The Syracuse Orange football team hit a soft reset this offseason after a disappointing 2019.
Dino Babers hired new offensive (Sterlin Gilbert) and defensive (Tony White) coordinators, and also brought in new assistants Chip West and Chris Achuff to coach corrnerbacks and linebackers, respectively. For a staff that had experienced minimal turnover dating back to Dino’s Eastern Illinois days, this was a major shift made to address the numerous issues that had come up last fall as SU tried to follow up 2018’s surprising 10-3 record.
While a head coach usually gets at least a year to reset things when starting a new gig, offensive and defensive coordinator switches don’t typically warrant the same grace period. The head coach’s vision is already in place. They just need to make adjustments to scheme to execute on that idea.
Scheme adjustments do take time, and that’s what the offseason — and specifically spring practice — is for. As Syracuse fans, we were looking forward to that process and the change it could bring for the Orange compared to last year’s results. But now, with all ACC spring practices on hold due to coronavirus concerns, it’s going to be a much tougher task to make the needed changes successfully.
Granted, at least Gilbert won’t be starting from scratch with the offense, and will just be making tweaks to what the Orange already had installed. But on defense, the new 3-3-5 alignment was going to be a bigger switch. Additionally, defensive personnel turns over significantly this year. SU replaces potential draft picks Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman, plus last year’s sack leader Brandon Berry, both starting linebackers and two starters in the secondary. That’s a lot of production to replace, and a lot of players potentially tossed into starting roles for the first time.
With spring ball, there’s ample time to install the changes with those new players. It doesn’t mean everything works out, of course. But at least there’s a month of practices with in-person instruction on everyone’s role in the scheme.
Lacking that spring practice, there are still opportunities to figure it out, of course. Coaching via video is an option and fall practice starts in July. It’s definitely not the same as the time and energy spring ball affords, though. In spring, there’s time for new installations, instruction and an intense attention to detail. You can teach, repeat yourself, try different things to see what works. Once you get to fall camp, though, there’s a lot less of that adjustment time available.
Syracuse isn’t the only team to deal with this, and they’ll certainly find some way to make up as much of the difference as they can. Still, it’s also something to watch as the season gets closer. SU’s first opponent, Boston College, will be dealing with an even greater challenge in this regard, overhauling their entire staff.