As we countdown to kickoff in August, we’re going to be doing a unit-by-unit preview each week over the summer. This week, we’re taking a look at the quarterbacks, who return most of the same group from last year.
Syracuse lost their backup quarterback in the offseason, with senior Clayton Welch exhausting his eligibility after transferring from Butte College. Welch was a capable backup, appearing in nine games in 2019, and starting the season finale against Wake Forest. He finished with 523 yards and four touchdowns, including 234 passing yards and two touchdowns against Wake Forest.
PROJECTED STARTER: TOMMY DEVITO
It was a mixed first season for junior Tommy DeVito as the Orange’s starting quarterback.
On the one hand, DeVito improved steadily throughout the year, throwing for 2,360 yards and 19 touchdowns on a 60.6 completion rate, while not throwing an interception in his final six starts.
But DeVito has plenty to work on in the offseason, including getting on the same page as his young wide receiver core. With Trishton Jackson declaring early for the NFL Draft and Sean Riley exhausting his eligibility, DeVito will be throwing to a more inexperienced group.
DeVito will also need to make better decisions with the football, especially when scrambling. DeVito threw too many incompletions as a result of miscommunications last year.
Perhaps the arrival of Sterlin Gilbert, SU’s new quarterbacks coach, can help. Though spring practices were shut down with the spread of the COVID-19 virus, DeVito did get some time in with his new coach.
“I don’t know if you guys had a chance to meet him yet. He’s very high energy,” DeVito said. “Like he drank a couple of monsters, a couple of pre-workouts. That’s awesome to have in a coach, especially in my position.”
DeVito will also need more help from his offensive line, which gave up a Power-5 worst 43 sacks in 2019. He was sacked five more times than the next closest P5 quarterback.
DeVito said to help with the rigors of the season, he’s put on another 10 pounds of muscle, and is up to 215 pounds after playing most of last year at “205-ish.”
Fortunately, the offensive line is one of the more experienced returning groups. Four of the five starters from last year return, with Airon Servais, Carlos Vettorello, Dakota Davis and Matthew Bergeron all back.
Bergeron, who earned the starting role at tackle toward the end of last season as a true freshman, was singled out by DeVito as a major contributor toward SU’s late season success. The Orange won two of its final three games to finish at 5-7.
“It’s a lot to ask a true freshman to play, especially in the ACC,” DeVito said. “[It’s difficult] for someone to play offensive line because of how physical it is.”
WHO’S BACKING HIM UP
Senior Rex Culpepper will be DeVito’s top understudy.
Culpepper was SU’s third string quarterback last season, and has appeared in six games in his career under center, with one start.
He made headlines last spring for throwing a touchdown pass in the showcase game, and was mobbed by his teammates in his first action since winning his battle with testicular cancer.
Culpepper, who has spent much of his career at 230 pounds has chiseled himself down to 217 pounds, and may be counted on to add to a career where he’s thrown for 518 yards and two touchdowns.
“Just to see him go through that battle he went through, and to see where he is now, I couldn’t be more proud of him,” DeVito said. “He’s ripped up.”
Syracuse’s third quarterback on the roster is redshirt freshman David Summers, who was rated the No. 23 pocket passer of the class of 2019 according to ESPN. He’ll likely push Culpepper for second string on the depth chart.
The Orange also added a pair of late quarterbacks to its 2020 recruiting class, inking McKinney (Tex.) North’s Dillon Markiewicz and Canton (Miss.) High’s JaCobian Morgan. Morgan threw for 27 touchdowns in his final high school season.
Both freshmen are looked at as projects for down the line.
DeVito, now in his second season as the starter, figures to build upon a mercurial first campaign.
When he had time in the pocket last year, DeVito proved that he was one of the better quarterbacks in the ACC. With an improved offensive line in front of him, there’s no reason to think that he can’t be better this year.
Staying healthy will be a key for DeVito, since there isn’t much depth behind him.
Culpepper is certainly a serviceable backup, but he’s simply not on the same level as DeVito. It remains to be seen if Summers can compete at the ACC level since he has yet to appear in a college game.
If DeVito is hurt for whatever reason, the lack of depth behind him is a serious concern, especially with how critical a competent quarterback is to Babers’ offensive scheme.