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Syracuse football: defense dominating in spring practice

Defense wins championships... or at least it had better.

Notre Dame v Syracuse Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

If there’s one thing to take away from the first half of Syracuse Orange spring football camp, it’s that one side of the ball looks significantly better than the other.

The defense has responded well under the leadership of new coordinator Rocky Long, with many players praising his knowledge and coaching style. Meanwhile, the offense (albeit without Garrett Shrader) has looked less than impressive so far, with several areas showing major red flags.

It’s a glaring contrast between the two units, but not one that can’t be explained.

The defense has some new pieces in key roles, with younger guys suddenly being elevated to veteran status now that Mikel Jones, Garrett Williams, and others have moved on. However, the transfers on this side of the ball have seamlessly found their groove with their new teammates. As multiple players have mentioned, having the “Godfather” of the 3-3-5 defense himself as the new DC has made it a smooth process.

“Our whole defensive back room are pretty fresh,” Alijah Clark said last week. “We’re young, but I feel as though we can play with anybody.”

“Coach Long is an old-school style kind of coach,” Caleb Okechukwu said. “He’s got a committed mind. He understands our abilities. He’s put us in a position that Coach White didn’t.”

“He’s a guru: he knows it all,” Marlowe Wax said. “It’s a different style... how he wants to attack.”

It’s great that the returning guys are buying into their new coach - and that includes the youth on the roster. Judging by one player’s spring camp so far, it seems that SU’s history of churning out quality DBs is in no danger of stopping anytime soon.

It may be a small, contained sample size, but sophomore Jeremiah Wilson looks as legit as can be this spring. He’s very vocal and has been an absolute ballhawk through the first five open practices. Coach Babers sounds like he agrees:

“Jeremiah is one of those spirited players. There’s two guys that you wish everybody would practice like, one on offense and one on defense. Jeremiah practices the way practice should be on defense and a lot of other guys need to get his energy.”

Florida State v Syracuse Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images

If anyone’s taking early bets on an Orange breakout candidate this fall, I’ll put something on him.

Then there are the new guys (who are unfortunately not available to talk to until August). The Bergen Catholic duo of Jaeden Gould and Jayden Bellamy are in particular being shouted out by the players who are being interviewed.

“Both them boys are talented,” Jason Simmons said. “I’m just glad we were able to replace what we lost. They’re big additions to the team, for sure, with big shoes to fill.”

So there’s the good news... now for the part you probably don’t want to hear about. The offense has a lot to work on if they want to impress against the rest of the ACC. Their biggest issue is unfortunately one they can’t do much to fix right now.

Now stop me if you’ve heard this before: the offensive line is collapsing way too fast, forcing the QB to roll to his weak side. The eldest member of the bunch, Chris Bleich, is dealing with an unknown injury. There are two JUCO transfers coming in over the summer, but not having them at camp now could spell trouble later on.

The TEs are either very camera shy, or the Orange offense still really isn’t incorporating the position. With Oronde Gadsden back on the outside, I had hoped that meant Max Mang, Steve Mahar or even the underclassmen would have a bigger role in the passing game. True freshman David Clement has been working out with the receivers more and I’m excited to see what he brings, but I need to see some more 11-on-11 work from him first.

Even the top guys like Gadsden haven’t done a ton against the D in team drills. Now that’s no slight against him, but it speaks to how imbalanced the Orange roster currently is.

What are your thoughts on the Orange at this point?