With Syracuse football right now, there are tons of positives. A loaded secondary, a talented duo of edge-rushers, plenty of offensive weapons and, of course, a young quarterback that seems poised for the big stage in Tommy DeVito. Oh and yeah they also have arguably the best special teams unit in the entire country.
So there is a lot going for the Orange. Out of all the position groups, there are really only two question marks at this point: linebackers and offensive line.
#FIZZFEEDBACK: Which position group are you most concerned about?
— Orange Fizz (@OrangeFizz) July 18, 2019
If you asked me that question two months ago, I likely would’ve hit linebackers without hesitation. After all, there are no returning starters in that group and no Parris Bennett’s or Zaire Franklin’s to bring some trustworthy leadership to the unit. After seeing the new depth chart and hearing what Dino Babers, DeVito and defensive end Kendall Coleman had to say at the ACC Kickoff this past week though, the biggest concern on the team is now clear.
The offensive line is the key to the 2019 football season for Syracuse.
Dino spoke with unwavering confidence about his defense Wednesday, going out of his way to call it the “best unit on the team,” and “outstanding.” However, when he was asked about the state of the offensive line?
“Can not answer your question at all. I need at least 14 days in August. It’s gonna be the key to our season. I really believe what made us different last year is that we did have an offensive line where we could battle some of the big boys and had an opportunity to run the football…Now we’re replacing three of those guys, OK. And if we can come back to being close to where we were then we’ll have a chance. If I had the same offensive line that we had last year, I’d have a big smile on my face,” Babers said.
That’s the most noteworthy thing the fourth-year head coach said all day. He may have danced around some other things but he made it clear the offensive line is the key to the season.
The latest depth chart from left to right listed the line as this:
LT: (R-Fr.) Carlos Vettorello, LG: (R-Jr.) Sam Heckel, C: (R-Jr.) Airon Servais, RG: (R-Sr.) Evan Adams, RT: (Fr.) Anthony Red.
Hard to read that and get too excited. Now to be fair, chances are we won’t actually see two freshman starting on the outside week one. Ryan Alexander is listed behind Red at the right tackle spot, likely because he hasn’t seen the field yet. The South Alabama grad transfer just joined the team. He was an honorable mention all-conference member last year in the SunBelt and many expect him to slide into one of the tackle spots.
Even if Alexander does though, assuming the rest of the line stays the same, you still have a freshman in Vettorello at the other tackle spot. That’s scary. Now, there is still a chance Servais, who went from listed as a tackle on the spring depth chart to back to his position from last year, center, on this most recent depth chart, could play that other tackle spot. The junior lost a lot of weight this offseason, which might lead you to believe the staff really envisions him as a tackle this year. The bottom line is there is still a lot of unknown there. Does the staff trust Dakota Davis to start? Where’s former four-star recruit Qadir White at in his development?
How the line comes out week one will be interesting. Outside of Evan Adams, who is arguably an All-ACC guard, a lot of these guys have a lot to prove. Based on what Dino said there seems to be a lot of competition there.
While linebackers have some questions too, the rest of the defense is so solid, it gives you less reason to worry about that unit. With one of the best defensive lines and secondaries in the conference around them, you can get away with a weak linebacker group a little more. With a young quarterback in his first full year on the job, a solid offensive line is important.
It’s easy to take the hogs up front for granted. They don’t get the stats. But, last year, they were one of the most important units on the team. Babers said so himself at the ACC Kickoff. The headman also made it clear they are the key to this year too.