Spring football practices start on March 18, and in preparation, we're previewing the team's most pressing matters. Today's topic:
Big Questions for the Offensive Line
Syracuse has gotten strong play from the O-Line for a few seasons now. Having top NFL talent like Justin Pugh and Sean Hickey anchoring the line doesn't hurt. In fact, the stats back up Syracuse's blocking effectiveness. According to SBN's resident amazing statistical genius Bill Connelly, the 2013 Orange line ranked 27th in "Adjusted Line Yards" and 32nd in Adjusted Sack Rate. They ranked sixth and fifth in the ACC in each of those measures, respectively. Syracuse returns four starters from last year's team, including Hickey, and on paper the line should take a large step forward.
Who's out for Spring Ball?
Syracuse is missing two starting linemen right now. Right tackle Ivan Foy is sitting out in order to get his academics in order, while guard Nick Robinson has the ever-mysterious lower body injury. Obviously starting center Macky MacPherson has graduated, and leaves the lone hole in the line, albeit a big one.
Who's back from last year?
Sean Hickey, who could have probably left school to become an early round draft pick, will man the left tackle position as a fifth year senior, and should be an All-ACC caliber player. A first round pick is definitely in play for him this year. Assuming they bounce back from their various issues, Nick Robinson and Ivan Foy return to the right side of the line, where they started last year. Rob Trudo moves over from left guard to center to replace MacPherson, while Omari Palmer has been penciled in as the left guard. He split time there with Trudo last year.
So, Trudo at Center? Is that going to work?
Possibly. I haven't seen him snap, but he played there some in high school from what I remember, and the kid is a bull. Syracuse is going to lose some major abilities at center without Macky, who was the rare player at that position who could pull and get to the second level easily. That is a rare talent for a center. However, Trudo definitely has more raw power, and the combination of him at center and Palmer, who is a hoss in his own right, at left guard, could be terrifying for ACC defensive tackles.
If Trudo can't get the job done, I think he will move back to left guard, and Jason Emerich may be able to start at center. He has been getting groomed for the position and was a really good get for SU out of high school.
Any other possible surprises on the line?
Besides Emerich, who I think may push for a starting job depending on how Trudo and Palmer look, I'm very intrigued by the players who are filling in on the right side. Kyle Knapp is slotted in at right guard, and from watching his high school tape, he is a mean, aggressive dude on the field. Nick Robinson had a surprisingly good year last year, so I don't expect him to give up his job easily, but I believe Knapp has starter ability. Michael Lasker is slotted in at tackle for Foy. Lasker played a bit last year, and he struggled at first but came into his own by the end of the year, when he appeared against Pitt and BC.
I won't call any of the four starters losing their jobs, but I think Palmer, Emerich, Knapp, and Lasker could all play effectively for this team this season. Having eight capable linemen is pretty exciting, and by my count, only Hickey is exhausting his eligibility this season. Most of the others have two or more years left. This is shaping up to be a great group.
What's with Joe Adam?
Honestly, I don't know what to think about our new offensive line coach. Having watched his video on Cuse.com, he comes off well, but the hire is still very interesting. He comes from the Midwest, where we already have a number of strong recruiters, and he has spent most of his career coaching the defensive side of the ball. That doesn't mean he can't do the job, it just makes less sense on paper than the Bobby Acosta hire, who fills a huge recruiting area need in New Jersey. Adam could be great for all we know, but he definitely has big shoes to fill. Pat Perles did a great job with this group last season.
How does Terrel Hunt impact the line?
Assuming Hunt holds on to the starting job at quarterback, I think he makes the line's life easier. He has great escapability, and can make plays happen with his feet when the pocket collapses. That sack rate stat cited above is definitely helped by Hunt, who didn't go down too often. I'm interested to see how George McDonald's "we're gonna go fast" directive effects the individuals. Hickey, Trudo, Knapp, Robinson, and Emerich definitely look like they can fit that style with their lighter, more athletic frames, while playing at that pace may be harder for guys like Palmer, Lasker, and Foy. That may be a factor in determining who starts and sees time come this fall.