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Syracuse Football: The good, the bad & the ugly at Orange’s spring game

Syracuse football (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)
Syracuse football (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images) /

Head coach Dino Babers and the Syracuse football team have completed their spring game, the first-ever spring game to be televised.

Though many key players were held out of action, the game offered some key insights into the 2022 season, which should provide Syracuse football fans with a combination of optimism, curiosity and skepticism in evaluating their chances in the ACC.

The performance and even the appearance of several units inside the Carrier Dome on Friday night gave us clues as to how those questions will be answered.

We take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly for Syracuse football in its spring game.

The Good

1. We Have A Backup Quarterback
Though Garrett Shrader was held out of action as a precaution due to a very minor hamstring injury, the other four quarterbacks on the Syracuse football roster were able to step up and demonstrate their capabilities. Redshirt freshman Justin Lamson displayed a live arm, good mobility and the ability to exploit the many mismatches which came with his 1st team receiver group against the 2nd team secondary. His performance was not perfect, but Lamson’s ability to scramble and throw the deep ball made clear that his toolbox includes many of the attributes necessary for taking over when Garrett Shrader is no longer able to play, whether that be via injury or graduation. Lamson’s performance should be put in the context of the group he was going against, which was largely made up of freshmen and walk-ons, but that is no reason for fans to not be encouraged by his play.

2. The First Team Offensive Line Looked Good
Despite missing stalwarts such as Matthew Bergeron, Chris Bleich and Kalan Ellis, the first-team offensive line was able to consistently open up holes in the run game and keep Justin Lamson upright at quarterback. Big runs by Juwan Price and LeQuint Allen were sprung by the dominant posture of the unit, who took big advantage of their younger and physically smaller second-team counterparts. The Syracuse football offensive line will feature 8 returning players who have starting experience in past seasons, and the level of competition appears to be increasing based on their performance in the spring game. Given the critical nature in the 2022 campaign of the run game being successful, this is one of the most important questions for the team to answer. The spring game gave us an indication that the answers may be positive.

3. An Outstanding Secondary
Syracuse football fans have become used to high-level secondary play under Dino Babers, and it appears that 2022 will be no exception to this. With the secondary exploiting the 2nd team offense for multiple forced turnovers during the course of the game, including two interceptions, this is the unit which Syracuse football fans should have the most confidence in going into 2022. The cornerback group, led by Garrett Williams and Duce Chestnut, figures to be among the best in the ACC. Players like Ja’Had Carter and Eric Coley turned in very good performances in the spring game as well, which should create confidence in the safety group.

4. Szmyt Looked Like Himself Again
Lou Groza award-winning kicker Andre Szmyt had an uncharacteristically bad season in 2021, missing several field goals and looking very bad on some kicks which he made from short distances. His kicks in 2021 did not appear to have the smooth trajectory that Syracuse football fans had become so accustomed to in his prior years. With the addition of the new special teams coach, Andre looks back to his old form. Though he did miss the three attempts I saw him take from 54 yards, he nailed every other kick I watched during warm-ups and looked excellent on every made attempt. It looked like he was back to his old form, and not a moment too soon.

The Bad

1. Chris Elmore Looks Heavier
Syracuse football fans who regularly look at the roster updates will sometimes notice the weight changes in different players, and use that to project their progress. In 2021 fullback Chris Elmore was listed at 6’0 and 265 pounds. On the 2022 roster, he was listed at 6’0 and 293 pounds. Unfortunately, he looked every bit of the extra 28 pounds on Friday night, and it did not look like muscle weight. I cannot imagine Dino Babers wants his lead blocker carrying so much extra weight when it isn’t good weight. Hopefully, Elmore takes strength and conditioning seriously this summer, and comes back to fall camp a bit more trim.

2. Kickers Struggled On Kickoff
Through the warmup period and the game period, the kicker unit failed to kick a single ball into the end zone. Being able to do so has become a basic prerequisite of being a starting ACC kicker, so this was very disappointing. The new special teams coach has not had a lot of time to work with the kickers, and the work he has done with Andre Szmydt seems to already be paying off on the field goal unit, but it does not seem to be translating as well on the kickoff. Hopefully, that will change this fall.

3. Transfers Largely Disappoint
The three most highly discussed transfers coming into the team this offseason were former Michigan quarterback Dan Villari, former Michigan State wide receiver CJ Hayes, and former Rutgers safety Alijah Clark. None of the three cracked the first-team units, and both Villari and Hayes appeared to be significantly behind some of their competition in attempting to make the two-deep. Hayes didn’t see the field until the end of the first half, and Villari probably looked the worst of the three scholarship quarterbacks competing to be the 2nd string option. For a team that lacks many experienced options at several key positions, transfers stepping up has been an important aspect of the argument for a better 2022 season. With the exception of New Mexico State transfer Juwan Price, who plays a running back position that is already in very good shape, we did not see anything on Friday night which should create confidence that this has happened.

The Ugly

1. Where’s The Beef?
I don’t believe that any objective observer could look at the team we saw on Friday night and deny how small they looked. The most glaring example of this was on the first-team defense, which featured sophomore Terry Lockett at nose tackle. Listed at 6’3 and 264 pounds, Lockett would be extremely undersized as a nose tackle in a three-man front. In fact, not one member of the projected starting Syracuse defensive line reaches 270 pounds. The receiver group looked similarly small, being led by two players in Anthony Queeley and Courtney Jackson who weigh under 200 pounds. These size issues do not create confidence in the ability of the offense to create more open targets for the receiver group, or to stop the running game on defense. Even worse, they’re not issues that can likely be reasonably addressed by the coaching staff prior to the season. Syracuse football will be smaller than their opponent in almost every game this season, and they will have to overcome that challenge in order to be successful.

2. I Thought This Team Had Depth?
This is the most frustrating takeaway from the 2022 spring game: Coach Dino Babers has failed completely in his goal to build proper depth into the program in his first six years as head coach. Watching the second-team offense and defense drove this point home emphatically. The first team dominated the second team on both sides of the ball, creating very real questions as to whether any of the good things we saw were due to the competition level or due to actual growth in the starting units. The second team units featured mostly walk-ons and freshmen, and on defense, it was nearly exclusively those two groups. The spring game was a stark reminder that this is a football team with only 15 juniors and seniors combined on offense and defense, out of a potential 85 scholarship players. Like the size issue, this lack of experienced depth is not something Dino Babers will be able to address prior to the fall. Because of this, Syracuse football will have to remain healthy and rely on less experienced players to step up in order to be successful in 2022.

Next. Syracuse Football: As spring game nears, examining key positional battles. dark