The Syracuse Orange are entering the final week of spring football camp. While there is still a handful of matchups that have yet to be decided, most positions have clear front-runners to start in the fall - including some that have barely been seen in practice.
Both sides of the ball have a position group that is missing at least one key starter, not including the obvious absence of Garrett Shrader at QB. I’m referring to the O-Line and the Linebacker corps., which are each without their veteran leader: 6th-year Right Guard Chris Bleich and defensive captain Marlowe Wax.
Bleich has been out of team drills the last two weeks, which has been a huge loss for a group that has just one other returning starter. The O-Line looks like the biggest area of concern, as even with Bleich playing during the start of camp, the young but energetic D-Line has no trouble breaking through and forcing a lot of pressure on Justin Lamson and Carlos Del Rio-Wilson.
The alternate options here unfortunately don’t inspire much confidence. Wes Hoeh and Mark Petry have struggled on the right side. Jakob Bradford has been the main fill-in for Bleich and looks a bit better than the other 2nd-stringers. Enrique Cruz was also moved from his normal Left Tackle position to the opposite side for part of last Thursday’s practice, with Joe Cruz taking his old spot; the move didn’t prevent any more scrambling by the QBs.
There are two JUCO additions coming in the summer, but even with that, SU should really consider hitting the portal for some help here - especially if Bleich’s injury turns out to be a long-term one.
The other position in question has the exact opposite “problem”: the youth has looked more than serviceable in the interim while several key faces have been sidelined.
We knew that Stefon Thompson wouldn’t be 100% yet as he continues to recover from his season-ending injury suffered in the Louisville opener - though he was spotted in pads for the first time earlier today. Two other LBs have also been on & off the field this spring: the aforementioned Marlowe Wax and Derek McDonald.
Coach Babers said that while those guys probably won’t make any appearances in the last couple practices, they should be ready by the time fall camp rolls around.
The difference with the defensive 2s is that many of them got some consistent playing time due to injuries last season. Leon Lowrey and Anwar Sparrow both stepped up when Thompson and McDonald missed time last year, and they haven’t missed a beat in their spring opportunities. Mekhi Mason and Kadin Bailey have also gotten some reps, and Babers said he’s seen growth from the entire unit.
Because of how depleted the LB starters are at the moment, the defense has come out in a 4-2-5 package more often than not. Judging by the defense’s consistent performance, it’s a good sign that the Orange have a fallback option to run if Rocky Long’s usual 3-3-5 is not getting the job done.