Getting to attend Syracuse Football practice over the past two days as well as the subsequent press conferences was a very insightful experience. It was what you would typically expect with opening week around the corner- position groups running drills, followed by some one-on-ones, and the last thing the media was allowed to see was 11-on-11s. Head Coach Dino Babers along with a few offensive players spoke on Tuesday, followed by the defense on Wednesday. Here are three noteworthy observations from two days of practice.
IS DAMIEN ALFORD THE WR2?
Oronde Gadsden has gotten a ton of preseason hype. That gives good reason to believe that he will see plenty of double teams this season, creating the need for another receiving option to emerge. Alford looked excellent in drills, and where to begin with the praise he received in press conferences. Dino Babers and Gadsden both raved about him, Garrett Shrader went so far as to call him his WR2, and a defensive player admitted to being surprised whenever he didn’t catch a ball headed his way. It was visible on the field as well. Over the past two seasons, Alford has made a name for himself catching deep touchdowns. All four of the Canadian’s receiving scores have been from at least 45 yards out. But in drills, Alford was in a one-on-one matchup and caught a short-range touchdown. That’s exactly what we want to see from him. Alford has to be a threat in the short and medium passing games to be an effective receiver, but what we’ve seen and heard about him is awesome.
HOW LEGIT IS THE DEFENSIVE LINE?
It’s no secret that the run defense down the stretch last season was struggling. In fact, if you had to pin just one reason behind the Orange’s 1-6 finish, you could argue it was their inability to stop the run. Heck, even when a team didn’t have its premiere running back- Pittsburgh and Izzy Abanikanda– it was like an unstoppable force against a movable object. But, over the past few days, it’s been all positive talk regarding the group. Coach Babers praised the unit for its growth this offseason, and sophomore Denis Jaquez Jr. spoke about how close the unit has become along with his personal growth. Caleb Okechukwu and Kevon Darton have another year under their belts, and Terry Lockett returning from injury should be a major help. Obviously, we won’t know for sure until we see them in game action and there’s only so much words can do, but the encouraging words are encouraging for fans.
IS SHRADER HEALTHY?
Once the Notre Dame game arrived in 2022, Shrader simply did not look like himself, even when he returned against Florida State. He didn’t have the accuracy, elusiveness in the pocket, or scrambling ability that he showcased over the Orange’s 6-0 start and even the first half of the Clemson game. Naturally, there have been plenty of questions about his health over the course of spring ball, but he’s been a full participant in practice over the past few days, played in an intra-squad scrimmage last week, and Coach Babers labeled him as healthy. Syracuse needs him to be healthy if it is going to have any sort of success this season. In the Orange’s lone win in the second half of the season, Shrader led them to 26 fourth-quarter points, and that period was easily the best and most healthy he looked after the bye. If we get first-half Shrader over a full 12 games, the potential of this team is going to skyrocket.
Syracuse v. Colgate is knocking on the door, and media access to Training Camp came to an end on Wednesday. With that, we won’t get a firsthand view of what this year’s team will look like until the Orange take on the Raiders. There’s a ceiling for this team, the question is will it reach it?