What is Santa bringing me for Christmas is the one question that dominates thoughts and conversations at this time of year.
The most popular item on Christmas lists throughout the 315 from Syracuse football fans is to see Dino Babers and his band of Orange start winning again.
So that got us wondering, “what will jolly ol’ St. Nick leave under Coach Babers’ Cusemas tree?”
Well, we here at The Juice have sources all over the place. So, we started making calls. Lots of calls.
As it turns out, Santa already visited Coach Babers’ house this year. December 16th, to be exact, the first day of the early period for recruits to sign letters of intent. Here’s a closer look at what the man in red left the man in orange.
Football is a physical game played by large, powerful men. The biggest players are found in the trenches. Syracuse fans know all too well the struggles of the offensive line the past two seasons.
The offense went from a unit capable of scoring from anywhere on the field during Eric Dungey’s senior season of 2018 to a sputtering shadow of itself this season and last. A lot of those woes fall on the five guys up front.
Santa, being a large fellow himself, thought Dino’s biggest gift – figuratively and literally – should be a 5-man collection of pass blockers and road graders that will help ignite the Orange offense faster than the Millenium Falcon can make the jump to light speed!
Enrique Cruz, a 4-star OT out of Illinois, is the gem of the group. Cruz has all the makings of a future left tackle. Joining Cruz are two Hawaiians – Kalan Ellis and Austyn Kauhi – along with Tyler Magnuson out of Minnesota and Wes Hoeh. Hoeh, like Cruz, is also from Illinois.
Freshmen linemen tend to need a redshirt year before taking the field, though Cruz might have a shot if he can put on enough size. Regardless, the OL should be better next season with Dakota Davis healthy for an entire year and Florida transfer Chris Bleich eligible.
Still, the incoming offensive line class certainly provides a solid future foundation for the Orange to build on.
Laying the offensive struggles solely at the feet of the line isn’t telling the whole story.
In two years since taking the quarterback reins from Dungey, Tommy DeVito has seen some ups and downs.
He was lost for the season this year after suffering an injury against Duke. And last year DeVito was sacked more times than any P5 quarterback. Though he did amass some impressive numbers, especially throwing to Trishton Jackson, who declared for the NFL Draft at the end of the 2019 campaign.
Babers has seen too many 3-and-outs the past two seasons. A combination of poor pass protection and run blocking coupled with erratic quarterback play has forced Babers to take a hard look at the quarterback room.
DeVito has announced his return for next season while true freshman JaCobian Morgan showed promise.
Apparently, Santa felt Syracuse’s QB room could use a boost in the form of two dual threat quarterbacks.
Californian Justin Lamson recently announced plans enroll next semester. The ability to participate in Spring practice will give him an enormous jump on the summer preseason as he’ll have the extra practices to get acclimated to Sterlin Gilbert’s system.
Syracuse’s other quarterback recruit comes courtesy of the transfer portal.
Garrett Shrader is a former 4-star recruit who recently committed to the Orange. Coming out of high school, the North Carolina native had offers from Alabama, Florida, Louisville, Missouri, Nebraska, Ole Miss, Penn State, South Carolina, and Tennessee in addition to Syracuse.
Shrader played in ten games as a true freshman while at Mississippi State. He shows a strong arm, the ability to extend plays with his legs, and absolutely no fear when he tucks the ball and runs.
DeVito will have a battle on his hands to keep the starting job next season. The Orange’s QB depth is now deep and talented.
All thanks to Santa!
Duces Are Wild
The secondary was without question Syracuse’s deepest and most talented unit heading into the season.
But like the rest of the team, injuries claimed starters and forced true freshmen into the fire. Though the lumps they took this year will help solidify the much sought-after ACC-caliber depth Babers has been preaching the need to establish.
Starters Andre Cisco and Eric Coley were both lost for the year early into the season. Trill Williams opted out and declared for the draft half way through the year after he got injured.
Redshirt freshman Garrett Williams exceled at one corner while redshirt junior Ifeatu Melifonwu solidified the other. Both were lock down defenders as they each proved extremely difficult to beat for touchdowns.
While Williams returns and has the potential to emerge as one of the ACC’s best cover corners, Melifonwu has declared for the NFL Draft.
The Orange will certainly benefit with future defensive back recruits if Cisco, Williams, and Melifonwu are all drafted next April. And all three stand a good chance of hearing their names called over the course of three days.
What was an Orange strength on defense certainly took a hit with the loss of three skilled players.
Darian “Duce” Chestnut appears poised to make the same impact as a true freshman that Cisco did three years ago.
Chestnut is a 4-star recruit and the highest rated player in Syracuse’s class. Like Lamson, he plans to enroll early to take advantage of Spring football with his eyes set on earning immediate playing time – perhaps even a starting spot.
Getting’ the Band Back Together!
The NCAA declared all players receive an extra year of eligibility due to the complications arising from playing this season during the coronavirus pandemic.
So far, three seniors have opted to take advantage of that ruling and return for an extra season. Airon Servais, Kingsley Jonathan, and Josh Black will be back in orange next year.
Of all the seniors on the roster, Servais, Jonathan, and Black are three of the most important to return given the positions they play.
Servais has been a stalwart on the offensive line over the course of four seasons. He was moved from left to right tackle during the season and there’s no reason he shouldn’t find himself starting there again.
» Related: Syracuse adds 19 new players during 2021 early signing period
Jonathan and Black are two of three senior starters – McKinley Williams being the third – along the defensive line. If Williams doesn’t return – he has yet to announce his plans – Jonathan and Black provide the defense some much needed size and strength along the defensive line as opposed to having to break in three new starters.
Both the linebacking corps and secondary are young and dripping with talent. Maintaining some segment of the defensive line is critical to letting the other two units blossom into what has the makings of a very good defense.
Thank YOU, Santa!
So while Babers already got to unwrap the gifts Santa left under his tree, he doesn’t get to play with them until the summer.
By then we’ll start to figure out if Dino got coal or not.
On behalf of all of us here at The Juice Online, Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night!
For more Syracuse coverage, Like our Facebook page, follow us @TheJuiceOnline and listen to our podcast.