The Syracuse Orange are in a weird spot this year, even without the fact that it’s 2020, everything under the sun is weird and we’re in a global pandemic. The current roster that the Orange is trotting out is wholesale change from that which we started the abridged spring practice with. Through the year, the Orange have had pretty well every unit decimated by injury or opt-out.
While this has a remarkable impact in the depth chart and what you see on the field, it’s almost even bigger what the impacts are off the field. Last week, Nate Mink of Syracuse.com noted that the Orange dressed less than sixty players for the game against Liberty. There’s twenty two starters on offense and defense, plus the special teamers. Assume the first and second strings are fifty bodies deep, total. That leaves less than ten “third string” players dressed and ready for game time.
I don’t want to harp on the injuries as excuses, I don’t want to lay out what could be or what could have been, but I do want to convey an understanding of what, where and when this leaves the other six days of the week that we don’t see the Orange on the field, as that’s where the real growth in a team occurs and also where this season can be blamed on sorely lacking for good reason.
I’ll at least give a rundown of what we did back in the day at Union, so this not likely accurate to what the Orange do, but will give a general feel for what goes on. During a given practice week, you had a day off on Sunday, but got together for team conditioning and film, practiced Monday through Thursday and then went shorts and shoulders on Friday for a mental walkthrough before the Saturday gameday. During a standard given practice, you see things including individual drills with position groups, skeleton passing drills, 6v6 or frontage (offensive line and running backs vs. defensive line and linebackers), and full squad scrimmage or “thud” drills.
With that outlined, four days a week for those practice session, you need a full team of starters, for both offense and defense, as well as those who will be getting run that weekend as substitutions. You also need a full team to match up against those first-teamers. Someone has to run the opposition’s offense against the defensive starters and the opposition’s defense against the first team offense. When the injuries start creeping beyond the starters, as is the case for the Orange, you get into practice issues. When the depth gets thin, the scout team becomes your second string and your second string becomes no longer game-ready, since they’ve been prepping the opposition’s schemes all week.
In the case of the offensive line, the Orange dressed eight players against Liberty, for a home game. While in practice they get transfer Chris Bleich back, due to redshirt rules, that’s still not enough for a starting line and a group for the defense to scout against. Of the sixteen players carried on the season, including Bleich and Chris Elmore being converted from everywhere else on the field, eight are healthy. With guys like Will Froumy and Anthony Red out, not only does it hurt the offensive line depth, but it hurts defensive line’s ability to prepare, getting a drop in the quality of scout team they’re going against.
At running back, Sean Tucker is the new presumptive starter. He is a true freshman and in the spring was probably considered the sixth or seventh string guy coming in. Alas, Garrison Johnson transferred out in the spring, Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard opted out for COVID related reasons, Jawhar Jordan is out indefinitely with injury, Markenzy Pierre is playing, along with Tucker and Cooper Lutz. The only other running back listed on the roster is Devin Flowers, the preferred walk-on from Virginia. So the presence in this case of four healthy running backs on the roster means that every day in practice, Syracuse has to run some of these guys with the first string that would normally be scouting.
This situation is happening across the board, with the defensive backs down under half of their compliment healthy, and the linebackers in a similar position. At linebacker, most of the starters are healthy, but the depth being hurt means that the offense is getting a sub-par look all week in practice, or it means that the first teams are scouting each other. That situation may be worse and keeps those first teams that would be using the limited practice time each day to work against the schemes they’re playing that week from getting in the time needed to properly prepare for the next game.