It’s a Syracuse Orange football game week! Which means it’s also time that we heard from Head Coach Dino Babers. He held his first regular season press conference yesterday, and the 7th-year leader of the Orange had a lot to say. Let’s break it all down:
There’s good news right out of the gate on the injury front. Barring any setbacks, both WR Isaiah Jones and DB Jason Simmons are good to go for Saturday’s opener. DL Steve Linton is also expected to be available, but he’s not listed as a starter. Babers says his team will be “the healthiest they’ve ever played” for the season opener - a welcome sight with fierce competition right around the corner.
Depth Chart Breakdown
Steve went over this when it first broke but I’d like to dive in deeper. We’ll start with a surprise: Oronde Gadsden is the initial #1 TE. Coach Anae is experimenting with the young receiver, who has the height but maybe not the traditional weight to make the switch over. Dino’s comment about Gadsden being a “switchblade” makes me think this is for specific matchups and not a permanent move, so ‘Cuse (and Christian) may not have their long-awaited TE just yet.
Chris Elmore makes his triumphant return to the fullback position. His blocking expertise was missed down the stretch last year, when the running game slowed down at the worst time.
“Rhino’s different,” Babers said. “He’s a multi-talented guy. I really believe he’s going to have an opportunity to play in the (NFL).”
The offensive line went through another shakeup in training camp. From left to right, the starting five are Matthew Bergeron, Kalan Ellis, Carlos Vettorello, Chris Bleich and Dakota Davis. Bergeron is the only one of the bunch who wasn’t seriously looked at to play center, with the other four sliding around in camp to find the best combination.
“Any time that you’ve had the ball between your legs, snapping it before is an advantage,” Babers said. “Outside of Bergeron... those other four guys have to be interchangeable.”
While the defensive line has been a topic of concern all offseason, the rest of the unit looks to be in great shape, with viable depth pieces all around.
“There’s a lot of competition on the back end,” Babers said. “We can call them 2s, but they’re like 1.5s to me.”
Finally, Babers revealed that Michigan transfer Dan Villari, who was part of the QB room until recently, voluntarily moved over to WR and is working his way up. The team plans to take their time and develop him properly. Babers called the decision “extremely unselfish” and noted that while it’s best for the team now, the door for Villari to return to QB is always open.
Gameplan against Louisville
Babers did not sugarcoat how much of a threat Malik Cunningham is. In fact, he came right out and admitted that someone of his caliber can rarely be slowed down.
“The really cool thing about football is that the best player on the field, you actually get to touch him,” Babers said. “But Malik’s one of those guys you don’t get to touch anyway because he’s so elusive.”
“I really like him. He’s extremely confident but humble, and he’s an electrifying player.”
He also said that the scout team hasn’t tried to replicate his speed - which could hint that the strategy is to give up some runs in order to defend against the pass.
Opening up at Dome
This will be the first time in Dino’s tenure that the Orange will open with a conference game at home. To rise to the challenge, Babers is counting on a strong showing from the student section. He had a chance to meet the incoming class over the weekend and was impressed by the size of the group.
“That freshman class is large, and they’ve got crazy in their eyes,” Babers said. “You get this year’s freshman class with last year’s Otto’s Army, which I thought was the best we’ve ever had, they’re going to be crazy out there. I’m excited”
SU hosts Louisville Saturday at 8. Before that, I’ll have some additional insight from at least one player.