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Syracuse football 2018 position preview: Offensive line

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The Orange have all the experience in the world... does that equate to more success this year?

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

The 2018 Syracuse Orange football season is fast approaching. So at this point, we’re obviously moving onto position previews for each group on this year’s SU roster.

Each week leading up to kickoff, we’ll be profiling one group and every player suiting up at that position this fall. Last week, we discussed the wide receivers and tight ends. This time, we move onto:

Offensive line

Syracuse lost starting guard Aaron Roberts before the season even started last year, and things seemed troublesome right away. Central Connecticut was able to generate some pressure on Eric Dungey in the opener. MTSU created all of the havoc they wanted in the next game. Run and pass protection both lagged and teams effectively attacked SU in the middle of the line.

That is, until they didn’t... as much. Starting with the Clemson game, the Orange started putting it all together on the offensive line. SU’s final three games, all without Dungey, they actually produced extremely well. It was all for naught in terms of wins and losses, of course. But this group did show there’s something here with the remaining starting talent — which all returns aside from Jamar McGloster.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Texas A&M Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive tackles

Cody Conway, Senior

Conway is arguably the best returning linemen on the team, making 20 straight starts at this point and earning some preseason All-ACC nods as well. At 6-foot-6 and 296 pounds, he’s a force at left tackle and the main reason why you don’t see defenders coming around the side of the line all that much. If he can make some additional progress this season, it goes a long way toward keeping Dungey healthy.

Koda Martin, (Redshirt) Senior

When the Texas A&M transfer (and Dino Babers’s son-in-law) arrived on campus, it seemed likely that he’d get every chance to start — and it appears he might have already earned it if the latest depth chart is to be believed. Given the fact that he’s already started in the SEC and played in a similar system to Syracuse’s (Kevin Sumlin’s offense), that should mean even better results at right tackle for the Orange this year.

Mike Clark, (Redshirt) Sophomore

Clark was thought to be the new starting right tackle until Martin arrived. And even as a reserve, he’ll still see the field plenty and should be a fixture on special teams for now. At 6-foot-8, he’s the tallest player on Syrause’s roster, and he already exhibits the sort of size and movement that could potentially get him looks at the next level.

Patrick Davis, Sophomore

Davis is the heaviest tackle on the team, and one of the heaviest linemen overall (at 318), so he can (and does) play tackle for the Orange as needed. This year, he’ll back up Conway and continue to develop as he gets ready to step up into that starting role next year. He’s already shown some things in limited action, with knockdown blocks against both CMU and CCSU last year.

Wil Froumy, Freshman

Froumy played on both sides of the ball in high school up in New Hampshire, and is also a power-lifting record holder in both NH and Vermont. His strength should shoot him up the depth chart quickly, though with seniors there this year, a redshirt’s most likely, giving him even more time to come along and adjust to the speed of this offensive system.

Qadir White, Freshman

Though White has yet to enroll, he’s done with high school classes and Syracuse included a note about him in last week’s media guide. So while there’s still a chance the four-star tackle from Cardinal Hayes doesn’t make it, I’m tempted to believe he does get to the hill. Given the fact that he’s already 6-foot-7 and 334 pounds, it would be brutal to lose that sort of player.

Offensive Guards

Aaron Roberts, (Redshirt) Senior

After 12 starts in 2016, Roberts had locked down his spot more than most on the Orange roster. But then an August knee injury derailed all of it, and now he’ll fight it out to regain the left guard role. Early last season, the interior line was pressured constantly, in part because of Roberts’s absence. With luck, he can come back at full strength and help improve the run game between the tackles — where it’s struggled most under Babers.

Sam Heckel, (Redshirt) Sophomore

If you don’t see Roberts starting on the left side this year, Heckel will be why — a testament to him, considering Roberts is potentially the second-best returning lineman on the team. Heckel was a force last year, with 41 knockdown blocks (led the team), and 12 starts in place of Roberts. Given that he’s still fairly young, there’s a real chance he’ll continue to improve in 2018. He could also end up slotting in at center, even if he doesn’t beat Roberts.

Evan Adams, (Redshirt) Junior

Adams has 21 consecutive starts to his name, and is the team’s most experienced lineman. At 6-foot-6 and 326 pounds, he’s an imposing force at guard, and has shown an ability to open up holes. His improvement over the year was also a key part of SU’s late turnaround in terms of line play.

Dakota Davis, (Resdhirt) Freshman

Davis is the biggest player on the team at an imposing 327 pounds, and will be ready to jump in should injuries strike this group again (please, no). Though veterans block his path to playing time right now, that should change in the coming year or two. In the meantime, expect him to contribute on special teams.

Colin Byrne, (Redshirt) Junior

Two years ago, Byrne started eight games at center for Syracuse, but he’s played a bit more sparingly since. He remains a top reserve at both the center and guard spots, and is likely to be called to action at various points during the season. Perhaps he’s utilized on special teams, though it’s more likely he’s tasked with being ready when called upon on offense.

Carlos Vettorello, Freshman

The Michigan product is quite an athlete, active on both sides of the ball in football and also playing basketball at University of Detroit Jesuit. With the depth and experience in front of him this year, expect a redshirt. But he’s an intriguing talent to watch going forward given his agility.

Andrejas Duerig, (Redshirt) Junior

Duerig has yet to catch on with the offense, playing sporadic snaps there over the years. However, he’s been a key piece of the special teams unit at guard, and figures to contribute similarly there in 2018. There’s an outside chance he can also get into the mix at center.

Austin Chandler, (Redshirt) Freshman

Chandler’s a walk-on, but the L.A. product does have a nice combination of size and athleticism at 6-foot-4 and 288 pounds. Perhaps that’s put to use on special teams this season, just to give him some game reps.

Center

Airon Servais, (Redshirt) Sophomore

Servais returns as the starting center this year, if you ask the depth chart, after starting 12 games in his first active season. Size-wise, he’s probably more of a guard or tackle — and he was actually practicing at tackle this past spring. He’s certainly one of the team’s top five or six lineman. Camp could end up shifting him out if Heckel’s able to show better snapping abilities, however (Servais did show some wear in that department over the course of games).

Keaton Darney, (Redshirt) Senior

For right now, Darney’s the lone backup center. The walk-on has been with the team since 2014, and has largely participated on special teams, including both punts and kickoffs. Given Servais’s durability last year (over 1,000 snaps), that doesn’t leave much of an opening for Darney. But special teams is still a significant area where he can see time.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Texas A&M Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It might have taken a few years, but the line is now taking shape for Syracuse under Babers, and the results are impressive — at least from a purely physical standpoint. Most of these players are at least 6-foot-5 and 295 pounds. The size difference here compared to what we had in the Big East year and Shafer days is night and day. Of course, size is great, but they still need to be able to get results.

This is the Orange’s most experienced line in about 30 years, as we’ve been told, so now we wait for that to pay dividends in the run game. SU was middle of the pack in adjusted line yards last year. They’ll need to be a bit better to help turn around production (and running lanes) in the middle at a rate that takes the onus off the passing game as much. For what it’s worth, last season’s progress and this season’s additions (Roberts coming back, plus Martin) makes me think they can do that.