2008 Syracuse Preview - Offense
Syracuse WR Mike Williams
CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Syracuse Orange Offense
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What you need to know:
coordinator Mitch Browning was a shrewd offseason hire, but does
he have enough to work with, particularly in the trenches and in
the receiving corps? Although there’s a nice mix of talent in
the backfield, the offense will stay in the garage if the line
continues yielding more than 50 sacks a year. While Browning’s a
wiz at coaching up linemen, the group he inherits is nothing
like the ones he used to have at Minnesota. QB Andrew Robinson
is back at the controls, hoping to improve on last year’s 13
touchdown passes as a first-year starter, but he needs a running
game to help him out. The 118th-ranked Orange running
game desperately needs Delone Carter and Curtis Brinkley to
return from a serious injury that prematurely ended their 2007
Passing: Andrew Robinson
154-292, 2,192 yds, 13 TD, 7 INT
Rushing: Curtis Brinkley
111 carries, 371 yds, 2 TD
Receiving: Curtis Brinkley
9 catches, 149 yds
Star of the
Junior QB Andre Robinson
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior WR
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore C Jim McKenzie
Best pro prospect: Williams
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Senior G
Ryan Durand, 2) Curtis Brinkley, 3) Robinson
Strength of the offense: The running backs
Weakness of the offense: The offensive line, tight end,
Projected Starter: Junior Andrew
Robinson took a step toward becoming the franchise
quarterback that the program hoped he’d be when he arrived from
Baltimore two years ago. Despite facing relentless pressure and
getting no help from the running game, he authored a respectable
season as a first-year starter, going 154-of-292 for 2,192
yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. At 6-3 and 222
pounds, Robinson has good zip on his passes and a pocket
presence that’ll only improve over time. He’s spending a big
part of the offseason working on mechanics and a flaw in his
footwork to get even more velocity on his throws.
Projected Top Reserves: While no threat to
Robinson’s job, senior Cameron Dantley is a reliable
backup who won’t kill the offense if he’s forced into action. A
former walk-on and the son of former NBA great Adrian Dantley,
he played in eight games, finishing 48-of-90 for 558 yards, five
touchdowns and three picks. While only 6-1 and 218 pounds,
Dantley has a cannon and can escape the heat when he gets
The battle for the No. 3 job is between redshirt freshmen
Cody Catalina and David Legree, a pair of heralded
recruits from 2007. At 6-3 and 221 pounds, Catalina is a
terrific all-around athlete that can make something out of
nothing. The 6-4, 214-pound Legree has a bigger arm and gets
the ball in the receivers in a snap. One of these rookies will
be the starter in 2010 or sooner if Robinson ever goes on the
Watch Out For… Robinson to make much quicker reads
than a year ago. Yeah, the line was horrible, but some of the
sacks were the quarterback’s fault. The protection isn’t going
to change overnight, so the onus is on Robinson to get the ball
out of his right hand in a minimal amount of time.
Strength: Robinson. While he’s not quite where he
needs to be, the junior is way ahead of where he was last
summer. With the year of experience as the starter, he’s more
comfortable in the pocket and more confident as the leader of
Weakness: Mobility. Playing behind the Syracuse
line makes quick feet and escapability an absolute must for the
quarterback. While not a bad athlete, Robinson could use an
extra gear when he leaves the pocket and makes a dash for a
Outlook: Robinson may not be ready to supplant Pat
White as the All-Big East quarterback, but he’s easily the
Orange’s best passer since Donovan McNabb left the university.
He throws a nice ball, exhibits poise in the huddle, and has no
reason to digress with a full year as the starter already in
The talent is certainly there. The health and availability,
however, may not be. The Syracuse running game has been ravaged
by serious injuries over the last 12 months robbing the program
of two of its best players. Senior Curtis Brinkley led
the team with 371 yards and a couple of scores on 111 carries,
despite breaking his leg in the middle of October. A slashing,
cut-back runner at 5-9 and 203 pounds, he made it back to the
practice field in April, but did not take contact. That’ll come
Sophomore Delone Carter has his sights set on a
1,000-yard season. To get there, he’ll need to jump Brinkley on
the depth chart and overcome a dislocated hip that put his
athletic career in jeopardy. The 5-10, 214-pound Carter sat out
all of 2007, and like Brinkley, practiced in the spring without
taking any hits. Before the injury, the former Mr. Ohio
Football gave the program a flash of optimism, using a blend of
power and speed to rush for 713 yards and four touchdowns as a
Senior Tony Fiammetta, a 6-1, 239-pound bull that’ll be
used primarily as a lead blocker and an occasional option in the
passing game, returns at fullback. As an eight-game starter, he
carried just three times for eight yards while catching 12
passes for 75 yards, but is a beast as a lead blocker.
Projected Top Reserves: With all of the attention
going to Brinkley and Carter, it’s easy to forget that sophomore
Doug Hogue and true freshman Averin Collier were
Syracuse’s top recruits from 2007 and 2008, respectively. Hogue
was forced to remove his redshirt as a rookie, rushing for 251
yards and a score on 77 carries. At 6-2 and 215 pounds, he’s a
physical, north-south type who needs to run with better pad
Collier has already participated in his first spring. Sort of.
Midway through practice, he suffered a small fracture in his
left foot that cut short his attempt to get a head start on the
other freshmen. A stocky, 5-10, 200-pounder with great lower
body strength, he turned down a slew of offers to play in
Upstate New York.
Watch Out For… the medical updates on Brinkley,
Carter, and Collier. Last season proved that you can never have
too much depth at any position. Collier is closest to being
100% followed by Brinkley and Carter. Head coach Greg Robinson
would love to have all three at his disposal this fall.
Strength: Power runners. Naturally, assuming
everyone has ditched their yellow jerseys, the Orange will boast
four big backs over 200 pounds that can soften a defense between
the tackles. New coordinator Mitch Browning wants to run the
ball with more authority, and has the downhill runners to
achieve that goal.
Weakness: Durability. With three of the team’s
four most prominent backs looking to return from an injury,
Syracuse fans will hold their breath every time one of them is
slow to get off the turf.
Outlook: Until the Orange backs begin taking hits,
it’s impossible to accurately grade the unit. Depending on the
recoveries of Brinkley, Carter, and Collier, the group could
emerge as a team strength or, like a year ago, force the offense
to depend more heavily on Andrew Robinson and the passing game.
After sitting out most of last year with a hand injury,
sophomore Donte Davis will
try to recapture the form that made him a pleasant surprise as a
true freshman as he has the task of stepping in for Mike
Williams. Even though Davis isn't very thick at 6-0 and 173
pounds, he’s a student of the game and one of the fastest
players on the squad.
The hope is that junior Lavar Lobdell can help fill the
void left by Smith’s departure. After three years in the
program, the former blue-chip recruit has passed little more
than the eye test. At 6-3 and 210 pounds, he’s in terrific
shape and looks the part, but has just 13 receptions in 24
career games, dropping as many passes as he hauls in. More
mature than at any point in his career, the opportunity exists
for Lobdell to finally deliver that breakthrough season.
A former linebacker, junior Mike Owen is hoping to shore
up a shaky situation at tight end. A convert just before the
start of last season, the 6-4, 251-pounder caught five passes
for 51 yards, while flashing potential as a punishing blocker.
Projected Top Reserves: This was supposed to be
when junior Mike Williams, one of
the nation’s underrated go-to receivers last year, was
supposed to break out. He took a quantum leap in his
development a year ago, leading the team with 60 receptions for
837 yards and ten touchdowns, including one in each of the last
nine games, and was a model of consistency. At 6-2 and
204 pounds, he had the ideal size to out muscle and out jump
smaller defenders, but now he's off the team after getting
suspended for academic issues.
Davis is currently in a battle with fellow sophomore Dan
Sheeran to become the No. 3 option in the passing game. A
bigger, less explosive option at 6-3 and 217 pounds, he caught
four passes a year ago and contributed on special teams. The
most physical of the Orange receivers, he could become a
mid-range threat for an offense that’s very thin at tight end.
Watch Out For… Lobdell’s development. Now
that Smith and Williams are gone, Syracuse needs to develop a viable
No. 1 option now, much less a No. 2.
Strength: Size. Lobdell, and Sheeran,
the Orange boasts receivers that go at least 6-2 and 200
pounds with enough speed to stretch an opposing secondary.
More than just tall, it’s a physical corps that can go high in
the air to win jump balls.
Weakness: The tight ends. The team’s top two
tight ends, Owen and Ben Maljovec, were playing
linebacker a year ago. That’s troubling news for a program that
historically likes to get its tight ends involved in the
Outlook: Williams was a given, but all that has
changed now. For the corps to
go from good to dangerous, it needs someone else to step up and
produce. From the coaching staff’s perspective, that’s a
challenge to Lodbell, in particular, to finally arrive.
Three starters return to one of the nation’s least effective
lines, a unit that was 118th nationally in sacks
allowed and paved the way for the country’s 118th-ranked
ground game. If there’s a positive, it’s the right side, which
welcomes senior starters Ryan Durand at guard and
Corey Chavers at tackle. A heady run blocker at 6-5 and 303
pounds, Durand has started 23 games, but needs to continue
progressing as a pass protector.
The 6-5, 295-pound Chavers has started 18 games over the last
two seasons, alternating between the left and right side. A
good athlete for his size, he remains an unfinished product that
could use more of a mean streak.
The third returning regular is sophomore center Jim McKenzie,
who started the final 10 games of 2007. Exceptional above the
neck and at directing the rest of the linemen, the 6-4,
286-pounder will be even more effective with a full season of
experience behind him.
To the left of McKenzie, the Orange is banking on the
development of a couple of untested sophomores. At tackle, 6-5,
307-pound Tucker Baumbach will be in charge of protecting
Andrew Robinson’s blindside. He’s in considerably better shape
than a year ago, which has translated into quicker feet and
better endurance. He’ll need to quickly flatten the learning
curve to help prevent Robinson from getting flattened for a
second straight year.
The front-runner at guard is 6-3, 290-pound Ryan Bartholomew,
who made two brief appearances as a freshman. He’s shown
potential as a run blocker, but needs to get more physical and
make longer strides in pass blocking.
Projected Top Reserves: The preferred reserve at
guard will be sophomore Adam Rosner, a top recruit from
two years ago that played in eight games in 2007. At 6-6 and
303 pounds, he shows the potential to be a drive blocker, but
deficiencies as a pass protector has dropped him below
Bartholomew in the pecking order.
At tackle, the Orange is hopeful that sophomore Jonathan
Meldrum can rebound quickly from knee surgery performed
earlier in the year. Before the injury, the 6-5, 305-pounder
was a favorite to cop one of the starting tackle jobs.
While predictably raw because of his age, 6-5, 310-pound true
freshman Nick Speller displayed vast potential in his
first spring with the program. Just a few months removed from
high school, he’s already with the second team.
Watch Out For… smaller waistlines. When new
coordinator Mitch Browning arrived, he immediately demanded that
the portly Orange linemen get in better shape. As a group, it
responded, dropping the equivalent of another player since
January. Gone are the days when Syracuse rolled out a bunch of
lumbering 330-pounders across the interior.
Strength: The right side. McKenzie, Durand, and
Chavers bring experience and a degree of consistency to the
offensive line. When Robinson rolls out, it’ll likely be to the
right of center.
Weakness: Pass blocking. The Orange doesn’t
create holes particularly well either, but it’s especially
egregious at keeping the quarterback upright. Only Notre Dame
allowed more sacks per game in 2007, and the new lineup will
have a couple of fresh faces on the left side.
Outlook: Bringing in a respected coach like
Browning was a positive move for the entire offense. Ditto the
dedication to shedding useless pounds. However, how many of the
current linemen have futures in the NFL? There’s just not
enough talent to expect a dramatic turnaround from this unit.
On the bright side, Robinson’s growth in the pocket should be a
factor in the number of sacks allowed going down.