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Dino Babers said on Monday that his players are at varying levels of readiness for the 2020 season in terms of conditioning, focus and preparation.
The Orange’s season opener at North Carolina — which switched to online-only instruction and closed its campus — is in 19 days. Babers said the Orange are “behind” on their hitting practice due to the unusual offseason amid the coronavirus pandemic. Even though the NCAA said that this year would not count toward eligibility for fall athletes, it’s not clear whether that was the tipping point allowing many players to opt-out.
SU still only has one opt-out, redshirt freshmen Cooper Dawson, but Babers said multiple players are still pending. He doesn’t know what the key factors will be for his players in deciding whether to play the upcoming season, he said.
“I don’t think we’re at a time yet, but there’s going to come a time they are going to have to make a decision so the rest of the team can move forward,” Babers said.
He’s yet to set a date regarding when players will need to make a final decision on whether or not they’ll play but said, “It’s going to come to a theater near you soon.”
Babers hinted that there are multiple offensive linemen who may be out right now due to injury and return in September and October, but he didn’t comment on who the missing players might be. The status of Florida transfer and offensive lineman Chris Bleich is still uncertain, and even though SU men’s basketball received word that Alan Griffin is available to play immediately, football is still awaiting the status of Bleich. Babers isn’t allowed to comment while the status is still ongoing, he said.
“If you go and you play and out of 22 guys, 17 are thinking about football and five thinking about something else, that could not be healthy,” Babers said. “We need to make sure the effort levels are the same.”
The Orange hosted their first intra-squad scrimmage over the weekend. Babers said the defense impressed more than the offense in that limited encounter. In a traditional setting, the Orange would have had all of spring ball, summer workouts and a full August training camp to prepare for the season and implement the new 3-3-5 defense, as well as straightening out offensive wrinkles under new coordinator Sterlin Gilbert. Instead, the Orange have been much more measured in their approach to a season that still may not even happen.
“In a normal year, we would bang, bang, bang and let them just go because everyone is locked in and focused,” Babers said. “I want to make sure everyone’s focused before we start risking and going live and risking someone that doesn’t have to get hurt.”
The Orange had just three days of spring practice, all in shorts, before the campus was shut down in March. Since then, Babers said that two-thirds of the team returned in early June. Walk-ons and freshmen excluded joined later once the test results continued to show up negative. SU football has not had a positive test for COVID-19 in eight weeks as of Monday, Babers said.
Babers wouldn’t go into specifics about who would be starting where yet against North Carolina, but he did say that the four pass rushers in the scrimmage last weekend were Kingsley Jonathan, Josh Black, McKinley Williams and Steve Linton. Quarterback Tommy DeVito often had 4.5 seconds to throw against that pass rush, Babers said.
While some younger players have impressed, Babers said he wants to see more consistency in performances going forward as he prepares to set his week one starting lineup. He said there may be more turnover than ever amongst who starts week-to-week.
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