Syracuse Orange Football Spring camp has been open for a bit now, though you wouldn’t know it based on the lack of coverage allowed or done by the athletic department. However, in an effort to get ‘Cuse fans familiar with their program, the football team hosted a Season Ticket Holder Huddle with offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert and defensive coordinator Tony White.
Both coaches talked about their journeys to Dino Babers’ staff, the challenges with COVID in 2020, and their general coaching philosophies. Did you miss the huddle? We’ve got a recap for you.
The Offense is still a work in progress
Gilbert opened up the program with some coach speak about the offense. The Orange OC made it clear the unit is in an evaluation process, and there’s still plenty of teaching happening. The goal is to better evaluate the players, and then match up the scheme with personnel, and there is some progress being made in terms of changing up the playbook. Gilbert said they’re installing new things that haven’t been put to tape yet, which is a promising development.
Sean Tucker was specifically called out for his positive play in Spring, so expect to see plenty of him should he remain healthy into the fall. The tight end group will include Chris Elmore, Luke Benson, and Maximillian Mang, who all have chances to catch passes and be the regular at the position. Benson’s speed was highlighted, while Elmore’s athleticism was mentioned. Mang’s name was a surprise drop by Gilbert, but it’s a great sign. Taj Harris will be a primary receiver, and Gilbert mentioned during tape breakdowns that they wanted to continue to line him out wide, using his speed to get open. Anthony Queeley was highlighted during that breakdown, with Gilbert saying the wide out had made huge strides in the 2 weeks of Spring ball.
There WILL be depth on offensive line this year
The first fan question was all about the offensive line, and Gilbert confirmed with all the new and healthy bodies means Elmore is moving to fullback and tight end full time. Chris Bleich’s looking impressive, and Gilbert said his SEC experience has shown. The team is cross-training all the bodies to be flexible across the line, and that includes center. The OC talked a bit about “snap school,” and that there are multiple players in the program practicing taking snaps with the QBs. Speaking of QBs and depth...
Mum’s the word on the QB competition
Asked point blank, Gilbert didn’t tip his hand at which QB has a leg up in the competition. (Tommy DeVito and Garret Shrader are the veteran front runners) Both quarterbacks “are getting evaluated, working hard, and improving every day,” along with the rest of the QB position group. Gilbert mentioned that the others know that like last year, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that they may need to make an impact on the field this season. When asked to give a scouting report on each, Gilbert dodged, only saying that DeVito has been in the system far longer and around the team far more, while Shrader has to learn the offense.
Tony White Has ENERGY
The Defensive Coordinator followed Gilbert and brought the energy levels way up. He spoke about his two defensive coordinator offers, and that choosing ‘Cuse came down a good night’s sleep. White talked a bit about the skills needed to work with college athletes, and the refocusing from everything that was 2020 into a positive 2021 campaign. In the opinion of a few of our TNIAAM folks, White screams potential head coach.
White spent significant time talking about the three future pros coming out of the ‘Cuse secondary. (Andre Cisco, Trill Williams, and Ifeatu Melifonwu) He specifically mentioned the work that all three did on and off field, calling out that coaches don’t make plays; The best they can do is mold and encourage them to do the work. He had high praise for all three choosing to believe in Dino’s program, and that all three came out of the Northeast to become Orange stars.
Defensive Improvement is a Priority
“It ain’t it.” White said that’s what the coaching staff called the defense after the last game of 2020, and the results on the field led to a systemic review and change in how the coaching staff worked with student athletes. This led to changes with everything from the playbook to the conditioning on the defensive side of ball, music to the ears of many ‘Cuse fans. White took full responsibility for the Duke and Liberty losses, saying he didn’t do enough to put the team in a situation to succeed. Perhaps most impressively, White made it sound as if the players were all consulted on these changes to get buy in before offseason planning was implemented.
Part of these changes included schematic changes. White mentioned learning which players to put where when specific scenarios arise, which can really only be learned from game scenarios. Garret Williams, the breakout star of the team, learned a ton from Melifonwu last season. White said the two would stay late after defensive meetings to break down film, with white saying “A year later, he’s one of the best DBs I’ve been around.”
Josh Black and McKinley Williams returning to ‘Cuse is huge for the defensive line. White talked about the physicality and athleticism both provide that is key for the 3-3-5 to work. Stephon Thompson impressed last year, and should be a big player this year. White talked about how leading into the Lousiville game, Thompson was able to pull off a particular stunt in practice to the point that they felt comfortable running all game. Ja’Had Carter got a film room call out, which is promising for his status in the Spring with the first team.
That’s a lot of football talk for April, but it is great to hear from these coaches, even in a controlled setting and start getting excited for the 2021 season.