Syracuse opens its second spring in the ACC this week, and head coach Scott Shafer thinks there’s plenty for the Orange to be excited about. We talked with Shafer about some of the key issues facing Syracuse as it gets back to the practice field.
Winning the final two games of the season the way you did, how much does that momentum and energy carry over into a new year?
A: Any time you can finish a season with a bowl win, it gives some momentum going into the offseason. I think it affects the offseason program more than anything. The way the kids approach the strength program, conditioning, early morning workouts -- there’s just a sense of excitement across the board and anticipation for the next guys in. We lost a lot of good football players that played a lot of football, and now the kids that have waited their turn are competing to see who’s going to win the next opportunity. It’s right out there for them and they get to jump into a situation where the momentum is coming off a high note.
Terrel Hunt made such big strides down the stretch. With that experience under his belt, what can this spring mean to him?
A: The thing with Terrel that always is the starting point is his ability to adapt. He’s had to adapt in his real-life situation with a lot of tough situations, coming up with his parents passing away, that sort of thing. He’s always been an extremely resilient kid. Now adding the confidence level that he’s played well toward the end of the season, the kids see him as a leader, which is natural for him. I think his command can continue to really affect the team, not just the offense.
From an Xs and Os and technique point of view, it’s important that he continues to grow with Coach [Tim] Lester coaching him every day, and I know he’s excited to do that. I think he can have a really good spring that can catapult him into being extremely prepared for a great fall.
Offensive coordinator George McDonald has talked about upping the tempo this year as Hunt gets more comfortable. How much could that help you guys offensively?
A: I think we finished fourth in the ACC in snaps offensively [at 73.7 per game]. We were right up there. If we can get four or five more a game, I think that would be a good goal, a good objective to try to reach. Being a former defensive guy, the tempo teams always cause you a little extra preparation. At the end of the day, it’s still execution between the whistles, but if we can put four or five more plays per game to our offense, it’ll help us a bunch.
That and being able to open it up a little bit with some of the wide receivers and kids we got back. Adrian Flemming we were excited going into the season and he got injured. He’s back and ready to go. I’m excited about the progress some of the kids that haven’t played yet for us offensively. Everybody knows Brisly Estime had a good season for us, especially the last half. But we’ve got some guys -- Corey Winfield is a young guy who’s had a great offseason. Sean Avant, I’m excited to see what he can do. Corey Cooper is another kid. On the outside, Jarrod West coming back and leading the way, Alvin Cornelius did some good things for us later in the season. And, of course, we’re always excited to get the ball in Ashton Broyld's hands. So I think there’s a sense of excitement for those kids to compete and be alongside with developing Terrel. The passing game scenario, we definitely have to continue to improve upon. And we have to stay strong with running the football.
You lose a big impact player in Jay Bromley. Do you think filling that hole on the defensive line is your biggest question mark this spring?
A: Yeah, I do. Losing a guy like Jason Bromley, it’s always tough to replace a guy who has played that much football. Eric Crume has played a ton of football for us, and he had a great offseason. I’m excited to see Eric step up to the plate. Some new names: Marcus Coleman hasn’t played yet but we’re going to put him on the field. We have a kid that we’ve recruited for a couple years in Wayne Williams that started at the midyear. He’s a kid we’re really excited about and now he’s ready to go after he went junior college. And then Ryan Sloan will get a bunch of snaps this spring. It’ll be definitely difficult to replace Jason, but in the same breath, I know these kids are excited for the opportunity.
Injuries were a big problem in the secondary last year, particularly at corner. But can the added experience that some of the backups got in 2013 be a bonus for you this spring?
A: That’s a great point. Julian Whigham was our third corner going into the season, but he was sitting behind two guys that had started for a few years each. When Keon [Lyn] went down and Julian started playing more, he and Brandon Reddish -- Brandon was the third, Julian was a three-and-a-half type of guy -- but Julian came in and had three interceptions. I’m excited about him. Brandon Reddish is a kid that’s played a lot of football and is now a senior. Wayne Morgan is a fast guy that we’ve moved around a little bit because we had depth at corner, but now we’re locking him back in at corner. Those guys, it was a little bit of a difficult situation at the time, but you move to the season after the injuries and those kids have played more than we anticipated, and you have more experienced depth, which is key.
A: Only time can tell. You never want to try to force or anoint leadership. A guy like Cam Lynch on defense, he walks into a situation that’s natural for him. He’s well-versed in football and is an excellent student as well. He carries himself where he’s already been a natural leader as an underclassman. Dyshawn Davis is an excitable player who loves the game, and he’s got some qualities that are different than Cam. His sense of excitability has its own merit. We have a couple quiet leaders in Micah Robinson -- it’s not always the guy that stands up and says things. It’s a guy or a group of guys that establish themselves as guys that show the way, model the way, and other guys get on board. We have a lot of those guys. On the offensive side, Terrel is still an underclassman, but he’s a natural leader. Kids follow him. And then Sean Hickey decided to come back and we’re very happy and excited he’s back. He’s one of the best silent leaders you could have. He works every day. He’s a perfectionist, and when you have guys doing things right consistently, sometimes those are your best leaders.
Syracuse’s first ACC season was largely successful, but you’re in a division with the defending national champions in Florida State, the Orange Bowl champs at Clemson and a team in Louisville that has won 23 games the past two seasons. Is that something you remind your team about as motivation this time of year, or is it something that can be intimidating?
A: It’s just one of those things that’s reality. We don’t talk about it much. We talk about controlling the things we can control, and that’s where we start off every meeting almost. We talk about what we can do to get better. We understand the bar is high, especially on our side of the division, but that’s what we signed up for. As coaches, we wanted to play in those venues with the best teams in the country. As players, you always imagine yourself playing the best. Now we get to live it. That’s exciting. I can think about all my biggest victories in my career as a coach and say they wouldn’t be the biggest victories if we didn’t get a chance to knock down the giant. So we’ve got a couple giants on our side of the division, and now what we want to do is really focus in on the business at hand -- spring ball, a civil war, offense and defense getting after each other, focus on improving by trying to knock the guy down that’s across from me and then pick him up as a teammate. We’ll have our goals with winners and losers this spring and understand that you learn a lot when you win, you learn a lot when you lose and really embrace that mentality, and not focus on the other teams right now.