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Friday, Apr 13, 2018 at 11:38 pm

Syracuse Football Spring Preview 2018

By Zach Lang

Executive Producer

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Music filled the Carrier Dome as Syracuse Football gave a glimpse of what is to come for the 2018 season. There was much to take in, but these are the biggest takeaways:

Biggest Surprise: Involvement of Tight Ends

“I believe Ravian [Pierce] and [Aaron] Hackett and [Jesse] Conners… I think all those guys are really good tight ends and they’re gonna give us some flexibility in different formations that we may be able to do some things and surprise some people,” said Dino Babers. “We’re excited about where that group is at.”

You heard it from the head man himself. This position was essentially invisible last season with the Orange favoring pass plays to wide receivers Ervin Philips and Steve Ishmael. Ravian Pierce, who caught four passes for 42 yards and two touchdowns in the Spring Preview, was the only tight end on the roster last season who got substantial playing time and attention. Now, joined by other potential playmakers at the position, Syracuse just might give Eric Dungey some bigger targets on the field this fall.

Biggest Disappointment: Quarterback Play

“This is the best set of quarterbacks we’ve seen since ’98,” Coach Dino Babers announced to the crowd at halftime. However, the quarterback play on Friday night did not match that statement.

Starting quarterback Eric Dungey sat out the Spring Preview, still recovering from right foot surgery in late November. This gave redshirt freshman Tommy DeVito the start. He immediately struggled out of the gate, missing short yardage passes and a long ball. He’d continue to miss most of his passes, going 8-15 for 58 yards, but was not afraid to take off and run out of the pocket. Freshman Chance Aime got a lot of playing time to show off his legs and arm, going 5-8 in the air for 29 yards, as well as running for nine yards and a touchdown.  Redshirt junior Clayton Welch also got significant playing time, going 9-15 for 63 yards and a touchdown. The deep ball was non-existent throughout the scrimmage, focusing instead on short passes that rarely made their mark. There were just two passing touchdowns throughout the event.

Best Moment: Rex Culpepper’s Final Drive

It’s no surprise that Rex Culpepper would steal the show. The redshirt sophomore quarterback is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment for a treatable form of testicular cancer. On the final drive of the scrimmage, he jogged onto the field to the thunderous applause of a standing Carrier Dome crowd. Culpepper went four for four on the drive and capped it off with a 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ravian Pierce. While the drive almost seemed scripted when considering the lackluster play of the other quarterbacks, it was certainly a feel-good ending to the action on the field.

Most Improved: Running backs

Syracuse is not a team that likes to run the ball. Period. They thrive off short rushes and passes to set up pass plays with quick snaps to keep defenses on their toes. Tonight proved that the running backs on the roster have gas in the tank, if ever called upon. Senior Donte Strickland had a monster hit to stay on his feet in the beginning of the contest, as well as a goal line touchdown to go along with 81 yards on the ground. Junior Moe Neal continued to show his explosiveness out of the backfield, igniting multiple times for rushes of over ten yards on his way to 70 yards on the night. There was also a quick preview for the 2019 season.  Abdul Adams, the four-star transfer from Oklahoma, ran for 24 yards on six carries. He had a textbook run outside the tackles during a brief moment when the Syracuse offense implemented its quick pace. Overall, these weapons could be a steady option in the fall if quarterback play is lacking,