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Young Syracuse offensive line looks toward veterans to make gains

According to one senior, taking care of the little things is key to the unit’s success.

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

Coming into the 2019 season, many of the Syracuse Orange’s football position groups were prepared to return as strong as ever. Jamal Custis graduated, but receivers two through five were all coming back and were joined by Michigan State transfer Trishton Jackson. Moe Neal and Jarveon Howard returned to the backfield, and were joined by former Oklahoma halfback Abdul Adams. The secondary came back loaded with talent, including preseason All-American Andre Cisco.

However, a couple of glaring weaknesses that have shown early on. The young linebackers had a rough time against Maryland, and quarterback Tommy DeVito has struggled a bit out of the gate. But no position group has shown as many problems as the offensive line, which has made it tougher for DeVito to get rolling for much of the first two contests.

“For the most part, those guys are learning on the go,” said Neal, praising the hard work the linemen put in. “The veterans on the O-line like Airon Servais and Evan Adams are getting those guys up to pace.”

According to Servais, who’s split time at center and tackle so far, the biggest part of improvement with the young group lies in the minutiae.

“All the technique stuff,” the redshirt junior said. “Whether it’s your hand level, where your pads are or where your feet are, just mastering the little stuff is what’s going to make us better and better.”

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 13 Clemson at Syracuse

Week one had some questions, but things looked promising. SU only managed 24 points against Liberty, but the offensive line — featuring a redshirt freshman in Carlos Vettorello alongside first-time starters Sam Heckel and Dakota Davis — paved the way for Syracuse to pick up 192 yards on the ground.

Unfortunately, Heckel suffered an upper-body injury in the second half against the Flames and hasn’t seen the field since. He’s not listed on the depth chart for the Clemson game right now, either.

“We have been preparing really well for situations like this,” Servais added when discussing Heckel being out. “We preach versatility and we practice a bunch of different spots, so we’re not strangers to this.”

He noted that Vettorello and graduate transfer Ryan Alexander had practice at both tackle positions in camp. Plus Servais himself split practice time between his left tackle (where he began this season) and center, where he started the last two seasons.

With Heckel still said to be doubtful for Saturday, it’s likely that the same front five from last weekend takes the field in the Dome against Clemson. Servais would be back at center, Vettorello would play left tackle instead of right tackle, Alexander would slot in at right tackle and the guards would remain Adams and Davis.

That line struggled mightily against the Terrapins, only providing the Orange running game enough to tally 70 rushing yards on 29 carries — though SU also largely abandoned the run once the game seemed out of reach. Even with all the adjustments and struggles, Servais said everyone is on the same page and locked in for battle with the Tigers.

“They’ve been No. 1 or No. 2 when we’ve played them these last two years,” he said. “But we’re going to prepare the same way. We’ll break down the film and practice hard.”