Getting onto the treadmill to start a makeover is rarely a fun thing. The machine itself symbolizes lots of dreary work to come, putting one foot in front of the other over and over until it gets better and easier, walking before you can run, and few tangible positive results until after a very long time of suffering and sweating and struggling to stay focused on long-term goals. Even when those positives show up, they are often small and truly fail to show how much effort went into making things better.
And that is where the Syracuse football program is.
Every time there is a new head coach with a new plan, or even a new coordinator brought on board to improve things, the team needs to learn how to walk before it can run.
Dino Babers is the fifth different man to lead the program in the last 13 seasons. Why 13 seasons? Well, going that far back includes the last season under Paul Pasqualoni and the full tenures of Greg Robinson (four years), Doug Marrone (four years), and Scott Shafer (three years).
Offensive coordinators in that time frame include Rob Spence, Mitch Browning, Marrone, Nathaniel Hackett, George McDonald, Tim Lester, and Sean Lewis. The defensive side lists Derrick Jackson, Shafer, Chuck Bullough, and Brian Ward, among others.
With rare exceptions, every name listed above (and those that some corners of the internet did not care enough to preserve) is a time pressing the reset button on Syracuse football.
A new coach means new schemes on offense and/or defense. A new scheme means the players currently on the roster are probably not a fit for the new system. So, the new coaches often have to figure out which is the best compromise – playing players who may not be ideal fits for the preferred scheme (putting a round peg in a square hole), adjusting the scheme to fit the personnel (thereby hindering the new players they recruit because they do not get taught the preferred system), or playing young players who the new staff has recruited (who are younger, often smaller and/or lacking strength, etc. and are often physically outmatched).
As a result, the coaches have to make decisions based on what is going to help the team the most. Is it jamming round pegs into round holes and putting young players into situations where they may not be completely ready with a long-term view of improvement? Or is it better to change what you want to do to try to get short-term gain?
A look at the current Syracuse roster and depth chart suggests a choice has been made.
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On offense, the receivers are experienced, but the man throwing them the ball, Eric Dungey, is a sophomore. The players most often lined up next to him in the backfield are Dontae Strickland, a sophomore, and Moe Neal, a freshman. While injuries have knocked out the two most experienced offensive linemen coming into the season, three spots on the line are being filled by players with at least two years of eligibility remaining after this season wraps up.
The defense, which has taken plenty of lumps this season, but turned in a solid effort Saturday at Wake Forest, is even younger. Of the 22 names listed on the depth chart, only two will have their eligibility wrap up at the end of the season.
The other 20 players will all be back next season and 17 of them for at least one more season after that. Even Antwan Cordy and Juwan Dowels, who were lost to injury early in the season and are not on the current depth chart, have at least one season left on campus and that comes before applying for medical redshirts that would reinstate a year of eligibility.
With that degree of youth on the defense, it is clear that, in spite of the defensive difficulties this season, the coaching staff clearly believes that sticking with the scheme they have implemented will pay off in the long run. The young guys on the roster will continue to improve as they get practice repetitions and gain experience. They will get stronger and faster as they adjust to college and go through the strength and conditioning program.
Almost as if they are on a treadmill, gradually getting in better shape as they progress from walking to a brisk walk to a jog and eventually a sprint. Sounds like the coaching staff is taking the long view in trying to build a winner, almost as if the head coach has asked for patience and stated in his opening press conference that it takes until the middle of the second season for their offense to run smoothly.
Taking them off that treadmill and changing to a different plan will set them back in their efforts to sprint as soon as possible.
Keeping them on that treadmill makes it more likely that the Syracuse football program will not be getting back on the treadmill at a low setting.
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