Syracuse Football Emerges From Winter

There was some of negative news in the second week of Syracuse’s spring football practice. Defensive lineman Ryan Sloan won’t be on the team this fall joining Marcus Coleman (foot injury) whose career has ended for the Orange as two losses on the line.

Senior offensive lineman Rob Trudo suffered a sprained ankle that will keep him out for a few practices. On the surface that’s not good for a unit deep into serious shuffling and evaluations to find the top group of lineman to block up front. On the bright side it gives reps to at center to those who need them while Trudo recovers. Junior Kendall Moore, redshirt junior Jason Emerich and sophomore walk-on Donnie Foster will all see time anchoring the O-line.

“The biggest thing we’re looking for not just with the offensive line but with everyone is consistency,” head coach Scott Shafer told the media recently.

“That group [offensive line] needs to be the tightest-knit group in my opinion…for the O-line they have to fix all the blitzes, they have to communicate well across the board and they’re doing that with some new terminology and with some offensive schemes that are a little bit different than what we’ve done in the past.”

Sophomore quarterback AJ Long now expects to redshirt this season with Terrel Hunt back and two other QBs available before freshman arrive. Long threw for 935 yards last season while tossing four touchdowns and eight interceptions in his first collegiate action. He lead the Orange to the team’s only ACC win last season over Wake Forest, one of just three wins on the year.

While Long doesn’t plan to see the field there are plenty of questions regarding who the other quarterbacks will be throwing to in fall camp.

Freshman tight end and early enrollee Trey Dunkelberger has been one of the standouts of spring ball and appears to have earned himself some meaningful playing time this fall. Junior Josh Parris will also see plenty of time after a knee injury slowed him down last season. In his two years he has 22 catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns.

Offensive coordinator Tim Lester plans to use the tight ends and several receivers as H-backs. That includes Ervin Philips and Ashton Broyld playing more versatile roles outside of receiver. Philips seems particularly well suited after pulling in 15 catches for 59 yards while rushing 45 times for 194 yards last season.

Improving the running game is a major priority for a unit that finished 90th in the country last season with just 145.8 yards per game and 12 touchdowns.

While the H-backs will serve to augment the ground efforts, the search for a featured back continues and may well carry over into the summer months. Devante McFarlane and George Morris II are the leading returning rushers and the likely frontrunners to replace the departed Prince Tyson-Gulley (614 yards, one touchdown) but there will be others in the mix.

The most intriguing candidate is incoming freshman Dontae Strickland who is so talented that coaches have discussed un-retiring the legendary number 44 for him. 44 was of course worn by greats such as Jim Brown, Floyd Little and Ernie Davis — the first African-American to win the Heisman trophy.

Little — now a special assistant to the athletics director — is among those championing for the number to get back on the field and Strickland just may be the kind of talent to earn it.

The speedy athlete out of South Brunswick High School in New Jersey could see time at tailback or receiver, providing yet more versatility to an offense that sorely needs it. Tim Lester has said he doesn’t want a running back by committee so narrowing the field to roughly two top backs is a priority.

On the whole it’s been your standard spring practice filled with ongoing self evaluations and hard work that should pay off down the line.

“I’ve been pleased with the way they’ve competed and knocked each other down and picked each other up,” Shafer said recently.

This past week the program took some time off for the school’s spring break. Practice will begin again March 17. The Syracuse spring game will take place Saturday April 4 at 1 p.m. in the Carrier Dome and will be shown on ESPN3.

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