From punt returns to position battles, spring training will reveal 2014-15 contenders and pretenders for SU football.
The Orange has begun its first spring practice as a member of the ACC; technically, the program was still in the Big East during spring practices last year. After a mostly successful season, finishing with seven wins including a bowl win, Coach Shafer has some holes to fill and some interesting pieces in his current depth chart.
Four positions in four years
It is getting to be a yearly ritual: “Let’s see what position Ashton Broyld will play this year!” After playing quarterback as a senior in high school, running back as a freshman at SU, and H-back last year, Broyld is now listed as the top receiver opposite Jarrod West on the outside. Broyld had some good games last year as a receiver, and others where it really showed that he needed to learn the position. But, it seemed like Broyld quickly became a favorite target for Terrel Hunt on third downs or other times Hunt needed a big completion. If Broyld can develop this spring into a solid receiver, he could be a huge part of the SU offense as a steady option opposite West.
Yes, it may sound silly. And it was beaten over the head on Twitter. But Brisley Estime needs a legitimate chance to be the punt returner for the Orange. Hey, maybe Ritchy Desir is a solid punt returner, but 95 percent of the time, he either makes a fair catch or fumbles. Most of the time, he doesn’t even make an attempt to return the ball. In the Texas Bowl, a key play for the Orange was Estime’s punt return to set up the game-winning touchdown. Estime provided a spark that the Orange didn’t have all season while Desir was returning punts.
This is Terrel Hunt’s team. He deserves that chance going into the season. Hunt’s 2013 was very much a roller coaster: he could do no wrong against Wagner and Tulane; he could do no right against Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech; and then, at the end of the year, he led the Orange on a game-winning and season-continuing touchdown drive against BC and a win in the Texas Bowl. Hunt no doubt deserves to move on as the quarterback of the Orange, but the question is whether the improvements will keep coming for the rising redshirt junior. It was amazing to see Hunt’s growth from week to week later in the season and then how he built on the BC game in the Texas Bowl. It can only make Orange fans excited to see what he could do with a full offseason to improve.
Jerome Smith decided to leave for the NFL, but Prince-Tyson Gulley, George Morris II and Devante McFarlane all return for SU. PTG will likely be the main ball-carrier this year, stepping into Jerome Smith’s vacated workhorse role. But who will step up and become the true no. 2 back? Both GMII and McFarlane played well in limited time last year, but my money is on GMII, who provided great sparks last season when he played. With more playing time, it is even possible GMII overtakes PTG as the lead running back this year because of his ability to make plays through tough running and bursts of speed. With that said, there could be plenty of opportunities for McFarlane, even if he ends up as the third running back on the depth chart this fall as seen last year when all four available running backs had opportunities at some point over the season.
Who takes over for Jay Bromley in the middle of that defensive line? As of now, it’s Ryan Sloan, but maybe JuCo transfer Wayne Williams will be able to step in and make an impact. Whomever fills Bromley’s spot on the field will be an important piece for the Orange. SU needs to be able to rush the passer to alleviate some of the pressure from the secondary. If the Orange get a pass rush, opposing QBs will have less time to think and make decisions, and the SU secondary will need to be in coverage for less time, able to take advantage of poor throws.
This year could be big for Coach Shafer and the Orange—and it’s just a start. But position battles in the spring could set up the Orange for success early in the year. It doesn’t take much to remember the QB situation before last season, and to think what could have possibly happened had Terrel Hunt been the starter all year.
Posted by: Seth Goldberg