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 Syracuse’s 2022 offensive line.
Next up in our offseason positional preview series is a group that isn’t exactly flashy but is crucial to the team’s success- the offensive line.
Syracuse’s offensive line didn’t play particularly well as a group last year, with a lower than average grade from Pro Football Focus in both pass-blocking (54.0, the cut off for average play being 60.0) and run-blocking (57.9). That last number might shock some fans who watched Sean Tucker set the school single-season rushing yardage record with 1,496 yards and finished sixth nationally in that category.
But when it comes to the offensive line, more advanced statistics are needed than just rushing yards and sacks allowed to determine how the group is actually performing. For that I turned to Football Outsiders, who have a couple stats that I like to use when looking for a quick evaluation of o-line play.
First there’s Power Success Rate- the percentage of runs on third and fourth down with two or less yards to go, that result in a first down or touchdown. These are your “gotta have it” moments that say alot about the ability of a line to work together and execute. In this area, Syracuse ranked 35th in the country at 74.1%- a good sign.
Then there’s Stuff Rate- the percentage of carries where the running back is stopped at or before the line of scrimmage. This can be an indicator of a line’s actual consistency despite potentially great numbers from the running back. Here, Syracuse ranked 90th nationally at 19.3%- not good.
So we have a line that didn’t perform all that well despite impressive numbers from the running back, but that was able to pull it together and execute when they really needed to. Given that all but one starter are returning in 2022, that gives me optimism about their performance next year.
You’ll notice that I didn’t use pass-blocking stats and that’s because while Syracuse didn’t perform well there last year, some of those numbers can be easily skewed by a QB that takes off and rushes often- as our own Garrett Shrader does- and there’s a new offensive coordinator in Robert Anae whose pass-heavy scheme will surely change the role of our line on passing downs, enough to where it may be unproductive to judge last year’s group in that area moving forward.
As we stand here in May, here’s the depth chart as I see it:
- Left Tackle- Matthew Bergeron 6’5” 327 pounds
- Left Guard- Kalan Ellis 6’6” 388 pounds
- Center- Carlos Vettorello 6’4” 299 pounds
- Right Guard- Chris Bleich 6’6” 335 pounds
- Right Tackle- Dakota Davis 6’5” 336 pounds
- LT- Anthony Red 6’5” 290 pounds
- LG- Jakob Bradford 6’5” 296 pounds
- C- Josh Ilaoa 6’3” 302 pounds
- RG- Darius Tisdale 6’5” 279 pounds
- RT- Enrique Cruz Jr. 6’6” 303 pounds
A quick glance shows an absolutely massive position group. Most teams smallest offensive lineman is usually their center or a guard who will top out at 6’1” or 6’2”. Syracuse’s smallest lineman is also potentially their center, except he’s 6’4” and a hair shy of 300. This is a group that should be able to bully people.
Bergeron is the longest tenured of the bunch at 27 straight starts, he’s the best player among them with All-ACC accolades, and the only one with his spot set in stone. He looks to have another good season as Shrader’s blindside protector.
Ellis had five starts at guard last year and played well enough to earn the starting nod going into 2022, though which side he’ll be on remains to be seen and probably comes down to how Anae will use his size and speed.
Vettorello has the unenviable task of replacing Airon Servais who started an SU-record 60 straight games, the vast majority of which at center, and not be responsible for any drop off in play. The good news is he performed well enough in a couple games last year filling in for Servais that he looks to be the favorite for the spot going forward.
Bleich was banged up last year but started the first seven games which coincided with Tucker’s hot start. He moved around the line playing both guard spots and the same situation applies with Ellis, as his exact spot will be determined in camp.
Davis played mostly right guard last year but with Vettorello likely moving to center, I like him to push Darius Tisdale out of the right tackle spot as he has a much larger frame that would make this starting five truly imposing. We’ll see what the team thinks of him this summer, though.
As for the backups, Red has more of a right tackle build and played one game there in 2019, but due to incoming talent on the right side I expect him to get a little less playing time backing up Bergeron on the left.
Bradford has tackle size and played two games there last year but gets shuffled around in my lineup, taking left guard backup duties due to Tisdale’s experience at the right guard spot.
Ilaoa is kind of the swing interior lineman due to his experience in 11 games with one start at guard. I have him as my center due to his smaller size but realistically he could end up on the depth chart as guard and perform just as well.
Tisdale has the most experience of the second string, logging five starts at right guard, but he’s struggled with injury and is the lightest player on the team at 279 pounds which seems to make him the odd-man out for what the coaching staff is looking for. This is one player who could actually fight his way to the starting lineup in camp, however.
Finally, Cruz is an incoming four star freshman to be excited about. He has great size, was all-state in track, and wrestled as well. There’s a mix of skill sets and talent there that makes for a dangerous combination, and given Bergeron’s hold on left tackle, I’ve got Cruz backing up the right tackle spot with an eye on the future.
All in all, Syracuse’s offensive line has a good amount of experience with all but one player returning, and they are so absolutely massive that there’s little reason to doubt a rise in effectiveness in the run game. They have a lot of work to do to prove themselves in pass-blocking, but as I mentioned, a lot of that comes down to the responsibilities Anae will give them.
I feel pretty optimistic about this group, even if they can’t avoid the injury bug that’s plagued them the last few years, due to the depth Babers has fostered and the talent at running back that can overcome some of their deficiencies.