Get the latest Syracuse news delivered right to your inbox.
Subscribe to our sports newsletter here.
Over three months after their season-ending loss to Pittsburgh in late November, head coach Dino Babers and the rest of the Orange returned to the field Sunday for their first spring practice. Syracuse will have three weeks worth of practices before its annual spring game in the Carrier Dome on April 1.
Babers made several changes to his coaching staff during the offseason, bringing in four new coaches, including offensive coordinator Robert Anae from Virginia to replace Sterlin Gilbert, who was fired after last season. SU also brought in Jason Beck as quarterbacks coach, along with Bob Ligashesky (special teams coordinator) and Michael Johnson Sr. (wide receivers coach). Babers said he’s seen “some exciting things happening” with the changes to the offense through the first two practices.
Here are three takeaways from Babers’ first spring practice press conference:
A changing offense
Virginia’s offense, led by Anae and Beck, ranked fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in points per game (34.6) last season, and it averaged the most passing yards per game in the league (392.6). SU’s offense, on the other hand, had the worst passing offense in the conference and was forced to rely heavily on All-American running back Sean Tucker.
Babers said he’s been impressed by how quickly the offense is picking up on the new ideas brought in by Anae and the other new assistants. He compared it to when Syracuse’s defense was tasked with learning the 3-3-5 defense brought in by defensive coordinator Tony White ahead of the 2020 season.
“So far, so good,” Babers said. “It’s only the second day out, they’re going to get better. But there’s some exciting things happening.”
When asked about potentially mixing Anae’s schemes and overall offensive approach with his own, Babers said he’s starting with Anae and Beck’s “stuff as a lead,” but added that he thinks there will be more of a “blend” somewhere down the line.
“Right now we’re going with their stuff because this is the way to keep us moving at a very, very fast pace until we can come back and decide what we want to keep,” Babers said.
Offensive line health
When asked what he wants to see out of his offensive line this spring, Babers simply said he’s looking for them to stay healthy and together. Throughout his six years at Syracuse, Babers has seen his offensive line frequently ravaged by injuries, most evident in the 1-10 2020 season when 6-foot, 290-pound fullback Chris Elmore was forced to play up front. SU’s o-line ranked 113th out of 127 Football Bowl Subdivision teams that year.
Offensive line coach Mike Schmidt was a nominee for the Broyles Award last year, given annually to the best assistant coach in college football. The Orange’s rushing attack averaged over 200 yards per game, and starters Dakota Davis and Chris Bleich both announced they would be returning for the 2022 season.
Bleich missed four games last season after transferring from Florida, and he underwent surgery in early December on his hip. Babers said he believes Bleich will be “extremely ready” once the season begins in September but couldn’t say if the guard will be ready to play in the spring.
“He feels, and has been moving, better than he’s ever been,” Babers said. “He’s excited — he has not been this pain free.”
Babers said he’s confident in the depth of his secondary, a unit led by Garrett Williams and Duce Chestnut, who both helped Syracuse finish second in the ACC in passing defense last season.
“We’re deeper than two corners and two safeties,” Babers said.
Babers also touched on the key defensive starters — mainly Williams and Mikel Jones — who both opted to stay at Syracuse after considering the NFL draft following last season. Babers said players need to realize that if they’re not projected to be taken in the first three rounds of the draft, then it’s more beneficial to return to school for another season, which is also exactly what the SU coaching staff tells the players, too, he said.
The Orange’s defensive line is the “key” to Syracuse’s defense, Babers said, particularly after losing several important pieces from last season including seniors Cody Roscoe and Kingsley Jonathan.
“They did a great job bridging this thing and we couldn’t have a season last year without them,” Babers said. “But we definitely need the young guys to come along, some of the older guys in the group to play bigger, and a lot of those scrimmages and a lot of things we do down the stretch is going to be to make sure that those guys grow.”
The post Dino Babers talks offensive changes, defensive returners after 1st spring practice appeared first on The Daily Orange.