We’re nearly at the start of July, which around here, typically means we can preview the upcoming Syracuse Orange football season in earnest.
If you’ve missed our ongoing opponent previews, here’s the latest one. But we’re also jumping into our position-by-position looks at the Orange roster as well. Naturally, that begins with:
The struggles of the past two seasons can’t be boiled down to one single player, position or coach. But at the same time, it’s hard to deny the issues that quarterback concerns have created for a Syracuse offense lacking the same zip it once had. Yes, there’s plenty to bring up about the offensive line, and we’ll get there. It’s just that line or not, the QB position hasn’t produced over the past couple years.
Whether Tommy DeVito was under center or not last season, the outputs were particularly poor. On the year, SU was 110th in passing yards per game, 120th in completion percentage and 125th in sacks taken. There was no real passing game to speak of amid injuries and the resulting lack of consistency at QB. Even if offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert had designs on a better offensive approach, it’s debatable whether or not he could’ve even implemented it in 2020.
Tommy DeVito, (Redshirt) Junior
Things certainly haven’t been easy for DeVito since the former four-star passer arrived on campus. In 2018, he played well in limited snaps, including closing out games vs. Florida State and North Carolina, but he’s won just five games since. Last year, before getting injured vs. Duke, he completed just 50% of his passes for 593 yards, four touchdowns and two picks. It’s easy to argue he was getting better as the season wore on — he had a season-high 255 yards and two scores vs. Duke before leaving that contest — but it’s also easy to argue that still wasn’t great.
Now, we’re likely running it back for year three with DeVito at the helm, though he’ll have a much shorter leash as well with Dino Babers’s staff under pressure to win and a more experienced backup behind him. We don’t necessarily need to see an aerial assault from DeVito to keep his job. At the same time, he’ll need to show a greater ability to make quick throws, improve his accuracy compared to last year, and find ways to keep the offense on the field.
Garrett Shrader, Sophomore
Shrader was brought in to push DeVito, yet it doesn’t mean he’s just taking the job. After all, the former Mississippi State QB hasn’t played the position at the college level since 2019, and has to learn a whole new offense here at Syracuse. When he was the Bulldogs’ quarterback, he had over 1,700 total yards and 17 touchdowns over the course of 10 games. I don’t want to disregard that production at all. But it’s not as if we’re adding an out-of-the-box All-American to the QB room. Shrader still needs some time to develop, and initially sitting behind DeVito on the depth chart is one way to assure that happens — and make sure that SU’s in good shape at QB in the coming years as well.
Beyond the opportunities injury concerns can create, the easiest path to playing time for Shrader this year is what he can do in short-yardage opportunities. It’s been an area of struggle for Syracuse even predating Babers’s time on campus. If Shrader can show effectiveness converting on third and fourth down, or even better, inside the red zone, he’s much more likely to get the nod over time. Mobility isn’t essential for a quarterback to succeed at Syracuse. It just helps a lot when your offensive line is questionable. For now, you could argue SU’s still is.
JaCobian Morgan, freshman
It was a limited sample size, but Morgan did show some things during his first season at Syracuse. With protection, he seemed to have presence and play-making ability. He knew how to pick up yards with his legs, and seemed unafraid to step up in the pocket, at least until Louisville just hammered us and eventually knocked him out of that game. Morgan needs to develop more, and is still pretty new to the position. Completing 63% of his throws for 285 yards with two TDs (and two INTs) shows he has some raw ability, though.
Justin Lamson, Freshman
The newest face on campus, Lamson is a three-star recruit out of the Sacramento area, and already has the size to compete for a spot on the depth chart at 6-foot-3 and 216 pounds. As is the case with all true freshmen, the question will be how quickly he can adjust to the college game. We’ve seen that transition happen almost immediately, while it’s taken awhile for others. Lamson seems to be a pretty interesting dual-threat, but ideally, we’re giving him at least a year to adjust and truly compete for the starting job. He can still absorb plenty here in year one, though.
Dillon Markiewicz, Freshman
Markiewicz saw the least time of the scholarship passers last year, attempting just one pass (an incompletion) in two games. That said, he’s also the QB room’s biggest player at 6-foot-5 and 228 pounds. This is a crowded depth chart, and it’s tough to see him breaking through without injuries. Still, Markiewicz remains a developmental quarterback with some potential if he can use that impressive frame to stand and deliver throws downfield.
Luke MacPhail, Freshman
The lone walk-on remaining, MacPhail possesses some size as well at 6-foot-4 and 229 pounds. Not seeing him last year at all despite the various injury issues probably means he’s on the bench in case of a major emergency. That’s fine, as long as he’s fine with it.
So on the one hand, Syracuse’s quarterback situation appears to be in better shape than the past couple seasons. At the same time, there’s far more uncertainty at the top than we’ve seen at any point recently either. This group has plenty of experience, with three different players (DeVito, Shrader, Morgan) starting games since 2019. Yet, whether or not those starts mean much within Gilbert’s system or behind this admittedly porous line remains to be seen.
As mentioned, DeVito will at least get a shot to keep his job following last year’s injury. But he’s not going to have a ton of time to keep it should he struggle. Syracuse’s first four games (at Ohio, Rutgers, Albany, Liberty) should provide a reasonable gauge for whether or not he’s equipped to be the QB. If not, the hope is that Shrader, Morgan or Lamson can step right in and turn things around. Given the relative hot seat this staff is on, a successful season from whoever the quarterback is becomes absolutely essential.