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The media won’t have access to Syracuse’s training camp practices this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, the football team is organizing regular Zoom interviews with head coach Dino Babers and select players while also providing film from the Ensley Athletic Center. With “Camp Notes,” The Daily Orange’s beat reporters bring the latest news, observations and analysis as the Orange gear up for an unprecedented 2020 season. Follow along here and on Twitter.tl
As of now, Syracuse is one of 77 college football teams set to play this fall. The Orange is also one of 77 teams with NFL hopefuls vying to impress pro scouts and with seniors who have one last chance at competitive football.
“I feel like it’s a blessing for sure, especially for me as a fifth year,” redshirt DL Josh Black told reporters. “I need this extra year for film, for scouting purposes. My ultimate goal is to play in the NFL. This extra year will be huge for me.”
The 2020 fall football season is still far from guaranteed — an NCAA chief medical advisor likened the handling of fall sports to the Titanic — but SU’s season opener in Chapel Hill, North Carolina is about one month away. Black and junior defensive back Trill Williams largely struck a cautiously optimistic tone while addressing the media via Zoom on Thursday, reiterating that they’re controlling what they can and taking everything one day at a time.
“As a whole team, we just want to be safe,” Williams said. “That’s the main goal, is to keep us safe and go out there and play and know that we’re going to be alright.”
Williams, who started last season at nickelback, said he believes he should be “in the conversation” for the best defensive backs in the Atlantic Coast Conference and in the nation. His strip-and-score in overtime against Wake Forest put a bow on the 2019 season, though he said he doesn’t dwell on the past.
And nor should he. After 2018’s Camping World Bowl victory, the Orange went 5-7 after an offseason filled with media hype. “We let that 10-3 season get to our head,” tight end and defensive lineman Chris Elmore said Aug. 11. The 2019 season was “really disappointing,” Williams said, and Elmore added that the team is more humble and working harder this year.
“We wanted to make everybody happy, and the fans happy and the coaches happy,” Williams said. “But that year’s over with. It’s gone. It’s in the past. And we’ve got new coaches here and we’re going to be ready to go this year.”
A key to avoiding a 2019 retread is the implementation and effectiveness of new defensive coordinator Tony White’s 3-3-5 defense. Without spring practices, Syracuse had to try to learn the scheme through Zoom meetings over the summer.
Even now, Black said, installing the defense is “more mental than physical.” They’re still learning terminology and adjusting to the concept, he said.
Black, who played nose tackle last year, believes he’s a perfect fit as a defensive end in the 3-3-5. As a freshman in 2016, Black started nine games at defensive end. He said he was “scrawny” then — he was 235 pounds, according to 247 Sports — and put on weight to play in the interior. His player profile now lists him at 282 pounds.
“I’m lining up all over the place, moving well,” Black said. “I feel like it’s going to be really successful for the personnel we have as well.”
The FSU issue
Florida State players are frustrated with how their program has handled testing for COVID-19, according to ESPN. The players allege weekly testing hasn’t happened and that athletes who test positive are told to keep it private.
Though FSU isn’t on Syracuse’s 2020 schedule, when Black learned about the situation in Tallahassee, he had a few questions. The main one: Are other teams following guidelines as well as Syracuse?
SU’s players sat out their first practice of training camp due to concerns with the health protocols of other schools. Head coach Dino Babers and every player who’s spoken to the media this summer have maintained that Syracuse’s protocols are top-notch and have kept the team safe. Syracuse athletes and athletics staff account for about 400 of the 1,344 COVID-19 tests the university administered between Aug. 2 and Aug. 11.
Stopping the virus is a “team effort,” Black said, and SU wants to push the rest of the ACC to match its safety guidelines, including those concerning third-party testing.
“It’s not just about us at Syracuse. It’s about the entire conference,” Black said. “You hear teams talking about things but they’re actually looking out for everyone in the conference. They’re not just trying to be selfish about their team, and that’s how we feel. We’re looking out for everyone in the conference and all over the country, too.”
- The NCAA is expected to rule on whether players who opt-out will retain a year of eligibility, a decision that could greatly impact what college football looks like this year. Babers has previously said there are players on his team still deciding on whether to opt-out, but Black and Williams said they expect everyone to play. Black, Williams, Elmore and quarterback Tommy DeVito have all committed to playing unless the ACC cancels the season.
- Black posted a video of himself performing a backflip off a wall earlier this summer, which Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson retweeted. The social media recognition led Black’s phone to blow up with notifications. “I was definitely fanboying a bit off that for sure,” Black said. “It gave me a burst of motivation, having someone of his stature reach out to me. That kind of helped me realize I haven’t reached my potential in anything I’ve done.”
Wow this is one helluva athlete – and he squats over 700lbs in the Syracuse weight room
You’re on our radar big man. Keep kickin’ ass and despite the Coronavirus challenges, I hope you and the team have a great season. #DLineBrothers ✊@CuseFootball @SevenBucksProd https://t.co/UqGOkC9XuF
— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) June 13, 2020
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