Much like Dino Babers on Monday afternoon, a selection of Syracuse Orange players talked with the local media on Tuesday night before SU kicks off the 2020 campaign on September 12. This week, Aaron Hackett, Mikel Jones, and Eric Coley sat down to give their thoughts on a number of subjects. While all three had interesting things to say, we’ll focus on a couple of particular things that Jones and Coley mentioned, in particular.
Let’s start with Jones. Syracuse.com’s Nate Mink asked him if he was practicing at the Mike (middle) linebacker spot. Jones said no, and shared that he was practicing at Will (weakside) linebacker. Mink then asked Jones who was practicing in the middle, and he said Geoff Cantin-Arku was. No question was asked on who was practicing at the Sam (strongside).
Now the fact that Cantin-Arku is practicing at the Mike is not too surprising. He was listed as the starter in that position in the spring depth chart with Jones backing him up. This makes Jones’s comment that he is practicing at Will linebacker much more interesting. Many people believe that Jones has the talent to be a starting linebacker for the Orange this year, but the name that he would replace as the starter at the Will is rather interesting: Tyrell Richards.
Richards was listed as the starting will linebacker in the spring depth chart, and many believed that he was a surefire lock for a starting linebacker spot. Now unless Richards is practicing at the Sam spot, this could raise some flags. Because Jones is practicing on the weakside, you could assume that he would be the starter there for week one. So is there something hampering Richards?
Babers mentioned on Monday that linebacker was one of the groups that was dealing with some situations such as injuries heading into the season. For all we know, Richards could be one of those players who was banged up at one point or another. It’s also a very real possibility that Richards might have opted out. All three players at the press conference on Tuesday in a way confirmed that there were some guys that were still making a decision on whether to play or not for the 2020 season.
If Richards is not available, Syracuse would lose an integral piece to their linebacker corps. He’s the only player on the spring two-deep with more than one year of collegiate game experience. It’s a very young and inexperienced group that needs to grow up fast after the graduations of Andrew Armstrong and Lakiem Williams. And although Jones said that he’s ready to be a leader on the defense, the Orange needs more than just his four-star talent to contain the fearsome offenses in the ACC.
That brings us to Coley’s comments during the press conference. I asked him how much he’s been practicing at the rover position since he was listed as the starter during the spring. Coley responded by saying he’s been at two positions — rover and boundary safety (or strong safety). He then said this:
“Cisco and I made the flip.”
This goes to suggest that Andre Cisco will also see time at the rover position. Syracuse.com’s Stephen Bailey then asked Coley to expand on why he and Cisco switched roles. Coley responded by saying so that they could be more versatile.
Now I’ve asked a lot about the rover position to the guys on the team throughout the preseason, because it’s such an unknown to traditional football fans. From the responses I’ve gathered, every player and Coach Babers sees the rover as an integral part to the defense, not just the secondary. Babers mentioned that you can’t ignore the rover because he can influence all parts of the field during every play.
Given those descriptions, it would make a lot of sense to have a guy who’s as talented as Cisco in that position. It would demand a lot more from him, especially in the run and pass rushing game, where we haven’t seen him really at all. However, you cannot deny that he’s an influential presence in the secondary. Having him positioned in the middle of that unit could unlock an ability to drastically alter an offensive attack.
That being said, while no one has said this explicitly, Coley’s comments could also mean that the secondary juggles positions multiple times throughout a game. Babers and Tommy DeVito have already mentioned that Trill Williams won’t necessarily have to stay at outside cornerback throughout the entire game. SU could be in a situation where they have Coley at the rover for a set amount of plays, then Cisco and Williams rotate in and out of that position throughout the game.
The defensive developments are very interesting to note as we get closer to September 12. While I think we’re all eager to see the 3-3-5 in action and how the extremely talented secondary flows in their unique roles, you cannot ignore the other six guys on defense. And if Richards is in any way not available for the Orange, his lack of presence on the field could severely hamper Syracuse’s defensive effectiveness.