Syracuse first-year head coach Dino Babers said it took one practice – the first one of last spring – for his new team to learn exactly what to expect from his new regime.
Babers, who compiled a 37-16 record over the previous four seasons at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green, said those first-day workouts followed a familiar script, one that mirrored the debuts at each of his previous schools.
“This is the third time that I've seen a first day of spring ball practice underneath this system, and it always ends the exact same way: with a bunch of big guys over trash cans not saying much, shaking their heads,” Babers said. “When they get done with that, so that I can speak to them, I look them dead in the eye, I tell them, ‘That's the slowest practice we're ever going to have and we'll never be that slow again.’
“They're looking at me with doubt until you have the second practice, then the fifth, then the 10th, then the last practice. When you tell them, ‘We can't start two-a-days at the tempo that we ended with the 15th practice, you've got to develop and you have to acquire more speed through the summer, so that when two-a-days start, we're on the 30th practice, the 31st practice, when it comes to the speed part of it.’ ”
While Babers has yet to coach his first game with the Orange, he took a time on Friday to look farther down the road.
“The thing I'm really looking forward to at Syracuse University is that the second year,” Babers said. “(The second year) is always faster than the first year. The first year, it's like I'm watching reruns of Gilligan's Island. It's like I know what's going to happen next. It's kind of boring the first year. The second year is really cool. You get to the tempo and speed that you want.”
The first- to second-year improvement helped him win 12 games in his second season at Eastern Illinois and 10 games in his second season at Bowling Green. As a third-year head coach … well, the jury remains out but he’d love to stick around Syracuse long enough for a verdict.
“The best thing about this story is I've never had an opportunity to go to a third year,” Babers said. “So maybe that's undergraduate, graduate level, doctorate degree. I've never gone to a third year before. I really hope I get an opportunity to go for a third year at Syracuse because that would be new water for me.”
2015 In Review
After a 3-0 start and then a strong performance in a close loss to LSU, Syracuse fell victim again to several key injuries and the Orange lost eight straight games to finish the year at 4-8 overall, 2-6 in the ACC and in fifth place in the Atlantic Division...Starting QB Terrel Hunt didn’t make it through the first game before suffering a season-ending injury and his replacement, true freshman Eric Dungey was hampered by injuries throughout the remainder of the year...After going 7-17 in his final two seasons at Syracuse, head coach Scott Shafer was let go on Nov. 23 and on December 5, 2015, Syracuse hired Dino Babers away from Bowling Green to take the Orange in a new, offensive-oriented direction...Babers has posted a 37-16 record in four years at Bowling Green and Eastern Illinois, featuring a spread offense and fast-paced tempo...When healthy, Dungey displayed promise, completing 59.7% of his passes for 1298 yards and running for 351 more...Another freshman, RB Jordan Fredericks, was the Cuse’s leading rusher (607), averaging 5.7 yards a carry....P Riley Dixon earned first-team All-ACC honors, while WR Brisly Estime and DE Ron Thompson were third-team All-ACC choices, Estime as a specialist.
In contrast to changing the entire coaching staff from last year, Syracuse loses only seven starters, three each on offense and defense and P Dixon...Offensively, three starters on the line will need to be replaced in Rob Trudo, Ivan Foy and Nick Robinson, and on defense, DEs Thompson and Donnie Simmons and DT John Raymon will be missed.
The Orange face nine teams that went to bowl games last fall including non-conference foes Notre Dame, South Florida and Connecticut.
Fortunately for Babers the cupboard is not totally bare with 18 returning starters among 43 returning lettermen, including eight starters on offense and nine on defense and PK Cole Murphy, who made 16 of 22 FGs last year....Dungey emerged from spring drills as the starter and is a playmaker with his feet as well as his arm...Fredericks, Dontae Strickland and George Morris will handle the running back position...Returning WRs Estime (18.1 avg.), Steve Ishmael (39 catches), Ervin Philips (29 catches), and Alvin Cornelius sit atop the depth chart at the four WR positions...Estime is also a threat in the return game, leading the ACC in punt return average last fall (17.2) and posting a 22.2 average on 30 kickoff returns...C Jason Emerich and G Omari Palmer anchor a rebuilt offensive front that includes Ts Michael Lasker and Jamar McGloster and G Aaron Roberts...A familiar name in Syracuse athletics, Cameron MacPherson is the leader at TE that also includes last year’s starter in Josh Parris...The defense returns its seven top tacklers from a year ago and is led by LBs Zaire Franklin and Parris Bennett and S Antwan Cordy...All three figure to be all-star candidates this fall...Franklin led the team with 81 tackles, including 11 TFLs, while Cordy had 12 tackles for loss from his free safety position as well as a pair of interceptions and fumble recoveries...Jonathan Thomas ended spring as the leader at the third linebacker position with Marqez Hodge, Ted Taylor and Shyheim Cullen in the runnig for playing time...On the defensive line, DEs Kenneth Ruff and Jake Pickard and DT Chris Slayton are the leaders at the open positions to go along with massive NT Kayton Samuels...Cordy keys the secondary, where he is joined by Corey Winfield and Cordell Hudson and Juwan Dowels at the corners with Kielan Whitner at the other safety spot while Sterling Hofrichter will take over the punting chores.
Numbers & Notes
4th - In 2015, Dino Babers’ Bowling Green team was ranked fourth nationally in total offense (546.8). Bowling Green also ranked sixth nationally in scoring offense (42.2), fifth in passing offense (336.6), eighth in team pass efficiency (163.04) and eighth in pass completion percentage (.670).
6 - Syracuse had six non-offensive touchdowns in 2015, which tied Pitt for the most in the ACC. The Orange returned two interceptions, two fumbles and two punt returns for touchdowns.
8 - Syracuse C Jason Emerich is one of eight ACC centers who have been named to the Rimington Award preseason watch list. The Rimington Award is presented annually to the nation’s top center.
18.1 - Syracuse WR Brisly Estime led the ACC last year in punt return average, averaging 18.1 on 15 returns, including touchdown jaunts of 74 yards against Rhode Island and 59 yards versus Florida State.
89 - QB Eric Dungey and WR Brisly Estime teamed up for what tied for the longest pass play in the ACC in 2015, connecting on an 89-yard TD pass play against Wake Forest.