As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a unit-by-unit preview each week over the summer. This week, we’re discussing three major storylines around the quarterbacks.
WHO WILL START?
Syracuse has five quarterbacks in the room, but the competition really focuses on its top two players: Incumbent starting quarterback Tommy Devito and Mississippi State transfer Garrett Shrader.
Devito, like most of the Syracuse offensive, struggled when healthy in 2020. He threw for just 525 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions across four games before his season ended with a lower body injury, and only completed 50.6 percent of his passes.
Syracuse’s success in 2018 came in part because of the fierce competition between Devito, then a redshirt freshman, and Eric Dungey, a senior who ended up leading the Orange to a 10-3 season.
“I think that competition is healthy,” Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said. “I think that any time you have competition, you’re going to make people better.”
And that’s exactly what Babers is hoping happens with Shrader, a former four-star quarterback int the class of 2019, who was ranked 238th in his class, and the No. 7 dual threat quarterback.
After appearing in 10 games with four starts as a freshman, Shrader lost the quarterback battle to Stanford transfer K.J. Costello in 2020, and decided to enter his name into the portal in the offseason.
His arrival in Syracuse will make for the most compelling storyline heading into summer practices, with Babers likely not to name a starting quarterback until the weeks leading up to SU’s opener against Ohio in September.
“Competition brings out the best in not only football players, but media people, teachers, professors and businessmen,” Babers said. “I think that competition is what everyone embraces.”
THE THIRD STRING BATTLE
Outside of the top two quarterbacks, there’s a competition for the third string quarterback, as well. Sophomores JaCobian Morgan and Dillon Markiewicz each played as true freshmen, with Morgan seeing more time under center. True freshman Justin Lamson could also play a factor as well.
In three games before suffering a season ending concussion, Morgan played with poise, and was mostly under control, throwing for 285 yars and two touchdowns with two interceptions. On paper, he would appear to be the favorite to land the No. 3 spot. But Markiewicz, who made a brief appearance in SU’s finale against Notre Dame, could challenge for the spot as well.
“Dillon has really come on,” Babers said. “He made some throws during spring ball and he looked at me like, ‘Yeah, I can do that.'”
Meanwhile, Lamson is an interesting prospect who has drawn comparisons to Dungey for his athleticism and gunslinging mentality. He was one of Syracuse’s top recruits in the class of 2021, as a three-star quarterback from California ranked just inside the top 1,000 of his class.
Syracuse may choose to redshirt Lamson as he acclimates to the college game, especially with four quarterbacks in front of him with more experience. Then again, Dungey emerged from a crowded quarterback room as a true freshman to take the starting role, and never relinquished it.
“I think Justin, our young kid, is going to be really good,” Babers said. “We’re really excited about him.”
MORE THAN ONE QB WILL PLAY
If recent history is any factor, then Syracuse is going to need more than one (or even two) quarterbacks to play this year. It’s been nine years—since Ryan Nassib in 2012—since one quarterback has played the entire season.
Because of injuries last year, Devito, Morgan and Rex Culpepper all took significant snaps at various times.
And that’s exactly why one of Babers’ offseason goals was to add another quality quarterback to the room. With Shrader and Lamson in Orange, Babers accomplished that goal.
With David Summers entering his name into the transfer portal and Morgan and Markiewicz still very raw, it makes sense to have depth at a position that finished 92nd in the NCAA last year in passing yards per game (254.8).
“We’ve got the best (quarterback) room since I’ve been here,” Babers said. “From one through five, those guys are really something.”