It may not seem like spring in Central New York, but the calendar does not lie. Syracuse football’s spring practices are in full swing, and the Orange have the chance to showcase their skills in front of the fanbase this Friday, April 1, in the first Orange and Blue game since 2019 (tune into ACCN at 7 pm w/ former Fizz staffer Drew Carter, or listen to WAER’s HD3 channel with myself and fellow Fizzer John Eads). There are plenty of storylines surrounding this team. We’ll start with the offense. It’s a unit under slightly new direction, as former Virginia offensive coordinator Robert Anae and quarterbacks coach Jason Beck assume those roles under Dino Babers. Let’s look at some items to watch on the offensive side.
1: Garrett Shrader’s Development as a Passer
Last year, the whole world learned who Garrett Shrader is as a runner. A 6-foot-4 bowling ball of a human being who can truck anyone at a moment’s notice. However, when opponents keyed in on Shrader and Sean Tucker in the run game, the SU offense ground to a halt. Item numero uno for Shrader and the additions to the offensive staff over the winter had to be Shrader’s arm (he also changed his number from 16 to 6). We’ve seen him throw slants and bubble screens at a somewhat consistent rate (53% completion rate last year), but anything over 15 yards raised some eyebrows (averaged 6.2 yards per completion a year ago). If Shrader gains the ability to let loose, target some deep threats (we’ll get there in a second) and move the ball down the field when the run game isn’t working, the Orange offense is going to be a real juggernaut. Expect plenty of deep shots and play-action looks in the spring game.
2: Options on the Outside
Taj Harris is gone. He wasn’t a huge factor anyway in 2020. However, he was the only true downfield threat in the SU passing game. A couple of players showed real flashes during the latter half of the season. Mainly, Damien Alford, who caught the game winning touchdown against Virginia Tech. The Canadian comes into 2022 with a 10-game reception streak, longest in the program, and a career average of 18 yards per catch. He is 6-foot-6 with a large catch radius, a skillset which screams “jump ball.” Alford should be the guy for all things deep routes. If not him, sophomores Oronde Gadsden II and Umari Hatcher, and Michigan State transfer CJ Hayes are all potential X receivers to fit in the system. New receivers coach Michael Johnson certainly doesn’t lack options.
3. Service for Servais
After what felt like an eternity, Airon Servias’s eligibility has finally expired on SU football. A staple on the Syracuse offensive line for five years, Servias bounced around between the tackle spots and center for his last two years. Although he was a turnstile at times, his constant presence was needed for a unit that always had injury issues. Now there’s a need to fill either center or right tackle. Carlos Vettorello swapped spots with the sixth-year senior last season, and right now the expectation is the Michigander stays at RT while sophomore Josh Ilaoa steps in at center. Of course, there’s plenty of time for shuffling.