The Syracuse Orange football team is the walking wounded at this point, with so many injuries and absences that the current depth chart looks nothing like what was planned.
That’s problematic in many regards, and obviously many of us are frustrated by that fact. But potentially looking on the bright side in what could very well be a lost season, the depth chart issues should at least provide opportunities for young players to get valuable experience. And even better, some of those players may emerge as key contributors going forward, too.
Looking on both sides of the ball separately, here are the primary first- and second-year players we’d like to see more of over the final seven games of this Orange season. Some of these guys have already seen the field a bit and will continue to use this time to develop. Others are virtual unknowns, but it would be nice to see what they can bring to the table.
(and before you mention him, Sean Tucker’s at the top of the depth chart at running back, so of course we’re going to see plenty of him)
Dillon Markiewicz, QB: As discussed, we’re probably not seeing him right away, with Rex Culpepper starting at least the next two games vs. Liberty and Clemson. But beyond that, it would be nice to see what the Texas passer can do after putting up some impressive numbers in high school. His familiarity with the spread should vault him pas the other young QB options in the short-term. And in general, would just be nice to know there’s more than one potential quarterback on the roster next year.
Justin Barron, WR: One of the biggest areas of struggle so far this season are the wide receivers. On top of a copious number of drops, SU’s pass-catchers just seem to lack the size and speed that helped previous iterations of Dino Babers’s offense excel. Barron’s seen some snaps here and there, but has yet to catch a pass in a game. His 6-foot-4 and 208 pound frame would seem ideal opposite Taj Harris, or maybe even pushing Harris inside where he could thrive in a different role. We just need some better size out wide, and Barron could be that solution.
Isaiah Jones, WR: If not Barron, Jones — a JUCO transfer — is another option there. He’s slightly lighter, but not by much (200 pounds vs. Barron’s 208) and is the same height. The fact that he’s already played some college ball should be a plus that gets him on the field sooner to take the place (at least temporarily) of the less productive members of this receiving corps.
Luke Benson, TE: We all know Benson, and his 53-yard touchdown vs. Duke was a nice way to welcome him back into the fold for this offense. If this offense is going to look more efficient without Tommy DeVito at the helm, that may start with a greater utilization of the tight ends. Benson’s mix of size and speed makes him a matchup nightmare and an easy target for any Orange passer.
Josh Ilaoa, OL: Syracuse’s offensive line has struggled as a group, and it’s clear that certain players are either out of position or seemingly just unable to fulfill their roles as starters in the ACC. Though he’s only seen the field in limited time, Ilaoa’s the team’s top-rated pass-blocking lineman by PFF grades, and has the size to plug right in where needed. With how poorly the line’s looked so far, there’s really no concern about disrupting chemistry. And getting Ilaoa more snaps this early could set us up for a better future where SU isn’t worried about QBs running for their lives on every play.
Caleb Okechukwu, DL: Though Syracuse’s veteran-laden line isn’t a major problem, they did fail to get a real push against a so-so Duke line last Saturday. Since it seems unlikely any of the current seniors will be back next year (though they could opt to take an extra year by NCAA rules if they want), it would be ideal to start seeing what the young guys can do. Okechukwu seems to bring some athleticism to the edge rusher spot, and this fall could serve as a preview for a bigger role in 2021.
Marlowe Wax, LB: Wax has already seen the field a bit, and he does seem like a hard-hitter who can mow down defenders. He may need some tackling discipline here and there, but Syracuse can use the remaining games to help get him more game reps and develop into what’s likely to be a bigger role going forward. While we have a lot of young linebackers, nothing is really set in stone for that group. Best to see what everyone on the depth chart can do given an opportunity.
Neil Nunn, DB: Nunn came in with a lot of hype, and the Miami flip has seen the field in a reserve role through four games. With secondary injuries stacking up, though, it could mean a greater opportunity for him to start coming along in a larger capacity. We’ve seen what freshman DBs can do under this staff — see the contributions of many current players in the position group — and given the intensity required of this defense, extra bodies who can cover in the open field are always helpful.
Ben Labrosse, DB: Recent injuries have thrust Labrosse into the lineup a bit more and that seems likely to continue with Andre Cisco out for the year and various injuries to players like Ja’Had Carter, Eric Coley and others. At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Labrosse is also one of the bigger defensive backs on the roster, and could help build some future depth in either a rover or safety role.
Are there other young players (not at the top of the current depth chart) that you’d like to see a bit more of? Toss out some other names below.