps that's the easiest way to survive the departure of our prophet.
Will the team miss Steve Gregory's contributions?
TBD. Things seemed to trend up at the start of last season until the wheels came off along with much of the rest of the team. The former specialist standout for SU seemed to fix some constant issues with kick/punt coverage, but he was not kept on by Babers for 2016. Tom Kaufman (who also coaches linebackers) will take on the special teams role. Hopefully a full staff member dedicated to special teams continues the positive strides from last year and weeds out the persistent issues as well.
What will Brisly Estime do for an encore?
Besides breaking an 11-year punt return drought, scoring TWICE on punt returns and being a field position game-changer whenever he fielded a kick? Not sure. Opposing teams started to get wise to it as the year wears on, and that won't go away in 2016. Teams avoiding you is a still a positive, however. It'll be interesting to see if he's avoided or approached head-on.
Can Cole Murphy rebound?
With Syracuse still settling for field goals far too often on the opposing side of the field, the pressure was on Murphy to deliver. In many cases he did, hitting 16 field goals, including a 48- and 49-yarder, respectively. But he also missed six, and was visibly haunted by each one. Did he exorcise the demons by hitting that game-winner against Boston College in the season finale? Too soon to tell, though at least the team is less likely to settle for field goals -- taking the pressure off him automatically.
Despite a minimal amount of characters here, still plenty of roles to fill. Not sure how much we'll see special teams on Saturday, but regardless, enjoy the game, all!