Last year, Garrett Shrader took over the starting role in the fourth game of the season and did not relinquish the spot. While Shrader proved to be an effective runner, amassing over 700 yards and 12 of his 14 scores after grabbing the starting spot, he struggled to be an effective passer throughout the campaign. After completing 16-of-22 passes (72.7 percent) in the first three games coming off the bench, the Mississippi State transfer was just over a 50 percent passer as a starter and had four games in which he threw for under 80 yards. SU will need Shrader to be much more accurate and productive with his arm to be a truly effective signal-caller.
Carlos Del Rio-Wilson, who transferred from Florida this offseason, stands behind Shrader on the depth chart. Del Rio-Wilson did not appear in any games for the Gators last season, but was a four-star recruit who was ranked in the top 20 among quarterbacks. At 6’2” and 232 pounds, Del Rio-Wilson offers similar size to Shrader and showed dual-threat capability while in high school.
Jacobian Morgan and Michigan transfer Dan Villari entered camp as part of the backup quarterback competition while Justin Lamson is out indefinitely due to injury. Morgan has appeared in a half dozen games in his two years with the Orange, completing 64 percent of 50 passing attempts with a pair of touchdowns and an equal number of interceptions. Villari saw action in four games as a redshirt freshman at Michigan, amassing nine carries and three pass attempts, but shifted to wide receiver late in preseason practice.
The Orange running backs start with Sean Tucker, for whom the athletic department launched a Heisman Trophy campaign prior to the season. The campaign is deserved, as Tucker was named to the preseason watch lists for the Walter Camp Player of the Year, Maxwell Award (most outstanding college football player), and Doak Walker Award (best running back), as well as multiple All-American teams.
The honors are well-deserved, as Tucker set a single-season record at Syracuse by running for 1,496 yards while adding 12 touchdowns last season, as well as 255 yards and two more scores as a receiver. Tucker has 2,122 rushing yards and a dozen 100-yard games in two seasons and is poised to climb several Orange leaderboards this season, potentially placing himself third all-time in rushing yards with good health.
Beyond Tucker, there is not a single running back on the roster who has carried the ball in a game for Syracuse. True freshman LeQuint Allen was a surprise of the preseason, earning the backup running back spot. The Gatorade New Jersey Player of the Year as a senior in high school, Allen enrolled at SU in January. Allen rushed for over 1,900 yards and 26 touchdowns for Millville High School while also starring as a defensive back.
Juwaun Price transferred this offseason to the Orange after playing the last couple years at New Mexico State. Price led the Aggies last season with 135 carries for 692 yards and ten touchdowns while also proving to be effective in the pass game, snaring 26 passes for 181 yards. Price will provide another option to keep Tucker fresh.
Chris Elmore returns for his final season at Syracuse, having missed eight games last season due to injury. Elmore is listed at fullback this season, but has also played tight end, guard, and defensive tackle in his career. With only five carries and three receptions in the last four seasons, Elmore will likely once more be a battering ram to open space for Tucker to run wild.
Just as with last season, the Orange have their top two receivers returning to the fold. Those two receivers are different this time, as Courtney Jackson and DeVaughn Cooper are those two returnees.
Jackson led the team last year in the three major receiving categories with modest numbers across the board – 37 receptions, 389 yards, and three touchdowns. Those numbers were a significant jump in all three columns over the previous season when Jackson had ten catches for 69 yards. A similar leap this season would cement Jackson as a legitimate threat.
Cooper transferred to the Orange prior to last season after playing for both Arizona and Texas-El Paso earlier in his career. It was a productive move, as Cooper set a personal high with 21 receptions in his first year at SU. Cooper’s on-field time increased as the season progressed and he responded with at least three catches in four of the last five games of the season.
Listed as the third starting wide receiver, Damien Alford is the only other returning wideout to reach double digits in catches last season, snaring 13 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns. The 6’6” Alford established himself as a big-play threat on those scores, going 72 yards to the end zone against Albany and 45 yards for the game-winning touchdown at Virginia Tech.
Trebor Pena and Isaiah Jones are listed as reserves on the season-opening depth chart. Pena caught a pair of passes for the Orange last season, including a 62-yard score against Clemson. Jones, who is still looking for his first collegiate catch, missed some of camp due to injury, but appears to be ready to answer the bell.
Anthony Queeley returns after taking a step back last season, seeing his stats decline from 37 catches for 378 yards to 15 grabs for 222 yards and a pair of scores. C.J. Hayes (14 career receptions at Michigan State) and D’Marcus Adams (three catches at Florida Atlantic) are a pair of transfers who are looking to get in the mix, as well.
Oronde Gadsden II and Maximilian Mang both have limited experience for the Orange. Gadsden had a pair of catches last season while playing wide receiver and is not a traditional tight end, as evidenced by his weight of 216 pounds. His 6’5” height, however, suggests the coaching staff wants to put Gadsden on the field in situations where he has either a size or speed advantage on a defender.
Mang started five games last season and has been deployed primarily as a blocker as well as a special teams player, although he did get his first collegiate reception last year. The hope is that the play calling during the usage of Gadsden and Mang does not tip off opponents to the offense’s intent based solely on personnel.
As Mang did, Steven Mahar Jr. saw some special teams work last season. Chris Elmore will also likely see some time at tight end, again most likely in his traditional blocking role.
Once again, the Orange return a veteran group on the offensive line as four starters from last year’s unit and a total of seven players with starting experience are back. SU employed seven different starting combinations on the line last season as four different players started at right tackle and three played at each guard spot. The impossible dream, as it were, is to have five players start every game at the same spot and build continuity. Last season’s opening lineup lasted two games before a positional switch and injuries started taking their toll by the midway point. Only left tackle Matthew Bergeron started all 12 games at the same position during the 2021 season.
Bergeron returns as the most established of the best five linemen, as identified by the coaching staff. Having played in all 35 games in his three seasons on campus and starting the last 20 at left tackle, Bergeron earned All-ACC honorable mention honors after last season. The Canadian will return to that left tackle spot for his junior season.
The monstrous Kalan Ellis (6’6”, 375 pounds) will be next to Bergeron when the season opens. Ellis started five games at guard last year and will help form a sizeable left side of the line.
Bergeron and Ellis will be complemented on the other side by Dakota Davis and Chris Bleich. Davis, who has spent a lot of his career at right guard, slides out to tackle, where he did start once last season. That start at right tackle is one of 24 in Davis’ career. Bleich will hopefully have a clean bill of health after getting back up to full speed during camp following offseason surgery. A transfer from Florida, Bleich started seven games last season before missing the close of the season with an injury.
Carlos Vettorello, who has played both tackle spots and center during his time at Syracuse, will open the season in the middle of the line. Vettorello has 31 starts on the line over the last three seasons, including 16 at center, but has had some issues with shotgun snaps during that time and was shifted out to right tackle after two games last season.
Josh Ilaoa is the only other player on the two-deep to start a game at SU, earning that honor once last season. Ilaoa is listed as the backup to Vettorello at center and is the likely sixth man in the event of injury, as multiple starters have played at positions other than their opening day slots. Darius Tisdale, who has 15 career starts, is not listed on the depth chart at the beginning of the season.
RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS (8):
LEADING RETURNING RUSHERS: Sean Tucker – 1,496 yards on 246 attempts and 12 touchdowns; Garrett Shrader – 781 yards on 173 attempts and 14 touchdowns
LEADING RETURNING PASSER: Garrett Shrader – 123 completions in 234 attempts for 1,445 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions
LEADING RETURNING RECEIVERS: Courtney Jackson – 37 receptions for 389 yards and two touchdowns; Sean Tucker – 20 receptions for 255 yards and two touchdowns