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Countdown to Kickoff! Observations From Syracuse’s Open Practice

We’re just days away from Syracuse kicking off the season, and washing the taste out of Orange Nation’s mouth after last year can’t come quickly enough. Dino Babers has plenty of pressure on him this year to find improvement for a team that has been middling in his tenure aside from that lone ten-win season. SU hosted its open practice as part of Fan Fest at the Carrier Dome on Friday night. Given the limited number of fully-padded practice sessions allowed by the NCAA, the team did not dress in full gear, so there was no live tackling or scrimmage sessions. 

Despite that, there was plenty to take away from the event:

The Orange are favored by 1.5 points to win their opener against Ohio per NCAAF betting sites, and was without a few projected starters Friday but most of the skill position players were available.

The offense has been Babers’ point of emphasis, so everyone is watching the QB position. Tommy DeVito, named the starter when the Orange kick off with Ohio, came out with the first-team offense. Sharod Johnson slipped in as outside receiver opposite Anthony Queeley as Taj Harris filled the slot. Chris Elmore and Sean Tucker played in the backfield with DeVito while Luke Benson lined up at tight end. How long will DeVito hold the job?

Courtney Jackson, who is expected to get plenty of snaps, missed Thursday’s practice but was allowed a limited role on Friday. Josh Ilaoa got some reps in at right guard, with freshman Kalan Ellis taking snaps at left guard. 

At defensive end McKinley Williams is locked in as a starter. Duce Chestnut, the most hyped freshman for SU, was part of the first-team defense at cornerback, playing opposite Garrett Williams. Williams is also one of the defense’s top recruits.

How much better than the defense be compared to last year? It starts with the linebackers. Mikel Jones is crucial to the SU success, Marlowe Wax and Stephon Thomson operated as linebackers on the first team while Rob Hanna, Ja’Had Carter, Ben Labrosse, and Jason Simmons took on snaps on the second team. 

Syracuse saw Dakota Harris take part for the first time in three weeks on the back of an injury. Chris Bleich was also involved. 

The three units could be seen right below, courtesy of Syracuse.com

First-unit

Airon Servais, Kalan Ellis, Carlos Vettorello, Chris Bleich (or Josh Ilaoa), and Darius Tisdale

Second-unit

Anthony Red, Garth Barclay, Josh Ilaoa (or Wes Hoeh), Austyn Kauhi, and Jakob Bradford

Third-unit

Enrique Cruz, Dakota Davis, Wes Hoeh, Wil Froumy and Tyler Magnuson

Ellis, who is one of two freshmen hailing from Hawaii, is one of the biggest lineman in the ACC. He is listed at 6’6″ and 365 pounds. Only NC State’s Walter Karstens, 6’7″ – 360 lbs, and Georgia Tech’s Zeek Biggers, 6’6″ – 363 lbs, are within the range. Bergeron and Davis are both expected to be starters but Ellis featuring on the first line likely means he’s one of the top reserves.

Walter Karstens

Meanwhile, it appears there are no plans to have Chris Elmore playing offensive line. He’s trimmed down to 265 from 283 (no more Dinosaur BBQ) and is down from around 30 pounds from when he played fullback in 2019.

He’s quicker now and could take up a role as a flex H-back if the coaching staff figures he has more to offer than being a downhill blocker for special teams.

Trebor Penia was the returner during special teams work, having returned a kickoff for 98 yards to score a touchdown against NC State last season.

When it comes to first-year players, there will be a few to keep an eye on. Chestnut should play a major role this season. According to teammates, he’s been forcing turnovers in practice while his run support is much improved. Chestnut got the jump on learning the defense while other players were rehabilitating.

Oronde Gadsden II played at outside receiver on the second team, opposite second-year freshman Damien Alfred. 

It’s also worth noting tight end Max Mang, who is also a second-year freshman, was working with the special teams’ units and the second-team offense too.

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The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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