Football

Observations from the Syracuse spring game

Jessica Sheldon | Staff Photographer

The Syracuse football team offered a glimpse, though short, of what the 2017 unit will look like. Here, Dontae Strickland works to break free of a tackle.

Team Orange, comprised mainly of the first team on the depth chart, defeated Team White, comprised mainly of the second and third team, in the 2017 Spring Showcase, a culmination of the Syracuse spring season. It was the first look at SU since the end of the 2016 season in November.

Here are superlatives from the game, and below are a few observations from the day.

Changes along the offensive line

Airon Servais, who redshirted last year, came out as the starting center today. Colin Byrne started most of the games last year (after original started Jason Emerich got knocked out for the season in week 2), but he played exclusively with Team White on Saturday. Servias impressed starting quarterback Eric Dungey with his play.

“As the summer goes on we’re just going to get more chemistry on and off the field,” Dungey said. “Jason Emerich and I, we had a really good relationship, as well as Colin Byrne and I, so I’m sure Airon and I will have a good relationship moving forward.”

In the second quarter, Aaron Roberts, who started all 12 games at guard last year, went down and stayed down on the field for a while. He got up and walked off the field, with a trainer holding his left arm. Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said there was not yet an update on him.

Servais also showed some positional versatility. After Roberts went down, Servais slid over to his right guard spot and redshirt freshman Sam Heckel took over at center.

Defensive backs need physicality

Syracuse’s secondary was a point of weakness last year. Other offense’s averaged 276 passing yards per game, with an average of 15.41 yards per catch. Part of that came due to injuries — Antwan Cordy and Juwan Dowels were knocked out of the season in Week 2, and other injuries limited some SU defensive backs throughout the year.

Two very inexperienced sophomores came out as starters in the spring game today in safety Evan Foster, who played mostly on special teams, and cornerback Scoop Bradshaw, who saw a few reps as the season progressed last year. They got their chance based on the physicality they showed in the spring.

“Scoop’s been making a lot of plays, Evan’s a big physical guy,” Babers said. “… Some of the backs in the ACC, there are some big cats, and we need to make sure we got as many physical people out there as we can.”

Babers stressed that the younger players haven’t yet necessarily moved past the veterans, but that they’re in a position where they have that chance. Dowels still hasn’t practiced all spring, as he sustained an ACL injury last year. Also missing this spring was safety Daivon Ellison, who finished third on the team last year with 90 tackles, 30 more than any other defensive back.

Babers hedges bets with expectations for season

In his opening statement, Babers said he was very happy with what he saw in the Spring Showcase. Throughout the spring, he’s lauded the growth of his team and said that he’s happy with how the team is progressing.

Asked about what fair expectations are for next season, Babers acknowledged that fans and media members might judge success using a different barometer, looking at the team record rather than player growth.

“… It’s not my first rodeo. It’s the third time that I’ve done this. I know what I’m looking for, and I think these guys are moving in the right direction,” Babers said.

“I think we should all understand what kind of schedule we have,” Babers said immediately after. “Eleven of 12 opponents were bowl teams, toughest schedule in the country, based off a second-year rebuild. That’s no joke.”

Here are a few other quick notes from the game:

  • Moe Neal, who during practice was transitioning to wide receiver, played exclusively at his original position of running back today, getting a game-high five carries.
  • Starting wide receiver Ervin Philips didn’t play in the game. He was dressed in street clothes with a brace over his left leg. Babers said he got nicked up during Thursday’s practice and had some swelling in the foot, but said it wasn’t anything to be concerned about long term.
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