Good spring start for Syracuse football - no big injuries
By JOHN KEKIS
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Spring football ended on a most promising note for Syracuse and coach Dino Babers.
In between treatments for testicular cancer and a bald head under his helmet as evidence of the struggle, quarterback Rex Culpepper hit tight end Ravian Pierce for a 17-yard touchdown on the final play of spring scrimmage , setting off a moving celebration on the Carrier Dome field.
Culpepper, who had one start last year as a redshirt freshman, wasn't on the two-deep depth chart for spring and likely won't be at the end of summer camp, but the prognosis for recovery is good and he'll be in the mix if healthy.
"I like all of our quarterbacks," Babers said. "I think that we've got probably our best group of quarterbacks that we've had in a long time here."
The more bodies available the better, and nobody knows that better than Babers, who has five quarterbacks on the roster. There's been one constant for a team that's finished 4-8 three straight times: Starting quarterback Eric Dungey has missed a lot of games - 10 in all, including the final three of each of his first three years, and the Orange have lost all but one of them.
Although he was a spectator in the spring game while the other quarterbacks took turns, Dungey has recovered from a leg injury he suffered late last season and is ready to pick up where he left off. While he was in there in 2017, he averaged 343.3 yards offensively per game, fifth in the nation.
While highly regarded redshirt freshman Tommy DeVito took the bulk of the first-team snaps in spring and looked sharp in both phases in the spring game, there's no question Dungey remains the leader of the team.
"He had an unbelievable spring. We know what he is going to do," Babers said. "We wanted to give those other four quarterbacks some turns. We don't know how they're going to do in front of a crowd."
At least most of the team departed healthy in spite of a heavy spring workload that featured the starting offense against the starting defense.
"It's been a very physical spring," Babers said. "It's good to get everybody what seems to be like healthy out of the spring game and moving out on to the summer and onto the fall."
Other things to know about the Syracuse Orange:
O-LINE COMES OF AGE: Syracuse has the makings of a solid, experienced offensive line. Evan Adams, Cody Conway, Sam Heckel and Airon Servais started every game last year and Aaron Roberts is back after missing all of 2017 with a knee injury. That's the most experience on the offensive line since the late 1980s, when Syracuse was a regular in the national rankings.
"We're not deep, but ... if we can figure out a way to keep those guys together, I think we're going to be OK," said Babers, in his third year at SU.
OUT OF NOWHERE: In his previous coaching jobs, Babers has had receivers blossom out of the blue and that trend has continued at Syracuse with Maryland transfer Amba Etta-Tawo (94 catches for 1,482 yards and seven 100-yard games) two years ago and Steve Ishmael (105-1,347) last year. Candidates on the current roster include Sean Riley, Jamal Custis, Nykeim Johnson, Sharod Johnson, and even hard-hitting senior safety Antwan Cordy, who dabbled on both sides of the ball in spring.
"Every year that we've been in this offense somebody pops up," Babers said. "I'm going to keep the faith that someone's going to pop up over the summer."
RUNNING MEN: Syracuse has relied a lot on Dungey's legs (despite missing so much time last season he led the team with 143 carries for 595 yards), but RBs Moe Neal (488) and Dontae Strickland (482) give the Orange a three-headed monster that figures to thrive if the line can stay healthy.
RAW DEFENSE: Babers lost the heart of his defense with the graduation of LBs Zaire Franklin and Parris Bennett - they combined for 200 tackles in 2017. Candidates to replace them are seniors Ryan Guthrie and Kielan Whitner, juniors Lakiem Williams and Andrew Armstrong, redshirt junior Shyheim Cullen and redshirt freshman Tyrell Richards.
STAYING AWAY: Syracuse held its spring game on April 13 and turnout was just over 2,000.
"I thought it was a decent crowd for 7 o'clock on a Friday (the 13th)," Babers said. "You know, there are some superstitious people out there. Maybe they don't want to come out of the house."
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Kekis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Greek1947
Updated April 25, 2018