The Syracuse Orange football team has added 23 new players this offseason — courtesy of recruiting and the transfer portal. And with said additions, we’re now turning the page to the 2020 season.
Spring practice will start soon (no word on that just yet), but ahead of that and the spring game, we’ll previewing each position group on the roster (and specifically, on campus right now). Before we get to the players, however, it’s worth diving into some coaching staff changes that Dino Babers has made this offseason.
Brian Ward was fired as defensive coordinator back in November following a disastrous performance against Boston College. Former cornerbacks coach (and long-time Babers assistant) Kim McCloud is also no longer employed at Syracuse.
Who moved around?
Despite an uptick in late-season production for the Orange offense, Mike Lynch still gets shifted out of his former role as offensive coordinator and will coach running backs for Syracuse (which he did in 2016 and 2017 for SU). Steve Stanard moves from interim defensive coordinator and linebackers coach to just coaching linebackers. From 2017-19, Stanard handled defensive ends for the Orange.
Additionally, former QB coach Kirk Martin takes over as a senior analyst after two years on the staff.
With the changes above, obviously there were some new faces in the door. Sterlin Gilbert will take over the reins on offense — a role he’s previously occupied under Babers from 2012-14 at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green. Gilbert was the head coach at McNeese State last year, and an OC at Tulsa, Texas and USF since last leaving Babers’s staff.
Defensively, Tony White is the new coordinator, coming over from Arizona State (where he’d just been promoted to the same title back in December). White coached ASU’s corners for a couple years after doing so at San Diego State as well from 2009-17.
Chip West is the other new face, and he’ll take over the cornerbacks coach role, which he also held at Marshall last year. West was a defensive coordinator at both Howard and Charlotte, and before that was on Mike London’s staff at Virginia for six years coaching corners as well.
So Mike Cavanaugh’s still coaching the offensive line?
Yeah... about that. Despite a disastrous first nine games of 2019 for Syracuse, the offensive line did improve following Ryan Alexander’s departure and the resulting tweaks to the starting unit. The line looked reasonable in Cavanugh’s first year (2018), and he was a big part of Florida transfer Chris Bleich coming aboard, so it seems he sticks around.
How does this affect recruiting?
It’s a net positive from a recruiting standpoint. White was a quality recruiter at ASU and San Diego State, and will help further bolster our Florida ties (despite being out at Arizona State with the Sun Devils, he was largely scouting talent in Florida). West plugs in as a Hampton, Va. native and someone who can help Syracuse double down on talent in Virginia. He’s won a couple “ACC recruiter of the year” awards per various recruiting sites, so that’s a positive sign.
Gilbert probably helps in Texas, but we’ll see to what extent. The Orange have only recruited (and held onto) a handful of players from the Lone Star State since Babers arrived.
What about on the field production? What’s Gilbert bringing to the table offensively?
Gilbert’s from the Art Briles/Baylor veer-and-shoot offensive tree, so expect to see a lot of what we already know. However, Gilbert is poised to introduce some new wrinkles and push the offense back to the sort of tempo we’d gotten accustomed to in Dino’s first three years on campus. Quick throws will be key, and the run game is likely to improve. We could see something a lot more like the old Baylor “power spread” than the pass-happy attack that’s been the case for the Orange for most of the last four years. However, a lot depends on the offensive line there, too.
Defensively, how will White’s defense look different from what we saw with Ward?
White utilizes a 3-3-5 defense, which isn’t all that different from the 4-2-5 we were running for portions, though does have some key differences that allow us to plug in some of our ‘tweener players (like Trill Williams and Tyrell Richards) a little more situationally. At ASU, his teams were more takeaway-driven too, so we shouldn’t have to see a major shift in the attacking style that’s worked well the last couple of seasons.
Where it will look different is the Orange blitz, which seems likely to cool down a bit from the aggressiveness of the last few years. The trade-off there is a linebacker group that goes back to more “read and react” play — which could mean fewer holes (via over-pursuit) than what we saw last year. There’s also less ground for linebackers to cover than they did in the previous scheme, which should mean our athletes at this position are in better position. Especially against the run.