Well, it’s finally here. Preseason camp opens up in Syracuse on Saturday, with head coach Scott Shafer officially opening his second year at the helm and the Orange looking to build on two straight bowl game victories and a 7-6 record in 2013. Obviously, there are some question marks as Syracuse gets back out on the field. Let’s take a look at a few of them, shall we?
1. How will Terrel Hunt do in year two?
Terrel Hunt enters 2014 with a full year under his belt and a pretty experienced offensive line in front of him, lead by preseason all-ACC first teamer Sean Hickey at left tackle. But Hunt had a tendency to run hot and cold last year after he displaced Drew Allen as the starter with his week three performance, and was mostly cold through the first part of the ACC schedule. He was virtually flawless in easy wins over Wagner and Tulane, but as soon as the Orange jumped back into the “real” schedule he showed that maybe it’s just easier to put up big numbers against inferior opponents, and he wasn’t quite ready to take the passing game to the next level.
Indeed, he went his first six games against conference opponents without throwing a single touchdown pass, against seven interceptions over that same stretch. The Orange still won three of those games thanks largely to the ground game, of which Hunt was an integral part. No one will deny that he’s a tough, instinctive runner but the big question really surrounds whether he’s going to be able to step up his passing game this season. The good news is that he closed the year with three straight solid passing games, owning a QB rating of at least 120 (and topping out at 130.9 in the regular season finale against Boston College, arguably his finest performance of the season) so there’s optimism that he’s settling in, and the knowledge that he’s “The Guy” from day one should only help.
The biggest things here are that in 2014, Hunt knows this is his team. He’s also got a vastly improved set of receivers (at least on paper), and with increased roles for guys like Brisly Estime and Alvin Cornelius and a plethora of young guys with good combinations of size, speed, and talent, don’t be surprised to see Hunt take things to the next level this year. We’d better hope he does, anyway, because he’s arguably the biggest key to a successful season.
2. Who’ll replace Macky?
Amazing, isn’t it? Back when Macky MacPherson committed to Syracuse he was viewed as an undersized legacy recruit, only receiving a scholarship because of his grandfather, Dick. But over the course of his four seasons (all as a starter) he became the heart and soul of the team. He was the emotional leader, an intelligent center who got better each year and is now getting a shot at making an NFL roster. No one could have predicted that four years ago.
That’s why replacing Macky at the center position is such a big key to the season. Right now, John Miller tops the depth chart, while Jason Emerich is slotted in as his backup. Rob Trudo could always slide over from guard and play there, too, but all indications are that it’s Miller’s job to lose. If you’re not familiar with the guy tasked with replacing Macky, Miller transferred in from Los Angeles Harbor College in January 2013 and played in five games last year. Back in the spring, Miller was reportedly one of the most improved players on the roster, and hopefully that improvement has continued through the summer. He’ll be one of the most vital players on this team. Syracuse fans will miss Macky MacPherson this season, but hopefully Miller will make sure we don’t miss him too much.
3. What about the defensive tackle position?
The defensive line is certainly a cause for concern as we head into 2014, with anchor Jay Bromley off to the New York Giants and not a lot of experience left behind at defensive tackle or even on the edges. That’s not to say there isn’t talent, because there certainly is. But the big questions will be how effectively the Orange can get after the quarterback, and who steps up to plug the middle in Bromley’s absence?
The coaches are no doubt hoping the answer to that second question is Wayne Williams, who after a long journey finally found his way to the hill in January of this year, albeit woefully out of shape. However, he’s clearly taken his fitness level seriously as evidenced by recent photos showing that he’s dropped a tremendous amount of weight, and tweeted a week or so ago that he passed the team’s conditioning test. He would be a huge asset in the middle of the line playing the nose tackle position.
Of course right now, Williams is listed as a backup at NT behind Eric Crume, who played in all 13 games last year, making 28 tackles including 5.0 for loss. At the other defensive tackle spot, Marcus Coleman is currently penciled in as the starter but brings virtually no experience, playing sparingly in five games last year and making two tackles. Isaiah Johnson, who showed some tremendous flashes on the edge last year, has apparently been moved inside this season and is currently backing up Coleman on the two-deep. Don’t be surprised to see Johnson wind up starting before the season is over.
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Obviously, there are some other questions that need to be answered and as preseason camp gets rolling along, we’ll take a look at some of those as well. However, with camp about to open these are three of the biggest conversation points that’ll be following Shafer’s team as they hit the field tomorrow.
At the end of the day, this is the time of year when it’s the most exciting as a fan, because the team is undefeated and the possibilities are endless. So let’s just all sit back and enjoy basking in the potential the new season will bring.