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2008 Syracuse Preview - Offense
Syracuse WR Mike Williams
Syracuse WR Mike Williams
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 20, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Syracuse Orange Offense

Syracuse Orange

Preview 2008
- Offense

- 2008 Syracuse Preview | 2008 Syracuse Offense
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8 Syracuse Defense | 2008 Syracuse Depth Chart 
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2007 Syracuse Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Syracuse Preview 

What you need to know: New 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 seasons.

Returning Leaders
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 offense: Junior QB Andre Robinson
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior WR Lavar Lobdell
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, wide receiver

Quarterbacks

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 pressure. 

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 shelf.    

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 the offense.                
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 first down.              
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 vault.           
Rating: 6.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: 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 in August.    

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 true freshman. 

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 level. 

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.       
Rating: 6.5

Receivers

Projected Starters: 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 offense.
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.
Rating
: 7.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: 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.          
Rating: 5