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Syracuse football 2017 position preview: Offensive line

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Last year’s problems could lead to improvement this fall.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse Orange fall football camp starts this weekend. So it’s officially preview season -- the prelude to the triumphant return of college football for 2017.

Each week, we’ll be profiling one of Dino Babers’s position groups and every player that may (or may not) make an impact this fall. This week, we’re discussing:

Offensive line

Syracuse’s offensive line had some rough patches to say the least in 2016. The group allowed 38 sacks, while the run game picked up just 3.2 yards per carry. There simply wasn’t much protection for the Orange backfield, and it showed, despite the speed with which they were able to operate. Some of that was due to injuries, however, giving way to a whole lot of youth on the line. That youth now has valuable experience under their collective belts for 2017.

Offensive tackles

Cody Conway, Junior

An eight-game starter last year, who collected 20 knockdown blocks. He would’ve started all season if not for some injury issues. But when Conway was on the field, the offense seemed better by comparison. SU tallied 500 yards or more five times last year, and four of those games featured Conway.

Notre Dame v Syracuse Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Jamar McGloster, (Redshirt) Senior

McGloster’s one of the team’s biggest players, and also one of its most experienced on the offensive line (one of two linemen to start all 12 games last year). The veteran’s experienced a few different systems, and this is his first chance to play in the same offense for a second consecutive year. He’ll likely start on the right side again.

Liam O’Sullivan, (Redshirt) Freshman

Dino’s offensive line recruits are quickly rising on the depth chart, and O’Sullivan leads that group. He weighs in a bit lower than the rest of the tackles group (270), which may be more in line with what Babers is looking for long-term. O’Sullivan will see action as a reserve this year.

Mike Clark, (Redshirt) Freshman

Along with O’Sullivan, Clark is the only other player on the roster at 6-foot-8 or taller. And also like O’Sullivan, he’s a Babers recruit that is well situated for playing time this year. McGloster’s solid at right tackle, but if there are any struggles, Clark could be inserted quickly.

Keaton Darney, (Redshirt) Junior

Darney’s a walk-on who’s seen the field largely on special teams (though he did get some snaps vs. Clemson last season). He’ll likely stick to special teams this season, unless injuries strike -- and hopefully that’s not the case.

Guards

Aaron Roberts, (Redshirt) Junior

Roberts is the second most-experienced offensive lineman on the roster, and started every game in 2016. He was also the team’s leader in snaps (968) and knockdown blocks (39) -- in case there were any doubts about just how good he is. One could argue he’s the most durable OL on the roster, and the team’s run improvement starts with him.

Evan Adams, (Redshirt) Sophomore

Adams is the roster’s heaviest player (at 338 pounds), and seemed to improve as last season went on after jumping into the starting spot for Omari Palmer. Things weren’t perfect, but his 29 knockdown blocks and copious experience earned should mean a better effort this time around.

Colin Byrne, (Redshirt) Sophomore

Byrne’s a natural guard, but had to step up a bit at center last year to fill in for the injured Jason Emerich. But now that the team’s a bit more set at center, apparently, he can move back to his typical position. His starting experience in 2016 should suit him well as a reserve with utility this season.

Patrick Davis, Freshman

We haven’t seen anything of Davis just yet, but the fact that he’s been able to vault onto the two-deep as a true frosh should speak some volumes. Ideally, you’d like him to be able to sit a year and learn the system. But he already has the needed size at 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds.

Samuel Clausman, (Redshirt) Sophomore

Clausman received minimal field time last year on both special teams and the line, but now finds himself off the two-deep depth chart. Perhaps it’s a weight thing (he’s at 6-foot-3, 331 pounds), but he’ll still have ample chances to move back up ahead of the true frosh Patrick Davis.

Dakota Davis, Freshman

Dakota Davis is another newcomer, though he hasn’t been on campus as long as Patrick Davis (who arrived for spring). Like Patrick, he possesses the size for FBS-level ball already at 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds. Again, would be ideal for him to sit this year if possible.

Austin Chandler, Freshman

The walk-on California guard stands a lesser chance to see the field than the other reserves at guard, but considering he’s a two-star recruit, he’ll serve a key role in practice this year. Chandler could work his way into the fold later in his career at SU.

Centers

Aaron Servais, (Redshirt) Freshman

Servais is another Babers recruit, and it may have taken many by surprise to see him as the potential starting center for this fall. But with the year redshirting to learn the offense and all spring to watch him in action, it seems coach is impressed. We’ll see what his inexperience looks like at a key spot like center, though.

Sam Heckel, (Redshirt) Freshman

Again, there’s inexperience at center but at least Servais and Heckel seem like they’d be more prepared to jump into the role than Byrne was last season. Even if Servais is the full-time starter, expect to see Heckel rotated in a bit to help keep the line and interior blocking fresh.

Andrejas Duerig, (Redshirt) Sophomore

Duerig seems to be the only member of the vaunted offensive line class of 2015 not to be in line for some major playing time this season. He came in as a potential starting center, and it just hasn’t worked out yet. That doesn’t mean it won’t, mind you. But he may stick with special teams this year.

Donnie Foster, (Redshirt) Junior

Foster’s a walk-on who had to get tossed into the fire last year when both starting centers in front of him (Emerich, Byrne) were injured. With luck, he won’t have to be called into action as much this fall given the depth at the position this season.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

As mentioned, last year’s injuries did lead to experience for the team’s large collection of young contributors, and that has the potential to pay some dividends this year. The key word’s potential, however, as these same players struggled mightily in year one of the offensive system (especially in run protection).

With luck, we’ll see even a slight uptick there. But the key could be that center spot, where inexperience likely takes the field no matter what. If Servais/Heckel can’t improve upon what occurred last year, it’s hard to envision the running game getting all that much better up the middle. That’s a lot of pressure on them, clearly. But Babers knows what he’s doing throwing them into the fire.