Item: With so much coverage in March focusing on the milestone NCAA sanctions, an hour long Jim Boeheim press conference, and the ongoing, detailed process of hiring a new athletic director, Scott Shafer was able to complete his spring practice allotment practically under the radar, despite the fact that he was afforded the luxury of spacing out practices with the much-welcomed prescience of the new Ensley Athletic Center.
Much has been made of the fast start this week’s No. 2 ranked Syracuse lacrosse team got off to in February, aided not only by having immense talent everywhere on the field and four straight home games out of the gate, but also by the fact that pre-season January practices were held inside the full field confines of the new indoor practice building, something John Desko and past teams did not have the benefit of either in the Dome during basketball season, or the smaller field space of Manley Field House.
Simply being able to practice at full throttle on game field dimensions in the middle of the winter and during the season when the weather outside doesn’t cooperate, can’t be overlooked.
A related benefit was afforded to Shafer, embarking on his third season and trying to get the program back to a bowl game, by being able to take the 14 practices and conduct them over a six week period starting in an unheard-of-in-central-New York late February, with a 12 day break included, before ending with the “some style but no substance” scrimmage in the Dome this past weekend.
“That facility (the Ensley Center) has been so great for us,” Shafer told Cuse TV following Saturday’s festivities.
“(With being able to finish spring practice early) the kids will be able to get in there and get some good work in (another 33 day cycle of lifting). I know (strength) coach Hicks really enjoys it because we can get them on the grass (full field), and get them running and really open them up here late in the spring and get them in good condition before we hit that summer camp.”
Once preseason practice does get underway four months from now, all eyes will be on quarterback Terrel Hunt as he looks to go out with a bang in his final year of eligibility by raising the anemic Orange offensive output of 2014, as he continues recuperating ever so surely from last season’s broken leg suffered in game five against Louisville, and looking to get back to the form that led the Orange to a comeback Texas Bowl game victory over Minnesota to end the 2013 season.
After throwing some deep balls among his 10 completions in Saturday’s intra-squad scrimmage, Hunt reflected back on his off season recovery and hopes all of the work he’s done to refine his game will be evident come September.
“(I’ve been working on) noticing the coverages, where to go with (throw) the ball, where not to go with it,” Hunt said after getting acclimated again to playing in the Dome. “Concentrating on ball placement and more of the behind the scenes work, in the film room and stuff. So, if I know where to go with the ball, it’s just (a matter of) delivering it.”
If Hunt has OC Tim Lester’s strategic mechanisms in control, the inexperienced defensive, with eight new starters will have a little more leeway to get a better feel of game action as the competition increases the first month, leading to LSU’s rare northeast visit (first time in 68 years for the Tigers to come to this part of the country) in week four, September 26.
“We’ve got a couple of young guys that have got to step up,” senior defensive end Ron Thompson, one of the few veterans of this year’s group said following his three sack effort Saturday against his teammates. “Our (young) linebacking core (sophomores Jonathan Thomas and Zaire Franklin), I think are going to step up and make plays for us.”
It’s a critical year for Shafer to bring upward movement to the program with a new athletic director on the horizon, and that essentially means the minimal goal is a bowl game invitation.