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 offensive line, which is returning four of five starters from last year’s team.
- Evan Adams: Adams, one of the few remaining Scott Shafer recruits on the roster, was a stalwart of the offensive line for the last four seasons. After redshirting his first season, he went on to start 45 of a possible 49 games at guard, and signed as an undrafted free agent with the Baltimore Ravens.
- Sam Heckel: Heckel only appeared in SU’s opener against Liberty in 2019 before sitting out the rest of the season because of an upper body injury. He announced earlier in the year he was retiring from football. Heckel started 14 games over two years, and his absence was one of the reasons why the offensive line struggled so much in 2019.
- Andrejas Duerig: A reserve offensive lineman at guard and center for much of his career, he missed the first four games of 2019 with an injury, and mostly played on special teams when he returned.
- Left Tackle: Airon Servais. Servais was originally slotted for this position last year after spending two seasons at center. But the above-mentioned injury to Heckel forced Servais back to center for a majority of the season. Servais finally moved back to his natural position after Matthew Bergeron was elevated to the starting five (more on that below). Servais has All-ACC potential heading into his senior season.
- Left Guard: Patrick Davis. Davis was listed atop the spring depth chart after being a reserve lineman with snaps at tackle and guard. In his career, he’s played in 24 games with nine knockdown blocks. Still, this particular position is the most fluid on the offensive line (more on that below).
- Center: Carlos Vettorello. The journey for Vettorello to the center position was a windy one in 2019. He supplanted grad transfer Ryan Alexander early in the year, picking up eight starts at left tackle. Alexander left the team, and eventually, Vettorello shifted to center for the final three games, allowing Servais to slide back to his natural position at left tackle. He’s just a redshirt sophomore with plenty of upside.
- Right Guard: Dakota Davis. While Davis was not listed anywhere on the spring depth chart, it’s because he’s recovering from an upper body injury. He started all 12 games at right guard last season, though there may be some shifting in the offensive line with the addition of Florida transfer Chris Bleich, who also started at right guard for the Gators. (More on Bleich below.)
- Right Tackle: Matthew Bergeron. Quick trivia question: Since 2002, how many true freshman have started at tackle for Syracuse? The answer is one: Bergeron. Following Alexander leaving the program, the Canadian started the final five games of the season, and recorded 20 knockdown blocks while earning freshman All-America honors from Pro Football Focus.
WHO’S BACKING THEM UP
- Wil Froumy: Froumy is a redshirt sophomore who has yet to appear in a game. But in the spring depth chart, he’s listed as the backup at right guard.
- Anthony Red: During spring practices in 2019, Red was listed atop the depth chart and spent most of his early enrollee time struggling to contain All-ACC caliber defensive linemen Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman. Still, outside of a cameo appearance against Duke late in the year, Red was relegated to a redshirt role.
- Darius Tisdale: The former JUCO transfer spent time as a backup guard and tackle in his first season with Syracuse, and appeared in all 12 games, mostly at special teams. He was listed as the team’s starting right guard in the spring depth chart, though the return of Dakota Davis and the eligibility of Bleich will play a huge role in his playing time in 2020.
- Qadir White: White, like Froumy, is now in his third year and is hoping to play his first collegiate snaps in 2020. He entered Syracuse as a four-star recruit from the Bronx, and has shifted from tackle to guard. He didn’t appear in the depth chart in the spring.
- Chris Bleich: Bleich appeared in nine games for Florida in 2018, starting eight of them. He lost his starting role following an injury, and made the decision to transfer closer to home (he’s originally from Pennsylvania). Bleich has applied for a waiver to play immediately, and if he does, he should be in the mix to start. Otherwise, he’ll need to sit the required one season per NCAA rules. If he is eligible, it’s possible either he or Dakota Davis shift to left guard.
- Syracuse added three offensive linemen in the 2020 cycle: JUCO transfer Mark Petry, and freshmen Josh Ilaoa and Garth Barclay. Petry is already enrolled, and was listed as the team’s reserve right tackle in the spring depth chart. Ilaoa and Barclay are expected to arrive for summer camp. All three were rated three stars by 247 Sports.
Quarterback Tommy DeVito will need more 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.
But those growing pains should pay dividends heading into the 2020 season. The early losses of Alexander and Heckel means that underclassmen like Davis, Vettorello and Bergeron gained valuable experience.
It was no coincidence that Syracuse’s offense improved dramatically toward the end of last year, with the Orange averaging 40.6 points over their last three games.
All three are expected to play major roles in 2020, and all three are potential starters. If Bleich can get an NCAA waiver to play immediately, the offensive line, which was certainly a liability in 2019, can be a strength this upcoming season.