Roundtable: Beat writers examine Syracuse and how the Orange will fill key holes in 2018

first_img Published on November 28, 2017 at 1:19 am 1. How much of this season’s collapse do you attribute to Eric Dungey’s injury?Joe Bloss: It’s hard to tell. Probably most of it, because Dungey is everything for this team, and his presence seems to affect more than just those to which he throws the football. At the same time, it’s hard to expect a backup quarterback, or any quarterback for that matter, to match the point totals SU let up these past three weeks: 64, 56 and 42.Matthew Gutierrez: A lot. When he’s on the field, Syracuse has a different swagger. Just ask Miami. Dungey and Co. went down there, to a top-10 team following the Clemson game. Dungey throws four interceptions, yet Syracuse pulls within one point in the fourth quarter. That speaks to both his improvisation and the way the defense was playing (at the time). The Miami game proved Clemson wasn’t a fluke. When Dungey was out against Wake Forest, backup Zack Mahoney thrived in one half, but then the wheels fell off. It was only a matter of time, really, because Dungey is the heartbeat of the team. After 30 minutes without Dungey, Syracuse looked nothing like the team that had hung with Louisiana State, North Carolina State, Miami and Florida State, let alone the SU team that topped Clemson.Tomer Langer: A large amount of it. Dino Babers said that he would have liked to think that Dungey’s absence didn’t impact the defense, but that’s a tough sell after how lifeless the defense seemed to be down the stretch. The offense was always going to take a step back without Dungey around, and it only scored 29 points over the last 10 quarters. It’s obviously not fair to pin the defensive regression on Dungey’s  shoulders, but I think him being out played a huge role.2. How will the Orange replace its defensive core in Zaire Franklin and Parris Bennett?J.B.: I’d be surprised if the newbies are as cemented as the guys who are on their way out. Players will likely be shuffled in and out, as opposed to the group of four seniors from 2017 that played a ton of snaps. Andrew Armstrong will be the closest thing to a lock for one of the spots (Franklin spoke highly of him this season) and Shyheim Cullen will get a chance, too, because he’s produced on special teams. After that, a few redshirt freshmen in Nadarius Fagan and Tyrell Richards should factor in as well.M.G.: Considering how bad the defense looked the last three games, the linebacker group is a major concern for next year. The run defense should be excellent with a deep defensive line, but what’s next? The pass defense could be the Achilles heel in 2018.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textT.L.: Well the core will be there, just not at the linebacker spot. Kendall Coleman, Chris Slayton and Alton Robinson will all be back on the line. Starting cornerbacks Chris Fredrick and Scoop Bradshaw will be back too. There’s a good nucleus returning on defense. Replacing the linebackers specifically will be interesting. Armstrong has showed promise in limited snaps, and redshirt freshman Richards looked good in training camp. But that unit will take some time.3. How will the Orange replace its wide receiver core without Ervin Philips and Steve Ishmael?J.B.: There are two schools of thought here. One is that anybody can succeed in Babers’ pass-friendly offense. Ishmael did this year after a down season in 2016, and Amba Etta-Tawo did after a mediocrefew years at Maryland. So why can’t good athletes like Devin C. Butler and Jamal Custis do the same? But, there’s also the angle that says Butler and Custis haven’t grasped what it takes to produce consistently yet, so maybe there’s a chance they never will. I’d lean toward the former, but not with nearly the amount of confidence I had before this season.M.G.: Butler and Custis, of course. The X-factor here lies at the tight end position. Ravian Pierce showed flashes of his four-star recruit potential and he’ll be joined by incoming freshman Gabe Horan. Pierce is an NFL talent, in my opinion, and getting him more involved in the offense will be integral for offensive success next year. Pierce’s success has often coincided with the team’s.T.L.: I’m not really sure to be honest. Butler and Custis haven’t shown that they can consistently be No. 2 options on the outside, let alone No. 1 options. SU had three scholarship receivers redshirt this season and maybe one of them steps up. On the inside, I think a combination of Sean Riley (who got a decent amount of run this year) and Nykeim Johnson (who got very limited action) should combine to form a nice duo. Look for Johnson to eventually supplant Riley.4. Will Tommy DeVito challenge Eric Dungey for the starting QB job next season?J.B.: No, but it sure is exciting that he’ll definitely be the guy if Dungey goes down. For SU fans, a Dungey injury will likely no longer mean a guaranteed loss. For SU, it seems like a win-win situation unless DeVito not starting becomes a problem for DeVito. Not that there’s any indication of something like that, considering DeVito signed knowing Dungey wasn’t darting early for the NFL.M.G.: DeVito arrived on campus competing for the starting position, not intending to redshirt, his father said. I truly believe had DeVito played against Wake Forest, the season would have ended in a different way. SU could be bowling right now. But Babers and players have given little indication as to how DeVito performed in practice this year or why they decided to redshirt him. It’s probable that Dungey will get the nod and DeVito will get his chances only during blowout situations. If Dungey gets hurt again, then we’ll see DeVito in full. The redshirt freshman has a better arm than Drew Brees, per Super Bowl-winning QB Trent Dilfer, so there’s no question he’ll be a big contributor when his number is called.T.L.: No. Dungey accounted for 343 total yards per game and 23 touchdowns in nine games last year. He had some low moments, like his first half against Miami, but the argument could be made that he was the best quarterback not named Lamar Jackson in the ACC. Tommy DeVito should be the No. 2, and he’ll have three years to lead this Orange team. But you’d have a hard time convincing me that there’s someone better than a healthy Dungey, entering his third year in the system, to lead the offense.5. True or false: The Orange must make a bowl next season or head coach Dino Babers will be on the hot seat.J.B.: Isn’t it crazy this is a valid question when only a month ago there was a panic attack about how SU would keep Babers from going to a better program? But, yeah, SU needs to do better than four wins next season. After all, Scott Shafer was fired at the end of his third season. I’ll say true, but that seat is only lukewarm because it seems that Babers has bought himself a cushion with big wins against Virginia Tech and Clemson.M.G.: False. Director of Athletics John Wildhack and Babers himself have reiterated that the rebuild will take years. Babers made a sweeping promise about 2018, though even if SU comes up short again, I think Babers has at least through 2019 to get this thing turned around.T.L.: True in that he reasonably should be. I’m not sure that SU and Wildhack would put him on there, because there hasn’t been any indication to the contrary. But as I wrote in my column, Babers needs to be on the hot seat if he can’t get SU to a bowl next year. The team was supposed to be better this year. It ended with the same record. Improvements need to be seen next year. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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