The 2019 Syracuse Orange’s spring football game is just eight days away, on April 13. We’ve been preparing you for what to expect with our position previews, but perhaps you missed one or two of those articles between February and today.
Well, below is a collection of every spring football position preview, outlining the key returning players and narratives for each group on the roster. So when things kick off next Saturday, you’ll be the most prepared Orange fan in the Carrier Dome. You’re welcome.
Projected starter: Tommy DeVito
Biggest question: How does DeVito change the passing game?
Taking all of the first-team reps and having the offense geared around his skill set now, we’ll see his talents put to use in a system more tailored to him. That could mean fewer opportunities for Sean Riley in the flat, but a lot more for players like Taj Harris and Trishton Jackson over the top.
Projected starter: Moe Neal
Biggest question: What new demands are on the run game for 2019?
The Orange were a top-40 rushing offense last season, but you could chalk up a bunch of that to both the veteran-laden line and the fact that Eric Dungey distracted defenses quite a bit (and also gained a significant chunk of yards himself). Without Dungey’s legs this time around, more of the ground game will fall to the running backs’ ability to move the pile.
Projected starters: Taj Harris, Trishton Jackson, Sean Riley, Nykeim Johnson, Aaron Hackett
Biggest question: Who takes over the leading receiver role?
Custis may not have caught the most passes (that honor would belong to Riley), but he did pick up the most receiving yards on the team. That’s still something Syracuse is going to have to replace in 2019. Based on early returns, Harris is one of your best candidate there, as he has a nice blend of speed and size to be used in various parts of the field and already excels as a route runner. While he never had a “breakout” game last year, that could change as the team’s primary downfield option this fall.
Projected starters: Evan Adams, Airon Servais, Dakota Davis, Sam Heckel, Ryan Alexander
Biggest question: Is Heckel an upgrade over Servais in the middle?
TBD, really. Servais struggled a bit at times over the last two years (ProFootballFocus grades were up and down), and has always been pretty big for a center (he stands at 6-foot-6). Heckel’s more extensive experience on the interior part of the line and maybe more appropriate size for the center role (6-foot-4, 300 pounds) could lead to a reasonable swap at the very least. And if that’s the case, seems like a no-brainer to put Servais elsewhere in a role that may provide him with more opportunities to succeed.
Projected starters: Alton Robinson, Kendall Coleman, McKinley Williams, Josh Black
Biggest question: What do we expect from the run defense this year?
Opposing teams were also far more successful running against Syracuse late in games versus early (5.44 yards per carry in the fourth quarter vs. 4.72 in the first) and ran better on early downs (4.7 on first and 4.85 on second) than later ones (2.3 per carry on third, 0.85 on fourth). So there’s some situational elements at play that would need to be replicated to have similar levels of success to what we saw last year.
Projected starters: Andrew Armstrong, Lakiem Williams, Tyrell Richards
Biggest question: Okay, so how much of a step back are we taking?
I think more of one than we did from 2017 to 2018, though I’m still high on this group’s potential to round into form. Last year, we handed the reins to two experienced seniors, one of whom was a former safety tailor-made for the Tampa-2. This time, both Armstrong and Williams are Babers recruits, but we have still only seen fleeting glimpses of what they can do.
Projected starters: Christopher Fredrick, Scoop Bradshaw, Andre Cisco, Evan Foster, Trill Williams
Biggest question: How do we get all of these players on the field?
Last year, short-term injuries, tempo and blowouts led to a lot of younger players seeing the field. Ideally, you can get the top four corners (Fredrick, Bradshaw, Melifonwu, Williams) on the field regularly to keep legs fresh, but the rest are probably a year away from being regular contributors. Safety’s similar locked in with Cisco, Foster and Clarke, plus some combination of Jonas, Coley and potentially Nunn also jumping in. Brian Ward’s won some room to get creative, so let’s see how he gets everyone involved without disrupting on-field chemistry.
Projected starters: Andre Szmyt, Sterling Hofrichter, Sean Riley, Aaron Bolinsky
Biggest question: Is anyone actually going to kick to Sean Riley this year?
I doubt anyone’s going to forget about his prowess taking back punts, but teams might actually be willing to kick to him a bit this year. The new touchback rules instituted last year will automatically cut back on returns, sure. If opponents can’t get enough hangtime to put in inside the 20 and get the coverage team down there, though, perhaps Riley gets a few shots at it this time around.