It’s that time of year again. Spring practice for the Syracuse Orange is right around the corner and that means that the TNIAAM staff is doing a deep dive into the position groups. We’re at the midpoint and giving you a break before the defense starts next week by giving an offseason rundown to the coaching staff.
If you missed the other pieces to the puzzle, you can find quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers/tight ends and offensive line in the in the archives. The forthcoming previews will be coming at you weekly, through the rest of the spring.
Babers went away from the Ohana. What is this going to look like?
Sterlin Gilbert, Reno Ferri, Vinson Reynolds and Terrence Samuel have all moved on from the staff this season. Gilbert’s maligned offense will be out the door opening up the offensive coordinator and quarterback coaching positions. Reno Ferri opens a spot with the tight ends/inside receivers, Reynolds on the defensive line and Terrence Samuels with the outside wideouts.
Who’s new on campus?
New blood through much of the offense. If you’ve been living under a Syracuse football based rock, the Orange have brought in Robert Anae and Jason Beck from the University of Virginia to try and right the offensive ship. Anae will be the new OC and also handle tight ends and slot receivers. Beck is the quarterbacks coach with some credentials including coaching up Brendan Armstrong and Bryce Perkins at UVA and Taysom Hill in his time at BYU. They’ll be joined by outside receivers coach Michael Johnson, another addition with a litany of pro and collegiate experience.
The other addition, and a welcome one after last season’s performance, is new special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky. Ligashesky has been a name in special teams coaching for years and fills the void left by Justin Lustig when he took the Vanderbilt job. He looks to turn around a unit that went from a reason the Orange was winning games to one that may have cost a few within a single season.
Who’s still here?
As you can imagine, Head Coach Dino Babers returns to the sidelines for his seventh season at the helm. Mike Lynch also comes back the the running backs coach for his seventh season as well in various roles. The only other offensive coach returning is offensive line coach Mike Schmidt. He did get the bump to Run Game Coordinator, so that’s nice for both a confidence boost and I’d assume his paycheck.
Returning on the defensive side are defensive coordinator Tony White, who is adding linebackers to his purview this year, defensive line coach Chris Achuff (formerly linebackers), cornerbacks coach Chip West and safeties coach and newly minted Defensive Passing Game Coordinator Nick Monroe.
How will the offensive staff change effect the scheme?
That’s the cliff notes. If you want more detail, come on for the rest of this ride. As anyone knows who’s followed the Orange over the last few years, Coach Babers was a student of the veer and shoot Baylor tree. He’s tried over the years to implement it to varying degrees of success while pushing the tempo. Often times he’s had as much, or more, success when forced off his preferred script (See Dungey, Eric). With the change in offensive coordinator to someone outside his coaching tree, and the promotion of Mike Schmidt to run game coordinator, I think we’ll be seeing a more collective approach to the offense and Anae having the reigns to do what he needs to.
Anae has constantly fit the pieces he has at his disposal to the puzzle at hand, running option-heavy looks at BYU with dual-threat quarterbacks, tossing the ball all over the field with pro-style Kurt Benkert and Brendan Armstrong at Virginia, with a more balanced attack with Bryce Perkins in between. Basically he’s going to make the pieces fit the puzzle.
How big of an impact is the return of a special teams coordinator?
When Justin Lustig left, the Orange had a heaping gap in what was a strength of the program. Syracuse actually dropped exactly one hundred spots in special teams efficiency from number 17 (2020) to 117 (2021) in FEI for special teams. I would be lying if I thought it was quite that bad until I looked up the numbers. I would say the “special teams by committee” approach was an abject failure.
That said, the addition of noted special teams guru Bob Ligashesky is hoping to bolster Syracuse back to the levels they saw during Lustig’s tenure here. He’s a Super Bowl winner with the Steelers and has coached special teams on the college and professional levels for 36 years at this point. His track record should speak to the fact that this team should turn things around.
Can Tony White and staff keep catching lightning in a bottle?
The defense through the past couple of seasons has been the hallmark that’s kept the Orange in a few games. On top of turning into DB-U, Tony White’s implementation of the 3-3-5 has kept opposing offenses on their toes, assuming that they’re not on the field for the entire game.
Chris Achuff will have his hands full with a very raw front three, as all four rotational linemen have graduated. White takes on a veteran group of linebackers and Monroe and West keep doing what they’re doing at the back. It seems that if the questions in the trenches can be solved, the pieces are there for the Orange to repeat the success White has seen through his tenure.