The camera rested on Garrett Shrader’s face. As Syracuse’s returning starter spoke about young players that would step up this season, his backup, redshirt freshman quarterback Justin Lamson, faked a handoff and launched a pass toward the end zone.
Umari Hatcher secured the ball after successfully running a double move on the left side against Dom Foster. Shrader nodded as he turned his attention to the Carrier Dome scoreboard. It was the first touchdown of Syracuse’s spring game, an intrasquad scrimmage designed to give new players opportunities to showcase their abilities, coaches the chance to experiment with new looks and fans a glimpse at the 2022 team that won’t officially debut until Sept. 3 against Louisville.
But for stretches of Friday’s game, Lamson, filling in for Shrader — who sustained a mild hamstring injury last Saturday — played like a true pocket passer who could shine in the new offense that Robert Anae has brought to Syracuse. While all of his snaps came against second-string defenders, Lamson still threw for 151 yards and two touchdowns on 7-of-10 passing while also displaying an ability to run.
“He’s just been around for a while, so he understands the players,” head coach Dino Babers said of Lamson postgame. “He’s doing a really good job, especially for a young kid.”
Justin Lamson to Umari Hatcher for the 35-yard score!
— Syracuse Football (@CuseFootball) April 1, 2022
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Shrader is still expected to be Syracuse’s starting quarterback in week one. The former four-star recruit, along with Sean Tucker, helped shape the Orange into one of the country’s best running teams last season. Shrader has been excited about SU’s new offense and has meshed well with Anae and new quarterbacks coach Jason Beck. Receivers say Shrader has improved throwing the ball in practices this spring.
But in potential situations like Friday where Shrader — a daring player who fights for extra yards and stands in the pocket even if it means taking the hit — has to miss time due to an injury, Lamson could keep Syracuse’s offense humming along if needed.
Lamson is a member of a crowded quarterback room that also features Michigan transfer Dan Villari and JaCobian Morgan — who started two games under center in 2020. Lamson has taken most of the second-team snaps in practice drills available to the media. Villari and Morgan split time going against Syracuse’s top defensive unit, though neither could lead their side on any scoring drives. Lamson, on the other side, did a good job alternating between medium and deep throws along with the occasional quarterback run.
“They did some good things and some bad things,” Babers said of the quarterbacks. “It’s hard to evaluate quarterbacks without going back and watching every little thing. But the ball moved for a little bit.”
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On his second touchdown throw, Lamson sat in a clean pocket while Damien Alford streaked past Foster down the left sideline. Lamson’s throw hit the 6-foot-6 receiver in stride, and Alford took care of the rest, capping off a 75-yard touchdown.
Babers noted postgame that he couldn’t tell if those plays were the result of the receivers making strong moves or just young defensive backs making mistakes. Foster is a freshman who hasn’t played a snap of college football. But Babers did note that the focus is on evaluating quarterbacks live, and Lamson’s performance in the second of three team scrimmages this spring impressed the seventh-year head coach, even if it came against a young, inexperienced defensive unit.
“Analytically, it’s a lot different going against the twos than going against the ones. The ones may make a mistake, the twos will make some mistakes, and if you take advantage of it, it makes you look really good,” Babers said. “But Justin did a good job. Regardless of who he was going against, he did a nice job.”
The offense early in the scrimmage was built around a passing attack — the Orange rarely turned to the ground game on Lamson’s first drive under center. Anae also called some plays to get Lamson running. On one designed QB draw on third-and-4, Lamson got good blocking and found plenty of room to run across midfield for a first down. On a later possession, Lamson emulated Shrader’s running style by putting his head down and taking a big hit as he scrambled inside the 10-yard line.
Lamson was a player who enrolled at Syracuse after graduating high school early, coming to SU last January. Other players like current sophomore Duce Chestnut, along with freshmen LeQuint Allen and Francois Nolton Jr. — who both made an impact in Friday night’s game — were also early enrollees. Babers said if someone enrolls early but doesn’t make an immediate impact their freshman season, they still have an advantage the following spring.
“I can’t tell you how important it is when you come in early. You’re giving yourself a chance,” Babers said. “You carry yourself totally different than those other guys. So it’s a big thing.”
Syracuse’s passing unit ranked in the bottom 10 nationally last season, and its poor play was a big reason for Anae and Beck’s respective hirings. After Shrader replaced Tommy DeVito as starting quarterback in late September, SU failed to utilize DeVito in any way — even when in need of strong passing. So if the situation arises in the fall, the passing ability that Lamson displayed Friday night could become key and helpful to the Orange.
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