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SU Football’s Spring Ball Check-In

With Syracuse men’s basketball officially in the offseason and SU men’s lacrosse mired under .500, there isn’t a ton of sports news hitting the Salt City as of late. The late-spring, early-summer period of SU sports doesn’t offer a lot in the way of excitement, but Dino Babers and company have started working towards the 2022 season.

This past Monday marked the second week of spring ball, and Babers is just now starting to meet with the media. Although there’s not a lot to go on with how recently practices began, there’s some things to pay attention to and remember as we enter a summer of practice scrutiny and depth chart watching.

For a primer on SU’s early signing day and latest recruiting class, we’ve got you covered. Otherwise, let’s jump in to some of Babers’ recent statements.

On QB Room: “We’re going to have to evaluate that in live situations. We’re going to put those guys in live situations. We’re not going to guess on what they’re going to do when it’s live. When it goes to scrimmage, they’re going to get their opportunities. Now Garrett is not in that situation. We’ve seen him live. But the other guys need to show us.” (Dino Babers, 3/21/22)

Unlike last season, Syracuse enters this year with its QB1 cemented in Garrett Shrader. After transferring from Mississippi State last year, Shrader was up and down as a starter, but delivered signature upset wins against Liberty and Virginia Tech in the midst of a rejuvenating season. Last season, Shrader completed 52.4% of his passes for 1,437 yards, 14 touchdowns, and a 113.5 rating. He also tacked on 781 rushing yards and another 14 touchdowns on the ground.

Shrader’s performance and stature should squarely put to bed any speculation about Michigan transfer Dan Villari possibly seeing playing time, at least to begin the season. Common sense and Babers’ affirmation leads one to deduce that Shrader will indeed pilot the SU offense for as long as he’s healthy.

On kicker Andre Szmyt: “He’s [Szmyt] working really good with the new special teams coach. I think they’re a good match. He wants to go to the pros. Coach [Bob] Ligashesky has been in the pros. And everything he tells him is gospel. The guy is nothing but knowledge. It’s an awesome get for us and it could be an extremely, extremely good match.” (Dino Babers, 3/21/22)

The intrigue surrounding Syracuse’s special teams this season should be twofold. Kicker Andre Szmyt suffered through a shaky year last year, hitting 9 of his 14 field goal attempts and all but two of his extra points. However, Szmyt looked mostly off on field goals in particular, and his lowlights included an 18-yard miss against Virginia Tech and a potential game-tying boot against Clemson that fell short in the final seconds. It was frankly bizarre to see Szmyt backslide after winning the Lou Groza award in 2018.

Szmyt wasn’t even expected to return this season, but his surprising choice to come back to the Hill puts off kicking questions for at least one more season. Part of his motivation to return was apparently the hiring of special teams coach Bob Ligashesky, a longtime coach with experience dating back to the mid-1980s and with several NFL stops under his belt. SU didn’t employ a special teams coach last year, and ranked last in the ACC in kickoff touchbacks and net yards per punt. This year, the Orange look to have an experienced presence to try and shore up the issues, from Szmyt to the punting game to kickoff coverage.

On the Defensive Line: “The defensive line is young and they’re [the offensive line] going to have to do really well against that young defensive line for us to think that they’re going to be able to do some of the things in the ACC that we want to be able to do on offense…we understand that the defensive line is young.” (Dino Babers, 3/21/22)

The answer to this question is a little muddled because it was partly in response to what Babers had seen from his offensive line, but the sentiment about SU’s defensive line group is an important one. Of all Syracuse’s position groups for 2022, the team’s defensive line looks to be by far its weakest. The team just lost all four starting linemen from a year ago (Cody Roscoe, McKinley Williams, Josh Black, and Kingsley Jonathan) from a group that ranked 4th in the ACC with 37 sacks. 

As the summer progresses, the players who repopulate ‘Cuse’s defensive front will be subject to some scrutiny. As things stand right now, former lesser contributors like Steve Linton, Caleb Okechukwu, Terry Lockett, and Kevon Darton are the de facto elder statesmen of the position group, but only one (Okechukwu) is an upperclassman. It’s a youthful position with fairly thin depth, and may go a long way in deciding how well defensive coordinator Tony White’s 3-3-5 defense plays in Year 3.

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