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Syracuse 2017 spring football preview: Quarterbacks

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We know Eric Dungey’s the starter... and that’s really it.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Boston College Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse Orange football’s National Signing Day wrapped up a week ago, so now we flip the calendar to the 2017. That starts with spring practice, which has not been announced yet, but chances are things will begin by late February.

Earlier this week, we looked at some early offensive and defensive depth chart projections going into 2017. Now we dig into each position to preview what happens this spring, and how that sets up the fall.

Today's topic:

Eric Dungey starts at quarterback, but several options for backup

Who’s on campus?

Two-year (minus injuries) starter Dungey, frequent injury replacement Zack Mahoney and redshirt freshman Rex Culpepper.

The Orange passing offense made major strides in 2016 (finished 11th in passing yards per game), and a lot of that was due to Dungey and his progress in Dino Babers’s scheme. In eight full (or close to full) games, the then-sophomore passed for 2,679 yards and 15 touchdowns, while completing nearly 65 percent of this throws. Most of the single-season record book would’ve belonged to him if not for his year ending after a hit vs. Clemson.

Mahoney took awhile to get going as his replacement, but ended up leading his own record-setting performance in the season finale, a 76-61 shootout loss to Pitt. It’s tough to tell if that was just a one-game occurrence or a sign that he just needed time to get comfortable in the offense.

Culpepper redshirted last year, but was a highly-touted recruit and probably a better fit for the system than Mahoney (despite Mahoney’s obvious talent).

Who’s arriving this summer?

Four-star, top-300 quarterback Tommy DeVito, of course. DeVito will get a chance to compete for the starting gig. If he doesn’t surpass Dungey this summer (which would be a tall order), he’ll probably redshirt.

Can Dungey stay healthy?

We asked the same question last year and the jury’s still out. He’s missed at least seven and a half games due to injury in the last two seasons. That’s a worrisome sign, especially for a guy who likes to run the football quite a bit. Going into 2016, the idea was for him to run less. It worked for four games (67 yards), then he took matters into his own hands after that (222 in the next four). The strength and conditioning staff is looking to add weight to him and keep him at that number (at least 220). We’ll see how it goes.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Is Mahoney the primary backup?

Given Dungey’s playing style, you always need a firm grasp on who’s coming in to replace him if necessary. Last year, the lion’s share of those snaps went to Mahoney, outside of a split relief effort with Austin Wilson vs. Clemson.

Mahoney faces competition for the second spot once again this year, from pro-style quarterbacks Culpepper and DeVito. Last year Wilson didn’t have the ability to run the offense and they didn’t want to burn Culpepper’s redshirt for a chance at 5-7. This year, his competition seems better equipped to take the job.

Okay, could DeVito steal the starting gig this summer?

Seems unlikely for a variety of reasons. DeVito’s listed at 191 pounds on ESPN’s recruiting profile, which is still well below Dungey’s weight of around 215-220. Though he wouldn’t take the same beating from running that Dungey does, DeVito would still need to be bigger to deal with ACC pass rushers.

The freshman will be working with Sean Lewis to learn the scheme this offsesaon, but it does take awhile to get down (especially if he’s not on campus). Dungey was learning it from December 2015, but didn’t seem to have it mastered until mid-way through 2016. Just give DeVito time and let him develop.

And what about Culpepper?

As mentioned, he’s a pro-style passer who probably fits what Babers wants to do a whole lot more than Mahoney or even Dungey, really. So he’s well equipped to succeed in this system. The only drawback is whether or not he can make up ground on Mahoney given the latter’s previous in-game experience. Spring should yield some hints about whether this battle continues into summer or not.

Can this team go faster?

Yes, though it’ll be up to the quarterback (Dungey or any replacements) to make sure it happens. Syracuse ran 971 plays last year, which ranked 27th in the country. They were a mixed bag in terms of consistency, however, with a few games over 100 plays and some under 60 or 70 too.

The way Mahoney ran the offense against Pitt was really the ideal way for this thing to go, even accounting for the shootout/terrible Panthers defense caveats. Babers will put it on this group in the spring to make pace (and execution with pace) a real priority.

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What other questions do you have about Syracuse’s quarterbacks heading into spring practice?