Syracuse head football coach Dino Babers spoke with the media on the weekly ACC teleconference Wednesday morning. Naturally, one of the first questions focused on free safety Antwan Cordy, who went down with a lower-leg injury in the Orange’s 50-7 win over Central Connecticut State.
“I’m not gonna talk about who’s been at practice,” said Babers. “But he’s been out there, and we’re hoping for the best for Mr. Cordy.”
Let’s ignore Babers’ strange self-contradiction (I’m not gonna talk about my favorite color, but it’s orange) and translate the coach’s comments. Cordy has been present at practice, but Babers doesn’t want to disclose exactly what the safety is doing. He could be watching from the sideline in street clothes; he could be operating at full speed, as if he had never been injured. Only time will tell.
Cordy’s backup is Jordan Martin, a transfer from Toledo. Babers’ evaluation of Martin’s performance was lukewarm.
“You know… just OK,” Babers said. “Cordy’s one of the best players on our football team, so that position’s been doing fabulous things for us. I thought Jordan came in and did a solid job, and if he’s needed to play there again, hopefully, he’ll continue to get better and better.”
On the other side of the ball, Steve Ishmael blew up in Week 1. The senior wideout projects as Eric Dungey’s top target on the perimeter this season, and his opening line of 12 catches for 134 yards against the Blue Devils suggests he’s ready for the role.
“He did what he should have done,” Babers said of Ishmael’s performance. “Athletically, he was a little bit better than those guys, and he needed to ‘peacock’ a little bit — show off — and he did. He ran around, made plays, he was very aggressive with the ball in the air. You could see that all the hard work in the summertime had paid off between him and the quarterback. They had a little chemistry going on, so to speak, and hopefully, that will continue throughout the season.”
Now back to the backups: Rex Culpepper was the second quarterback into the game for the Orange. At first glance, it’s surprising neither Zack Mahoney (listed as the second-stringer on the depth chart) nor Tommy DeVito (a four-star signal-caller who shot up recruiting boards throughout the offseason) saw the field, but when you consider the decision for a few minutes, it makes sense. There was no reason to risk Mahoney’s health, and SU wants to preserve DeVito’s redshirt.
So, why not see what you have in Culpepper, a 2016 recruit who had offers from Ohio State and Florida? He looked fine, completing 9-of-16 passes for 103 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions.
But here’s the thing: Culpepper also played some special teams, which is not exactly a conventional practice for a quarterback.
“I just think that for Rex’s development, we need to get try and him on the field as much as possible,” Babers said. “Obviously, he had a decent showing playing quarterback for us later on in the second half, but anytime you can step on the field, it’s gonna help you as a football player, and it’s gonna help your confidence. You’re talking about a guy who’s very unusual — very strong in the upper body, very strong in the lower body, very intelligent, tough kid. And just too tough of a kid and too good of an athlete to be standing next to us waiting for an opportunity to play quarterback. We’ve gotta get him on the field, and by getting him on the field, I think that’s gonna help him when he does play quarterback.”
Babers didn’t just evaluate his players — he looked in the mirror, too. A reporter asked what has changed for the coach from Year One at Syracuse to Year Two.
“I think the biggest advantage of going through a second year is going through the conference a second year,” Babers said. “I’ve been a head coach for a while; I’ve taught culture for a while. But the biggest thing is having the experience that once you get back in the ACC and playing ACC games and playing the ACC Atlantic games… seeing the other football teams, knowing what you need in recruiting, and going against those coaches one time really gives you a lot of experience when you go up against them the second time around.”
Lastly, Babers commented on the main difference between his team from the first day of training camp to now.
“I think the biggest thing is there’s a swag about them,” Babers said. “I think there’s a confidence about them. I think they realize that they have an opportunity to be good. I don’t think they believe they’re there yet, but if they continue to work hard, and take care of their business on and off the football field, that this could be a special year. We have a chance for this to be a special year. Now we’ve gotta go out there, and we’ve gotta do it.”