Syracuse football players addressed the media for the first time since the end of the 2020 season on Tuesday. Here are three takeaways from what they said.
Expect the offensive line to improve
Syracuse’s offensive line struggled all last season, as injuries and lack of depth hurt the Orange. Things were so bleak that SU had to use fullback Chris Elmore at the left tackle spot.
The Orange finished 113th overall in Pro Football Focus’s offensive line ratings, and was also dead last in the ACC.
Things appear to be better this season.
Syracuse bolstered its offensive line in the offseason, adding transfer tackles Willie Tyler (Texas) and Jakob Bradford (JUCO). Florida transfer Chris Bleich is also eligible to play after sitting out 2020 because of NCAA transfer rules (which has since been eliminated).
Combine that with sixth year player Airon Servais, and returning starters Matthew Bergeron, Dakota Davis and Carlos Bettorello, and Syracuse suddenly has depth at talent on the line.
The Orange also changed position coaches, with Mike Cavanaugh moving to Arizona State and Dino Babers hiring Mike Schmidt.
“We trust him,” Bergeron said. “And everyone is just following him.”
2020 still fresh in the mind
It’s been 15 years since the Orange had experienced a 1-10 campaign, and the stigma from that is something that this year’s team is eager to shed.
To be sure, there were several mitigating factors for Syracuse’s struggles. It played with a patchwork offensive line for the entire season. SU played through a pandemic. And it was trying to work in two new coordinators on both sides of the ball.
Still, the Orange finished dead last in the ACC, and is projected to finish in the same place this year by most early preseason rankings.
“1-10 can’t happen again,” Bergeron said.
Williams leading retooled secondary
Syracuse’s secondary was one of the few bright spots last season, and three of its defensive backs will likely be taken in the upcoming NFL Draft.
The trio, Andre Cisco, Trill Williams, and Ifeatu Melifonwu, leave a void behind. But there may not be as much of a talent drain given the depth SU has accumulated over the past few years.
Freshman All-American Garrett Williams led the ACC in passes defended (12) and will assume an even larger role. Still, Williams played an outsized role last year with Cisco tearing his ACL early in the season, and Williams opting out of the final four games to prepare for the draft.
“Obviously, we’re losing a lot of great players,” Williams said. “But we got guys who are ready to step in and fill those roles. It’s my job to lead them.”
Aside from Williams, sophomores Ja’Had Carter and Rob Hanna also showed plenty of potential.
“We have a really talented (secondary) even though we’re young,” Williams said. “Everyone is dedicated to getting better every day.”