With Syracuse less than a week away from kickoff, The Juice Online will be doing its annual week-long football preview. Check back in tomorrow as Jim Stechschulte previews the defense.
Dino Babers’ full throttle offense will go into effect at the Carrier Dome and, even at less than its best, it should be a significant upgrade over what Syracuse has done for the last decade. The 2012 team, which finished the year 8-5, averaged 30 points per game and owns the school record of 6,188 total yards in 13 games (476.0 per game). While the win total likely will not be matched for a couple years, the marks in points and yards per game are fair targets for Babers’ first season.
Sophomore Eric Dungey, who was thrust into playing early last year due to Terrel Hunt’s injury, then lost part of his own season due to injury, is the likely starter at quarterback. Dungey had a hand in 16 touchdowns last season and his ability to both throw and run should be on full display in the new scheme, especially after connecting on just under 82 percent of his passes in the spring game. Zack Mahoney, who has shown more as a runner than a passer in games to date, is the likely back-up after throwing seven scoring passes over parts of eight games as a walk-on last season. Redshirt junior Austin Wilson and freshman Rex Culpepper will complete the depth chart at quarterback.
A pair of sophomores are in line to spearhead the Orange run attack. Jordan Fredericks, who led SU with just over 600 yards at 5.7 yards per carry, and Dontae Strickland, who saw time as a running back and H-back in the old offense, should be carrying the load. Fredericks showed big play ability last season, ripping off a 75-yard touchdown at NC State. Strickland displayed his versatility and as his own knack for making things happen as a freshman, including turning a screen pass into a 62-yard burst at Florida State.
Redshirt senior George Morris returns to the backfield for his final season of eligibility but had ankle surgery during training camp. Morris is 239 rushing yards shy of 1,000 in his Syracuse career and would likely be in the mix in the new high-octane offense if the injury does not knock him out of the playing rotation. Freshman Moe Neal, who arrived on campus in January, showed his speed and quickness in the spring game, piling up 76 yards and a score. He looks like an interesting piece that can be used in the offense as a change-of-pace threat, including getting some training camp drill work at wide receiver due to his good hands.
With rare exceptions in recent Syracuse history, the wide receiver depth chart has long been an established player or two and a bunch of names. This year is no exception to that, save for the fact that it will likely be shown quickly who will prove to be more than a name.
The most established name in the receiver corps is Steve Ishmael. As a sophomore, Ishamel led the squad in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown catches (39 for 570 and seven scores). Under the new offense, it is reasonable to think the first two statistics could double in his junior year. If that happens, both marks would set single-season records at Syracuse. In fact, to become the school’s all-time leader in all three statistics, Ishmael needs to tally 136 catches, 1,744 yards and 13 scores in his last two seasons. Those are just some numbers to keep in the back of your mind with Babers at the helm.
Senior Brisly Estime remains the big play threat among the receivers. While he only caught 17 passes last season, Estime led the team with over 17 yards a reception and torched Wake Forest for an 89-yard score. Estime also returned two punts for touchdowns, including a 59-yarder against Florida State.
Beyond those two is where the gray area starts for the wide receivers. Erv Philips, who has seen ample time on the field in two seasons and was second on the team in receptions last season, will start his third season on campus in his third different position. Philips started at SU as a running back, played as an H-back last season, and now is a full-time wideout. His ability to fully transform into a polished receiver will be a key to the unit’s success. Ben Lewis, who was third among last year’s receiver group in receptions, declined his final year of eligibility and graduated.
Redshirt senior Alvin Cornelius has seen action in all three of his seasons on campus, but has only 18 catches in that time. After multiple scoring grabs in the spring game, maybe he will finally break out in his last season. Amba Etta-Tawo, who caught 61 passes in three seasons at Maryland, transferred to Syracuse for his final year of eligibility. Etta-Tawo, however, was not on campus until this summer and had to learn the offense in a short time, but showed a lot of positives in training camp. Jamal Custis and Adly Enoicy, a pair of 6’5” receivers who are both in their third year on campus, have yet to pay off their tantalizing size outside of the former appearing sporadically as a red zone receiving specialist. Former quarterback Kenterius Womack, redshirt junior Sean Avant, and freshman Devin Butler should also be in the mix.
Tight end is a murkier position group than their wide receiver counterparts. Redshirt senior Josh Parris essentially doubled his output from his first two seasons with 21 catches for 140 yards, but was limited the first few days of camp. Senior Cameron MacPherson played sporadically last season, but took advantage of the opportunity with Parris missing time. Senior Kendall Moore has bounced between tight end and the offensive line while on campus, then missed most of last season due to injury, and junior Trey Dunkelberger, a junior college transfer, who moved to defensive end for spring practice, but is now seeing some work at tight end again. With this mixed bag, it remains to be seen how much the tight ends will be used this season.
The offense line will have a new look to it this season, and not just because of the graduation of three starters from last year’s group. With the shift in the offense comes a shift in the strength and conditioning program, including a slimming down of many of the offensive linemen. Last year’s group was an experienced one, but three starters graduated, adding another degree of mystery to what this group will do in the new offense.
Redshirt senior and offensive captain Jason Emerich will play center for the Orange after making ten of his dozen career starts at the position last season. His fellow redshirt senior, Omari Palmer, is the other returning starter, as he opened all 12 games for Syracuse last year at right tackle. Palmer has started 21 games in his time at SU, including 18 at right tackle and is a candidate to spend this season there, as well.
Those two are the only linemen on the roster who have started more than one game at Syracuse. The most experienced players are redshirt senior Michael Lasker and redshirt junior Jamar McGloster, both of whom have the size of prototypical tackles. Lasker has played 18 games, including one start, over two seasons, but redshirted last year. McGloster has seen action in six games spread over the last two seasons.
Redshirt sophomore guard Aaron Roberts was viewed as a potential starter by the last coaching staff, but it remains to be seen where he fits in with the new regime. Roberts’ classmate, Donnie Foster, has yet to see any action at SU.
Sophomore Cody Conway was the only one of five freshmen on the offensive line to not redshirt last season and saw action in six games at left tackle. His redshirted classmates include Evan Adams, high school teammates Colin Byrne and Sam Clausman, and Andreas Deurig.
RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS (8): QB Eric Dungey, C Jason Emerich, WR Brisly Estime, RB Jordan Fredericks, WR Steve Ishmael, T Omari Palmer, TE Josh Parris, WR Erv Philips
LEADING RETURNING RUSHERS: Jordan Fredericks – 107 carries for 607 yards and four touchdowns; Eric Dungey – 91 carries for 351 yards and five touchdowns
LEADING RETURNING PASSER: Eric Dungey – 105 completions in 176 attempts for 1,298 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions
LEADING RETURNING RECEIVERS: Steve Ishmael – 39 receptions for 570 yards and seven touchdowns; Erv Philips – 29 receptions for 286 yards and five touchdowns