Orange Watch: The never-ending quest to find talent for Syracuse football

Syracuse had little trouble in its 2017 season opener
Dino Babers is constantly on the look out for top talent to fit the speed-centric mold of his ‘Cuse program

Item: The announcement Sunday morning that Syracuse football awarded a scholarship to sophomore defensive lineman Alton Robinson (Converse, Texas), to bolster an injury-depleted defensive line, proves it’s never too late to add talent (one time Texas A&M commit), even in this case with the clock ticking on the fall semester enrollment deadline, and the school conducting an investigation into past criminal charges against Robinson that were dismissed in July.

In a season in which the critical component in our humble opinion is how well Syracuse plays in the trenches, the offensive line protecting against so many NFL-caliber rush linemen in the ACC and establishing a run game that was practically non-existent a season ago, and a defensive line that has enough depth to allow the luxury of rotating fresh bodies into games to bring constant pressure to opposing quarterbacks, including reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson of Louisville (Nov. 18).

The addition of Robinson, who played junior college football in Oklahoma last season (third in the nation at the JUCO level with 14 sacks) while his case was investigated in Texas, adds to mix of eight young members of the defensive line.

» Related: Adelson: Syracuse football ‘will be better’ but bowl game may prove elusive

The group overall has plenty of impressive talent and returns two starters in sophomores Kendall Coleman and Josh Black, both banged up a bit in preseason camp, while the oldest players by class are redshirt juniors Kayton Samuels and Chris Slayton.

The surprise weekend announcement also shows the length to which the athletic department (John Wildhack) went the last couple of weeks in the continual search to help bring Dino Babers more talented depth at the crucial position along the defensive front.

“We did our due diligence, we think it was thorough,” Babers said in a media session Sunday about investigating Robinson’s background before bringing him into the program. “We think he might be good. I would say we don’t need him, but we do need him, we’ve got to see where he’s at (after a crash course of pre season practices).”

Besides Robinson arriving past the midway point of preseason camp, SU, like so many other football schools that bring in select JUCO players to add roster depth, has also taken full advantage of the graduate transfer rule with both safety Jordan Martin (Toledo) and cornerback Devin M. Butler (Notre Dame) competing for starting spots during their one year of ‘Cuse eligibility, and linebacker Austin Valdez reuniting with Babers and playing for him in 2014-15 at Bowling Green.

The other new major wrinkle with recruiting talent comes in December (20th-22nd) with the initial early signing period for college football. This year a recruit can take an official visit after their senior year of high school begins and sign before Christmas, or wait until the traditional signing period begins on the first Wednesday of February and runs until April 1. Next year official visits will move up to the spring of a player’s junior year.

The two signing periods will now allow Babers and his longtime staff some flexibility in nailing down the current 14 verbal commitments (through Aug. 21), while pursuing their other targeted players who have opted to wait until February, all with the end result to boost the program’s overall talent level (speed of play) to the level necessary to compete in the ACC.

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.