Across the country, every school’s annual spring football game is pretty similar. It’s a scrimmage — which they’ve already had at least two of in the weeks prior — but this one’s open to the public. No coach wants to give away much in the way of scheme or personnel. It’s really just a fan hype event to move ticket sales for the upcoming season.
And yet, everyone (self included) will try to glean some takeaways from the thing.
Well, we’re here to tell you not to do that when the Syracuse Orange take the field at the Dome on Saturday. Or at least, don’t necessarily worry about the traditional numbers you’d try to attach to success. Stats won’t matter in this game. But some subtle execution elements will.
1. Team speed
If you missed Nate Mink’s Syracuse.com article yesterday, there are now 17 players running at least a 4.6-second 40-yard dash on the roster. That’s pretty impressive, and something you’ll be able to see in action on Saturday on both sides of the ball. Carl Jones got a lot of attention in that piece, and while he may not start at corner, he could carve out a nice niche as a special teams gunner. In any case, you’ll see a bit of how speedier guys like him can be difference-makers in various aspects of the game, even in a scrimmage like this.
2. Offensive line play
On the one hand, the defensive line knows the playbook and it’s going to be watered down considerably anyway. On the other, because there’s no quarterback contact, it’s debatable how much of a blitz there will really be, and obviously we don’t want any freak injuries to running backs, either. So the O-line — down a couple men without the injured Sam Heckel and Patrick Davis, plus grad transfer Ryan Alexander who hasn’t arrived yet — will be fielding a unit that isn’t exactly the one we’ll see this fall.
Still, there are just simple opportunities to see blocking technique and strength in the trenches, and look at how the group can block for the run game without Chris Elmore, who underwent surgery this week. If they’re overwhelmed a lot, that could tell us there’s a little more of an uphill battle than we thought (even when accounting for how good this defensive line is).
3. Quarterback arm strength, accuracy
Saturday’s passing game will be made of simple routes, but we’re still likely to see the team air it out a bit more with Tommy DeVito under center than we did with Eric Dungey. DeVito was around a 50-percent passer last season and many of his completions were of the deeper variety. In the spring game, he’ll be putting his arm strength on display and also showing off what’s hopefully a strong rapport with the team’s returning receiver — plus some improved accuracy. He overthrew a bit last season, but was also tossed into a lot of pressing situations. That won’t be the case in Saturday’s scrimmage.
4. Linebacker reads
Early last season, we saw what happens when the linebacker position has a learning curve, but later in the year, Ryan Guthrie and Kielan Whitner both played at impressive levels and were key parts of the Orange’s defensive resurgence. Syracuse replaces both players this year and doesn’t have a ton of experience to step in. It’s early, but the team’s current linebackers can show us how far along they are just by way of how they fill gaps, respond in pass coverage and come up to stop the run. If they aren’t doing it well when they know the playbook, there’s a lot more work to be done to be ready for the opener vs. Liberty.
5. Overall team strength
Similar to the speed part of the equation, strength is another aspect you can gauge in a scrimmage. We should have a lot of it in the trenches and I’m most curious to see the interior linemen (replacing Chris Slayton) and linebackers on this front, as well as the O-line. If we see guys on either side of the line easily overpowered, that’s a potential cause for concern. But it also could be a good sign that we’re once again making progress inside and becoming more competitive in that critical area of the field. Same goes for the linebackers, if they can fight off blockers and make some tackles in open space.
What are you watching out for at the game? And since it seems we’re not streaming it again, enjoy Saturday for the rest of us, if you happen to be attending.