Roundtable: Beat writers analyze offensive line concerns, newcomers and continued success

first_img Published on August 29, 2019 at 4:15 am Facebook Twitter Google+ No. 22 Syracuse kicks off its season at Liberty on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. in Lynchburg, Virginia. The Daily Orange polled its three beat writers on the most pressing questions surrounding the program before the Orange begins its quest to repeat last year’s success.1. How big of a concern is the turn over and injuries on the offensive line? Eric Black: It’s SU’s top concern heading into the start of the season. Not only do the Orange have as talented a running back group as they’ve had in recent memory, but their brand new, shiny quarterback of the future is finally here and is less mobile than the previous. Tommy DeVito has the ability to scramble, but how he takes over the reins of the offense this year is largely dependent on the success of his offensive line. Having Airon Servais protecting his blind sight at left tackle is huge, but it’s the right side of the offensive line that poses somewhat of a concern. Right guard Dakota Davis has never started in college. Right tackle Carlos Vettorello has only played 25 college snaps. This unit has the potential to be great, but if the newcomers are slow to adjust or the injury bug bites them again, it’ll be a problem. Andrew Graham: The biggest. They maybe never got the credit they deserved, but SU’s offensive line was great last year. The Orange rushed for nearly 3,000 yards as a team, averaged more than 40 points a game and won 10 games in large part because the offensive line was so good. The Orange’s sack total didn’t go down in 2018, though, and it’s curious to see if that number can feasibly climb higher than the 37 surrendered last year, even if the line regresses. Right now, it’s a work in progress. Dino Babers said on Monday the five starters listed likely won’t be the ones to play the entire game, namely Carlos Vettorello getting subbed for Ryan Alexander. Whatever ends up happening, getting the offensive line sorted out should be priority No. 1 for the Orange. Josh Schafer: If you can’t block you can’t win, plain and simple. Now, Syracuse still returns three starters from last year, who when healthy, are very good. Add in Dakota Davis at guard and a combination of Carlos Vettorello and graduate transfer Ryan Alexander, and the offensive line could be more than fine. It’s really like any position group with turnover, we’ll have to wait and see. Two weeks into the season we should have a better idea of how new faces are fitting into the mix and if injuries from the offseason are still lingering. AdvertisementThis is placeholder text2. Transfers Abdul Adams and Trishton Jackson had impactful games in the Camping World Bowl. What can we expect from those two playmakers? E.B.: I think Syracuse fans can expect significant production from both Adams and Jackson this season. DeVito and Jackson have already shown they have a strong connection in training camp and scrimmages, and the former will need Jackson to assume the No. 1 wide receiver role that SU players have thrived in of late. Adams, on the other hand, is more of a wild card. The Oklahoma transfer may be the most skilled running back on the team, but he’s never really had the opportunity to showcase that talent. For now, he’ll likely start the game on the bench and split carries with starter Moe Neal. But I wouldn’t be surprised if by the end of the year, Adams is taking the majority of carries for the Orange. A.G.: It’s hard to say how much Adams and/or Jackson impact the offense early on. So much of what they do is dependent others — Adams needs good blocks, Jackson needs targets — and the chance of another player at their respective positions getting hot is always there. I think Jackson has a better chance to make a splash. DeVito and Jackson were together all summer and have developed a good bond. SU’s staff is high on Jackson and he might finally emerge as the Orange’s top guy. Adams biggest challenge is senior running back Moe Neal, who has been entrenched as the starter since Dontae Strickland graduated. Adams will definitely get his looks, but for right now he’s squarely behind Neal on the depth chart.J.S.: All signs point to Jackson being this year’s Amba Etta-Tawo or Steve Ishmael. At 6-foot-1, 191 pounds, he has some size and flaunts rare athletic ability, which he’s shown throughout training camp with numerous jump-ball catches. As long as he isn’t wrapped in double team situations, Jackson should be a break out player this season. In the backfield, Adams ran for 542 yards in Oklahoma for 9.2 yards per carry. If he can run like that in the Big 12 there’s no reason to think he can’t do it for Syracuse as well. The backfield is pretty loaded this year with senior Moe Neal and sophomore Jarveon Howard already having established themselves in the offense, but Syracuse used three running backs last year and there’s no reason not to expect the same season. 3. SU caused the second-most turnovers in the country last year (31). Is it fair to expect a regression in that category? E.B.: When asked about all the takeaways his defense was able to produce last year, SU head coach Dino Babers said, “Those numbers aren’t supposed to happen again. But we’ve got a chance.” Indeed, the talent is there for the Orange to put up a total close to the 31 they had last year. Andre Cisco is a ballhawk in the defensive backfield and quite possibly one of the best defensive backs in the country, and up front SU brings back the only pair of 10-plus sack returners in the country in Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman. Thirty-one turnovers is a lot, though. I wouldn’t be completely shocked if the takeaways come in bunches again this year, but I definitely expect a regression.A.G.: I would say so. And an important distinction: More important than total turnovers, SU finished fifth in the nation in turnover margin in 2018 — plus-13. That’s an extra possession every game. While it’s likely SU’s total turnovers go down, it’s margin could be even better. But that’s only if interceptions and fumbles are limited. The Orange coughed up six fumbles and threw twice as many interceptions last year. Cutting down on those totals could be just as important for maintaining the edge in turnovers as generating them in the first place — especially when the latter requires a little bit of luck. J.S.: It’s hard to expect any defense to finish second in the country in turnovers in consecutive years simply because of how much of those plays are predicated on luck and mishaps by the opposition. But Syracuse did emphasize turnovers more in the offseason leading into 2018, and players thought that directly led to the uptick. Last year, Syracuse had two players with 10 sacks, as Kendall Coleman and Alton Robinson finished tied for 12th in the nation. Freshman safety Andre Cisco tied for first across the league with seven interceptions. Those are related. Quarterback pressure does lead to interceptions and Syracuse should have plenty of hits on the opposing signal caller this year. Will the Orange steal the ball back 31 times? Probably not. But will they have enough turnovers to warrant their own chain? Probably. 4. Who’s one player to watch for that’s flown under the radar through the summer?E.B.: I’ll take Taj Harris. With seemingly all the hype this offseason surrounding DeVito, Jackson and the running backs, Harris is quietly one of the most important players on offense for the Orange. Last season, Harris set the Syracuse rookie records for catches (40) and receiving yards (565) and started seven games. Despite only being a sophomore, he’s already one of the most experienced players on the offense, and has just as much ability to break off a big play as any other player on the team. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Harris, not Jackson, who leads SU in receiving this year. A.G.: I’m not a betting man, but put me down for Kenneth Ruff Jr. having a strong start in the middle of SU’s defensive line. The Orange are tasked with the unenviable job of replacing current NFL nose tackle Chris Slayton in the middle, and are likely to do so by rotating pieces like Ruff, Brandon Berry and Josh Black. Ruff is among SU’s more athletic players, using his wide frame to fill holes in the middle and quickness off the line to be effective in the pass rush. He finished with two sacks and 2.5 more tackles for loss in limited action last year. A bigger share of the minutes and Ruff could become a force in the middle for Syracuse.J.S.: Antwan Cordy is back for a sixth season and assuming he’s healthy, can be a contributor for the Orange on defense as well as in special teams. Cordy returns this year after being granted a medical hardship year for the 2016-17 season. He wasn’t around in the spring and hasn’t spoken to the media this summer. Currently listed as a backup free safety behind Andre Cisco, Cordy’s been around for so many years it’s hard to believe the redshirt can’t find a place to contribute. In 36 games played, he’s amassed 114 tackles and three interceptions. Last year, he averaged more than 10 yards per carry on punt returns. After spending time at slot receiver in spring 2018, it’s clear Cordy’s the type of athlete Dino Babers wants to use. It’s just a matter of when and where. Commentslast_img

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