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Five Questions Surrounding Syracuse Football This Spring

Credit Barry Reeger/AP Photo

Over the past 13 days, Syracuse men’s basketball has dominated headlines in and around the Syracuse area. A surprising coaching change in the transfer portal era tends to do that, but another Orange squad is revving up its engines. SU football just began its spring schedule yesterday that includes practices through April before the team’s Spring Game on April 21st. 

Ahead of ‘Cuse’s springtime clash, we’ve got you covered with some things to look out for before a first look at the 2023 Orange.

1. What will the new coordinators bring to the table?

The 2022 season showed Orange Nation that Syracuse (like any other team) is only as good as its coordinators. The difference between the team’s stagnant 2021 offense and the 2022 unit that flashed balance and big-play ability was huge. 

Unfortunately, ‘Cuse is on its third offensive coordinator in as many years following former coordinator Robert Anae’s departure to NC State. In his place, 2022 quarterbacks coach Jason Beck now assumes the OC role. Beck called the offensive shots during SU’s Pinstripe Bowl appearance, and the injury-depleted Orange looked solid versus a stingy Minnesota defense. What Beck does with the offense this year minus Sean Tucker is something to look out for.

On the other side of the coin, new defensive coordinator Rocky Long arrives fresh off three seasons as a defensive coach at New Mexico. Long is a few months removed from his 73rd birthday and touted as the godfather of the 3-3-5 alignment SU has used so well over the past few seasons, so it’s a hopeful bet that Long can continue former defensive coordinator Tony White’s success without much of a hitch.

2. Who’s healthy?

According to reports, some Syracuse players are still dealing with injuries they suffered during the 2022 season. All these months later, it’s no wonder Dino Babers sounds concerned. From the jump last year, SU suffered through an array of serious injuries to its roster, including a half-dozen season-ending ailments. 

Linebacker Stefon Thompson suffered a torn ACL in Week 1 last fall, but he figures to be on the road back to his starting role following a medical redshirt season. Other contributors like defensive tackle Terry Lockett and wide receiver Isaiah Jones would be a welcome sight back on the field, so keep your eye on how much they and others appear during the Spring Game.

3. What’s up with the missing names?

Per reports this afternoon, there are a few names absent from Syracuse’s initial roster. Defensive back Rob Hanna, quarterback JaCobian Morgan, defensive back Neil Nunn, defensive lineman Garth Barclay, and offensive lineman Anthony Red aren’t listed on the roster. The roster has been confirmed to be accurate, suggesting that the five are (at this point) no longer a part of the program.

All five are backup players and all but Hanna did not record a single statistic last season. The five are depth pieces on the roster, but might not be staying with the Orange from here on out. 

4. Who steps up at wide receiver?

Last year, the defensive line was Syracuse’s biggest question mark position group heading into the fall. Following the departures of all three starters and the team’s leading sacker in Cody Roscoe, a combination of Caleb Okechukwu (7.0 sacks) and linebacker Marlowe Wax (4.5) filled SU’s need for a pass rush. Problem solved.

This year, wide receiver is arguably ‘Cuse’s most dire position of need. Even during the 2022 season, the Orange desperately needed a “WR2” type of player to complement tight end Oronde Gadsden II. This season, the position group is without Devaughn Cooper (graduating) and Courtney Jackson (transfer). Some combination of returner/wideout Trebor Pena (22 catches, 203 yards last season), junior Damien Alford (21 catches, 429 yards), and redshirt-sophomore Isaiah Jones (4 catches, 60 yards) will have to scrape together pass-catching production. It’s not entirely out of the question that Gadsden formally switches his position to wide receiver just to offer the Orange a true, vertical threat in the passing game.

Out of the receiver room, Pena had the most productive 2022 of the group but never caught more than four passes in a game. Alford withdrew from the transfer portal earlier this year and offers a tall 6’6” frame, but he disappeared for long stretches last year and struggled with drops at times. Jones, as previously mentioned, was emerging as an intriguing target before an arm injury versus Purdue ended his season. For SU to emerge as a bowl team in 2023, it needs big-time production from someone out of that group.

5. Who’s the next man up in the defensive backfield?

Finally, Syracuse’s defense also has a position group offering more questions than answers. SU’s recent reputation as DB-U has been hard-earned; the team has produced legitimate NFL talent over the past few seasons like Andre Cisco, Ifeatu Melifonwu, and Garett Williams. When Cisco’s graduating class departed following the 2020 season, Williams and then-freshman Duce Chestnut stepped up to continue strong play in the defensive backfield. 

Unfortunately, the time for a new era of Syracuse DBs has arrived without plug-and-play reinforcements. Williams is set to be drafted in April, while former backfield mate Chestnut hit the transfer portal in December. Without those two, the only returning regular from last year’s defensive backfield is safety Alijah Clark.

Newcomer and Nebraska transfer Jaeden Gould is an exciting athlete with plenty of eligibility ahead of him but has yet to prove much at the collegiate level after he spent 2022 without playing time with the Cornhuskers. Other returning Orange members include Justin Barron – who’ll likely return to his ‘rover’ spot in the 3-3-5 defense – and safety Jason Simmons Jr., who started five games a year ago. Aman Greenwood and Isaiah Johnson, who both played sparingly in 2022, could see playing time in a pinch. Despite some returning players, SU enters its spring and season with definite questions at cornerback at minimum.

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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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