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’re previewing each position group on the roster (and specifically, on campus right now). Yesterday we provided a brief overview of the Orange’s new-look coaching staff.
How can offseason changes improve quarterback play (and the entire offense) for 2020?
The lone departure is Clayton Welch, who started one game while with the Orange (the season finale last year), throwing for 529 yards and four touchdowns while running for another 58 yards. Welch stood in the pocket well, but didn’t have the same accuracy or arm strength that Tommy DeVito possess. However, his running ability was useful and he was a capable backup when called upon.
Who’s on campus?
DeVito, most importantly. Despite some disappointment about his first season as a starter, the former four-star QB still passed for 2,360 yards and 19 touchdowns while completing 63.2% of his throws. He also ran for 122 yards and two scores, but was sacked a ton.
Along with DeVito, redshirt freshman David Summers returns, as does redshirt senior Rex Culpepper. Summers didn’t take any snaps last year, while Culpepper was in for all of two plays in 2019.
Who’s arriving this summer?
After not having a quarterback at all through early January, Dino Babers wound up adding two 6-foot-4 passers late in the 2020 cycle: McKinney, Tex. product Dillon Markiewicz and Jacobian Morgan from Canton, Miss. (both three-star prospects, respectively). Neither’s expected to see the field this year, as they likely still need to develop a bit for the college game.
Who is DeVito’s primary backup?
That likely won’t get sorted ALL the way out until we get to September. However, expect to Summers to get plenty of reps this spring to see just how much command he has within this offense. Culpepper’s the more experienced hand, yes. If you have a chance to get reps for Summers (who still has three years on campus after this one) though, I’d think he’s the likely choice.
Where is DeVito’s improvement most crucial for this offense to get back on track?
Last year’s biggest struggles came not from DeVito’s talent level, but decision-making — and most glaringly, from the offensive line issues that caused them in a lot of cases. Once he was getting teed off on weekly, he wouldn’t stay in the pocket, starting rolling out too quickly and became very readable for opposing defenses. A greater ability to stand and delver would mean a lot for this Orange attack. If he can develop a quicker release (required for this offense to be successful, through rarely adhered to at SU, at least), that should also get the tempo back up to where it should be.
With luck, the above means less decision making around taking a sack, tucking or running or throwing the ball away, too. While we got used to it with Eric Dungey under center, most quarterbacks aren’t at their best when forced to improvise constantly.
What passing game changes do we expect to see from new offensive coordinator/QB coach Sterlin Gilbert?
A return to the tempo we saw from 2016-18 is imperative, and one of the big things Gilbert will be charged with. He’s likely going to simplify play-calling and DeVito’s reads to help him get the ball out quicker, too. We didn’t see a ton of passes over the middle last year, and that’s unlikely to change under Gilbert. However, we’ll likely see more screens, more aggressive play-calling overall and hopefully a little less obviously telegraphed gameplan.
Provided the offensive line looks closer to what we were watching at the end of last year vs. the first nine games, it should be a lot more enjoyable offense to watch.
How will DeVito’s surprising abilities as a runner factor in?
Hopefully not much. DeVito’s actually a little faster than Dungey was and at times is also smarter about taking hits (or not). Last year’s scheme had a few too many designed runs for my liking, and it’s likely there’s a decrease in those sorts of play-calls in 2020 as Gilbert’s a bit more focused on keeping the QB focused on passing (he wasn’t even a fan of running Quinton Flowers at USF, and it was arguably Flowers’s best skill).
Yes, the WMU game (85 yards on the ground for Tommy) was fun. But realistically, his running ability returns to what we’d originally thought: an “in case of emergency break glass” skill rarely used.