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Syracuse football 2019 position preview: Offensive line

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How the Orange deal with change on the line could dictate a lot this fall.

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

The 2019 Syracuse Orange football season is getting a whole lot closer, so we’re well into sorting through position previews for each group on this year’s SU roster.

Each week leading up to the season, we’re profiling one group and every player that could make an impact (of any sort) this fall. Last time, we had plenty to discuss around SU’s wide receivers and how the top-end depth chart talent is among the best in the country. This week:

Offensive line

As Syracuse fans get to enjoy from time to time, a healthy and experienced offensive line goes a hell of a long way toward success. So was the case last year when the Orange lined up three seniors and an impressive amount of starting experience across the board to power one of the best attacks in program history. SU not only threw the ball well (expected), but also had its best rushing season since 2013 despite not having a traditional power back. And buying time for Eric Dungey, they were able to let him take full advantage of his improvisational skills to regularly set up big plays.

Now, we get to see if the team can do the same without the same amount of experience coming back. There’s still more than you’d expect with some projected position shuffles and a couple transfers. Plus when combined with the depth that Dino Babers’s staff has actively pushed for since arriving on campus, the O-line has quickly evolved from potential liability to one of the sturdier position groups on the roster.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 13 Clemson at Syracuse

Tackles

Airon Servais, (Redshirt) Junior

Servais has been Syracuse’s starting center for the past two seasons, and while he’s currently slated to be that once again on the depth chart, it does appear that the team’s trying to move him to his natural position of tackle. Syracuse.com’s Stephen Bailey noted that he’s dropped nine pounds since spring, and his weight of 273 pounds would be indicative of moving outside. We’ll see. He’ll likely be a starter either way.

Carlos Vettorello, (Redshirt) Freshman

Among the more surprising notes on the preseason depth chart was Vettorello getting the starting nod at left tackle for the time being. Though he’s certainly looked the part of an impactful blocker since setting foot on campus, it’s interesting to see him leap over several more veteran players. Even if he winds up not starting this year, he’ll be one by next year.

Ryan Alexander, (Redshirt) Senior

Alexander obviously didn’t transfer from South Alabama to sit on the bench, so it still seems very likely he pushes to start (he’s currently listed as the backup right tackle). Part of that may come from him just not being on campus as long as his competition. It does seem hard to keep a former All-Sun Belt performer that’s over 300 pounds off the field.

Anthony Red, Freshman

And this was probably the most surprising early depth chart note. Red’s a true frosh that’s only been on campus since January yet has already leapt over most of the other tackles on the roster and is a starter as of now. Though that’s not expected to hold (see some of the names above), it would be an impressive rise for the player who’s put on a good deal of weight in the last year or so and may have been one of SU’s best undercover recruiting wins of 2019.

Qadir White, (Redshirt) Freshman

There’s still time for the former four-star recruit, who remains one of the largest players on the roster at 6-foot-7 and 336 pounds. Still, it does seem odd given the hype to see several names leap over him already. Perhaps he just needs some more time? Given how few four-stars have signed with SU in recent years, it’s far more encouraging to see them work out.

Mike Clark, (Resdhirt) Junior

Speaking of players that we’re waiting to see make the jump, Clark is now in year four on campus and was among the first linemen Dino Babers brought to campus. He’s also the tallest player on the roster at 6-foot-8. Yet after being part of the PAT unit in 2017, Clark didn’t see the field at all last year. He could get back on the field with that same PAT unit again this year.

Matthew Bergeron, Freshman

Ranked the second-best Canadian player in the 2019 class, Bergeron has already looked hte part of a starter for Team Quebec in the Canadian Cup and already has the size of a starter at over 300 pounds. In his Syracuse “state fo the program” piece over the weekend, The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman listed Bergeron as a player that impressed teammates with his strength and footwork. So don’t be surprised if he never bothers with that redshirt.

Wil Froumy, (Redshirt) Freshman

It’s refreshing to have this many big dudes on the roster, and as a former tight end, Froumy likely has better footwork than most of his competition. Will that get him on the field this year? He’s a potential special teamer for now, but could work his way up over time.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 21 Syracuse at Miami Photo by Richard C. Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Guards

Evan Adams, (Redshirt) Senior

Adams is one of the most experienced players on the roster, with 33 starts under his belt and all-conference potential to go with it. He was consistently one of the top-rated players on the roster last year according to Pro Football Focus. And if that continues this year, it should put to rest any concerns about the run game or protecting Tommy DeVito.

Darius Tisdale, (Redshirt) Sophomore

Tisdale technically comes in as a tackle, however, he can definitely play either position and his JUCO experience potentially gives him an inside track to start at left guard. At Lackawanna CC last year, the offense picked up over 400 yards per game with Tisdale playing a big part on the line. How quickly he masters the system will be the deciding factor against the younger players on the roster.

Dakota Davis, (Redshirt) Sophomore

Davis was largely a special-teamer last year, and that could be the case yet again this year though he’s listed as a reserve at both guard spots right now. He has great size at 6-foot-5 and 327 pounds, and last year’s large margins of victory allowed him to get valuable reps. If Tisdale doesn’t start, it’ll likely be Dakota Davis in that slot.

Patrick Davis, Junior

One of several versatile players on the line, Patrick Davis gets the nod at guard due to team need. Last year, he was on the punt team at tackle, while also playing 68 offensive snaps as a backup (again, we had some big leads, so allowed for playing time for the younger guys). There’s potential for him to get into that starting guard conversation, but he’s likely behind Dakota and Tisdale for now.

Austin Chandler, (Redshirt) Sophomore

The L.A. product is a walk-on that has yet to see the field for Syracuse but could get some special teams work this year. Like most linemen on the roster at this point, he’s a 300-pounder who stands a good chance to hold a block on size alone.

Ryan Kisselstein, (Redshirt) Freshman

Kisselstein’s a local walk-on who can play tackle or guard, but we slotted him in at guard here because there’s definitely a greater need from a position standpoint on the roster. Also, he may have the best hair on the team.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 07 Pitt at Syracuse Photo by Jerome Davis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Centers

Sam Heckel, (Redshirt) Junior

Heckel’s currently set as a starting guard, but as long as Servais shifts out to tackle, he’ll be the team’s best remaining option snapping the football. We’ve already seen a lot of him after he started in place of an injured Aaron Roberts back in 2017, when he led the team in knockdown blocks with 41. He appeared in all 13 games last year as well, so this is far from a last-resort. He’s one of the team’s best linemen right now.

Andrejas Duerig, (Redshirt) Senior

Duerig is a capable backup center if needed, but most importantly, he’ll be a key part of Syracuse’s PAT and punting teams, where he’s already served a valuable role for the last few years. Obviously Sterling Hofricther’s plenty talented on his own, but part of his punting success in recent seasons has come from having Duerig ready to go as an upback.

***

There’s so much riding on the offensive line this year, but then again, there always is, no? If this group can perform at a similar level to what we saw last season, it should ease the transition to the pocket passing DeVito under center, AND open the needed rushing lanes to help take some of the burden off of the quarterback as well. Assuming he’s healthy, a more powerful back like Abdul Adams getting tossed in there should also be a huge advantage. It’s not covered above, but the biggest consideration may be out of this group’s control: whether or not fullback Chris Elmore is able to suit up following a spring leg injury.

As Babers has mentioned lately, he likes where the starter are at talent-wise, but there’s still a lot of questionable depth on this roster. While I don’t think the offensive line is included in that group (see the tackles alone where there are several guys that could start and perform well), it just takes an injury or two and suddenly very inexperienced players are getting thrown into the fire. With luck, Syracuse can avoid the bug this year AND we can see what some of the team’s young O-line talent can do... hopefully on our own terms, without forcing them into action too early.