Instead of a barricade, Syracuse’s offensive line served as a welcome center last season. Defensive linemen pounded Tommy DeVito into the turf game after game, eventually resulting in a Syracuse, Clayton Welch/ DeVito entanglement.
Snap after snap, DeVito would catch the football and run. Not because of a designed play where he took off with the ball. Instead he was running because a defensive lineman or linebacker was barrelling towards him, often unblocked.
Last season Syracuse gave up the third most sacks out of 130 FBS teams. Only Old Dominion and Akron quarterbacks ended up on the turf more. However, there is a silver lining. Over the last three games, SU gave up less than two sacks per game.
The biggest difference was inserting true freshman Matthew Bergeron into the starting lineup midway through the season. Bergeron became just the fourth true freshman to start on SU’s offensive line since 1986, and the first since 2002.
Bergeron’s rise coincided with Ryan Alexander’s departure from the team. Alexander, a transfer from South Alabama was expected to lock down the right tackle position. Unfortunately for Alexander and the Orange, football is played at a higher level in the ACC compared with the Sun Belt Conference.
Opposite Bergeron is Airon Servais, who holds a team-best streak of 37 consecutive starts. Of course, left tackle is the most important position to protect DeVito, and the Orange have an experienced tackle to rely on. Over his career, Servais has been used like a utility infielder. Some games he’s played left tackle, others he’s run the offensive line as the center.
This season, it seems like he’ll be able to settle in at left tackle. Fittingly, that’s exactly where SU needs its best lineman to play.
Besides Servais and Bergeron, starter Dakota Davis returns at right guard. Davis was not listed on the spring depth chart since he was injured. Carlos Vettorello returns for his second season starting at center.
The only 2019 starter on the O-line to replace is Evan Adams, who signed with the Baltimore Ravens this past offseason. Senior guard Patrick Davis is expected to replace Adams, with redshirt junior Darius Tisdale available as a back-up. If eligible, Florida transfer Chris Bleich also boosts the offensive line.
While the offensive line was the main reason for SU’s tumble from a 10 win season to five wins, it is an experienced group. However, besides Tisdale, the back-up offensive linemen don’t have much in-game experience. That could be a problem for SU if it encounters a flurry of injuries up front.
More than any other position group, offensive lines need time to develop a cohesiveness. Star recruits generally don’t come in and improve O-lines. Instead, the five players work as a unit.
Meanwhile DeVito should improve at maneuvering the pocket in his second season as starter. There were times when he simply ran into on-coming rushers. But there were also plenty of moments where he was scrambling for his life.
Overall, with another season of experience and cohesiveness at four positions, the offensive line should be improved. That doesn’t mean SU’s offensive line will suddenly be a team strength. But at least, it shouldn’t be the glaring weakness that it was a season ago.