Pads are popping in Central New York right now as the Syracuse Orange have gotten a few practices under their belt. There is a lot of talk surrounding Syracuse as a potential squad to knock off the highly favored Clemson Tigers from their perch in the ACC and one can see why that's out there.
The Orange went 10-3 in 2018 and finished the year off with a 34-18 win over West Virginia in the Camping World Bowl. Syracuse has been a thorn in the side of the Tigers the past couple of years and nearly pulled off another upset in Death Valley this past September.
With Dino Babers' coaching and some solid recruiting classes in tow, this team has a lot to be happy about in 2019.
5 Storylines to Watch During Syracuse's Spring Practice
1. The post-Dungey era begins
Like most schools across the country, the first focus of spring is the quarterback position. Syracuse's situation is a little different as they try to move on from one of their all-time greats in Eric Dungey. Dungey was the heart and soul during his time with the team and will be hard to replace in many areas. His mobility was an asset and he made winning plays when they were absolutely needed. Ask any Orange fan's favorite play of his and you might get a few different answers.
Tommy DeVito figures to take over in 2019 and he got some experience last season. He completed 50.6 percent of his passes to go along with four touchdowns and three interceptions. DeVito definitely showed flashes of brilliance in the win over North Carolina, but also struggled mightily against Notre Dame in Yankee Stadium. The redshirt sophomore has a fantastic arm, but his mobility is lacking. Babers and offensive coordinator Mike Lynch will have an interesting decision as to whether they change the offense with a less mobile quarterback.
Behind DeVito are senior Clayton Welch, who was the Orange's third-team quarterback last year, Rex Culpepper, who played a little tight end down the stretch, and three-star prospect David Summers, who flipped from Maryland to Syracuse. Summers won't arrive on campus until the summer.
2. Sorting out a stocked backfield
The backfield is going to be a strength in 2019 as the Orange have a mix of different sizes and speeds to throw at their opponents. Abdul Adams transferred from Oklahoma and gave Cuse fans a glimpse of his talent in the bowl game. He was a four-star recruit and has breakaway speed to go along with an ability to run between the tackles. There's also Moe Neal and Jarveon Howard, who provide a mix of speed and physicality that will be crucial in the fourth quarters of tight games.
One of the other names to consider is freshman Jawhar Jordan, who has run a sub-4.4 40-yard dash and will be 20 when he gets to campus. The loss of Dontae Strickland would cripple a lot of other teams considering the numbers he put up, but the Orange have depth at running back. Dividing up the carries will be one of the top items on Babers' to-do list this spring.
3. Who is going to block?
Three starters are gone from the offensive line and leave big shoes to fill. Cody Conway locked down left tackle while Koda Martin's one year on campus was a really good one after transferring in from Texas A&M. The other loss was starting guard Aaron Roberts, who logged 25 career starts. With their departures, that means fellow starters Evan Adams and Airon Servais are now the established veterans. Servais is moving to right tackle, which means that he'll be learning a new position.
The spring depth chart has redshirt sophomore Dakota Davis and redshirt freshman Carlos Vettorello as the linemen on the left side. Each of them saw some action in 2018 with Davis appearing in 12 contests while Vettorello played twice and kept his redshirt. Offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh is going to have to work some magic with all the youth and players in new positions. It is vital that this team can block up front especially in a conference like the ACC with so many pass-rushing threats. Babers' up-tempo offense that relies on execution will not be able to reach its full potential if the line isn't doing its job.
4. Veterans on defense
The school released its first depth chart and it featured the 4-2-5 alignment that was used at times last season. Having seniors Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman on the end will be nice as the two defensive ends collapse the pocket on quarterbacks. It's a veteran group up front with defensive tackles McKinley Williams and Josh Black also in the mix. The linebackers are seniors as well in Andrew Armstrong and Lakiem Williams.
The veteran theme continues in the secondary where three seniors are listed as starters. Things get even better if Antwan Cordy comes back for his sixth season. Christopher Fredrick and Carl Jones form a solid pair of corners with Trill Williams at starting nickel corner. Williams flashed some potential last year and is going to take that next step as a sophomore. Despite losing some talent, this side of the ball is going to be very strong for Syracuse as long as everyone stays healthy.
5. Don't fall for the hype
No matter what publication you read this offseason, Syracuse most likely will be second in the ACC Atlantic and will be getting publicity as a team to watch this season. With several other schools in the conference losing key pieces including Clemson, there's no reason this team can't make a run at the title.
The key will be for the Orange to not buy too much into the hype and stay focused on what the coaches teach them. While the defense will feature plenty of experience, there will be some growing pains on offense with the offensive line changes and no Eric Dungey under center.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.