Orange Watch: Syracuse football continues to ‘spring’ forward

Syracuse wide receiver Taj Harris (80) celebrates a touchdown against Wagner. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

Item: From the time flies by file; wasn’t it almost yesterday that we were celebrating a complete turnaround of the Syracuse football program’s culture under Dino Babers in three short seasons following the convincing Camping World Bowl win over West Virginia to finish 10-3? Now, some 66 days later, the 2019 squad took part Sunday in the first of 14 allotted spring practices followed by the second session Tuesday morning, as preparations for Babers fourth season, and first without Eric Dungey, gets underway.

It’s rise and shine early as usual for a Syracuse football player when it comes to the spring practice schedule.

Other than Sunday’s initial workout that started around 10:00 a.m. at the Ensley Athletic Center and the other undisclosed times of the three closed practices on the schedule, the other 10 practice times are 7:15 a.m. sharp.

The “Spring Football Saturday” open scrimmage event culminates the period on April 13 at the Dome (the lacrosse team is at North Carolina that day).

In between, prying eyes among the media that only get to watch the first 10 minutes of selected sessions, will want to know how Tommy DeVito (525 yards passing, four touchdowns in seven games in 2018) is faring as the offensive maestro after coming off the bench in the Florida State and North Carolina victories last season.

» Related: Syracuse adds Garrison Johnson, Steven Linton on 2019 National Signing Day

How will a rebuilt offensive line support gads of talent at running back and wide receiver? First timers Abdul Adams and Trishton Jackson made a splash with three touchdowns in the bowl win, providing the appetizer to the upcoming season’s main course of depth and talent at the positions critical to maintaining the blazing fast tempo of the offense.

With experience stacked on the defensive line and secondary (All American safety Andre Cisco had a FBS best seven interceptions as a true freshman), the new linebackers will again be a focus following the departure of players from that unit who combined for five turnovers last season.

The other highlight is special teams. Syracuse has the top returning punter/kicking specialist duo in the country in Sterling Hofrichter (All-ACC First Team) and Andre Szmyt (Groza Award winner and top scorer in FBS at 11.8 ppg). Punt/kick returner Sean Riley (1,424 all purpose yards) figures to be joined by someone (Nykeim Johnson) amongst the group of young offensive playmakers.

Perhaps the most telling good news from Babers coming out of the initial workout Sunday with wintery weather outside the indoor practice facility was that the 2019 kickoff was witnessed by a host of highly talented junior recruits. Many visiting for the weekend with respective family members were checking out the national rebirth of the program first hand.

“Those guys (recruits) that walked through the gates (attending the first practice) before you guys (the media) started your interviews?” Babers asked rhetorically. “That was probably one of the best star count that we’ve ever had at practice here at Syracuse. It’s opening day here and they could be at a lot of places but, they’re here in Syracuse, New York.”

“It’s an upgrade in talent level.” Babers continued. “Now we have to see how many of those guys we can (successfully recruit).”

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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.