1st and Ten – Is there
another #44 in this bunch? – The hallowed #44 jersey made
famous in up-state New York symbolizes all that is right about
Syracuse football. Ernie Davis. Jim Brown. Floyd Little.
Definitely a symbol of their greatness. Unfortunately, it’s
also become a symbol of what this Syracuse offense is supremely
lacking – a breakaway, stud running back. Guys like Walter
Reyes and Damien Rhodes, among others, were solid running backs,
1,000 yard caliber talent, but never in the mold of #44. But,
then again, that space is reserved for the all-time greats.
However, that duo would look a lot like one of those #44 in this
Orange offense in 2006, compared to the gaggle of backs that are
due to step into the starting/playing role. Rhodes got the
lion’s share of the carries last year, as he was the only
offensive threat the team had, but in so doing, the youngsters
who’ll have to carry the rock this year lost out on some much
needed experience. But, ask head coach Greg Robinson and he’ll
tell you that he’s intrigued by the options at running back this
year – Paul Chiara, Kareem Jones, Curtis Brinkley and Jeremy
Sellers. Jones, Chiara and Brinkley combined for only 65
carries on the year, so the decision on who’ll start and whether
it’ll be a back-by-committee concept will be a difficult call to
say the least. Youth and inexperience don’t always have to be a
team’s death knell, but then again, in a conference like the Big
East, ‘rookies’ can get you killed. If one of these combatants
can prove worthy, it’ll take some pressure off of QBs Perry
Patterson and Joe Fields, which could lead to even more
effective play from that position. There may not be a #44 in
the building this year, but a close facsimile would work just as
2nd and Seven – The Magic
Eight Ball – Syracuse had some stout defensive players last
year. Safety Anthony Smith. DE James Wyche and Ryan LaCasse.
DB Steve Gregory. But, none of those three guys return this
year; however, All-Big East candidate linebacker Kelvin Smith
does. And, that brings a smile to Greg Robinson’s face. Smith
led the Orange in tackles with 84 and is a menace on the field.
He’s not a guy that gets a lot of face time on a national level,
but he’s one of the most consistent players on this side of the
world. He doesn’t miss a lot of tackles and he’ll run through
ball carriers (which would seem logical, but you’d be surprised
how many good players can’t do this very well at all). He’ll
take over as the leader of the Syracuse defense this year, and a
triple digit tackle season is definitely on the horizon.
3rd and Three – The Smartest
Guy in the Room – Football coaches are such a mixed bag.
College coaches in particular. Some played at high profile
universities. Some climbed through the ranks to get to a
mid-major Division 1A job. Some never played one down of
college or pro football. And, very few went to Harvard. Or,
have a MBA, either. Or, both. Sure, it makes some sense –
smart guys end up being investment bankers or IT
specialists, not offensive coordinators, right?
But, somehow new ‘Cuse offensive coordinator Brian White missed
the memo when he graduated from Harvard. After spending a bulk
of his coaching career with the Wisconsin Badgers, White takes
over at Syracuse with something to prove and with essentially a
blank canvas in front of him. After what this SU offense did
last year (or didn’t do), the next step is going to be a
positive one – it has to be. His power zone run scheme at
Wisconsin was well known and often times dominant, but whether
he can find that same success without a Ron Dayne or an Anthony
Davis or a Joe Thomas, for that matter, remains to be seen.
Whether White can adapt his scheme to ‘fit’ Patterson or Fields,
an average, at best, offensive line and a rookie at tailback is
a huge key to this season. That’s a tough road for anyone, even
for an Ivy League ‘smaht’ kid.
4th and One – A work in
progress – As a Syracuse fan last year, it was hard to be
excited about what you saw on the field, week in and week out.
L’s piled up like pizza bones at a local pizzeria and there
wasn’t ever a thought that the offense could score enough to
beat anyone, outside of UB. Defensively, the talent was
evident, but every time Ryan LaCasse or Anthony Smith made a
play, it struck you that there was no future with those guys off
to the NFL in 2006. Greg Robinson came to Syracuse to capture
that old Dick Macpherson magic, but he has such a dearth of
offensive talent that if the defense didn’t score for them, they
might not get to 20 points - a number they didn’t reach one time
in either October or November. Robinson didn’t walk into a
cushy situation, to say the least, and the man will need some
time. Progress will come slower than ‘Cuse fans would like, and
the unrealistic ones expect. Works in progress aren’t pretty
until they’re entirely complete.