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Syracuse football, by position

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QUARTERBACKS

Drew Allen, a transfer from the University of Oklahoma, and sophomore Terrel Hunt are both listed as the starter on SU’s week one depth chart with the word “or,” in between. Shafer isn’t expected to reveal his starter until just before kickoff on Saturday. Allen is a 6-foot-5 pocket passer with a strong arm while Hunt is 6-foot-3 and the more mobile of the two. Allen, a highly-touted high school recruit, has played behind Landry Jones for the last three seasons with the Sooners while Hunt was buried on the depth chart at SU before winning the job among the incumbents during spring practice. Whoever is named the starter will have big shoes to fill in replacing the graduated Ryan Nassib, who holds nearly every career passing record at SU and set eight single-season records last year.

RUNNING BACKS

Jerome Smith will lead what should be SU’s strongest and deepest position. Prince-Tyson Gulley should again provide the change of pace with H-back Ashton Broyld and freshmen George Morris II and Devante McFarlane also expected to receive touches.

RECEIVERS

The biggest question regarding the SU offense after the starting quarterback is who will emerge as a play-making receiver. Last year’s senior duo of Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales combined for 136 catches, 1,952 yards and 15 touchdowns. The returning group of receivers hauled in just 60 receptions. Junior Jarrod West is the leading returnee, with 43 of those catches and a pair of touchdowns. He is listed atop the depth chart along with Adrian Flemming, who played in just five games last year due to injury and didn’t record a single catch. Christopher Clark (11 catches in 2012) and the speedy junior Jeremiah Kobena (eight career catches) are listed as the backups. Noticeably absent is junior Quinta Funderburk, a 6-foot-3 transfer from Arkansas. Shafer said that Funderburk is “progressing,” but has yet to outperform the four receivers in front of him. Senior Beckett Wales will be the top target at tight end after catching 35 passes a year ago, the second-most in a single season for the position at SU.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Captain and senior center Macky MacPherson, the grandson of legendary SU coach Dick MacPherson, will anchor the line entering his third full season as a starter. Fellow returnee Sean Hickey will move from right to left tackle to replace the graduated Justin Pugh, a first-round NFL draft pick. Returning starter Rob Trudo is also shifting sides, moving from right to left guard to replace Zach Chibane. Ivan Foy, who lost his starting spot to Trudo midway through last season, will move to right tackle. Nick Robinson, a sophomore from Baldwinsville, will start at right guard.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Senior Jay Bromley, the leader among returning linemen with 39 tackles last year, will anchor this inexperienced group from the tackle position in his third season as the starter. Junior Eric Crume will see time in the tackle spot next to Bromley as will John Raymon, a 6-foot-5, 320-pounder who transferred from Iowa last year. Micah Robinson and Robert Welsh are listed as the starters at defensive end. Both played sparingly last season behind the graduated Brandon Sharpe and Markus Pierce-Brewster, who was dismissed from the team in March after a violation of team rules.

LINEBACKERS

SU’s top two returning tacklers will be featured at what should be SU’s strength on defense. Senior Marquiss Spruill (64 tackles) will move over to the middle to replace the graduated Siriki Diabate. Junior Dyshawn Davis (69 tackles, 14 for loss) will start on the outside for the second straight year and be joined by junior Cameron Lynch. Marqez Hodge and Isaiah Johnson are two freshmen in backup roles that could make an impact.

SECONDARY

Shafer said that the cornerback position will come down to a three-man rotation of senior Keon Lyn, senior Ri’Shard Anderson and junior Brandon Reddish, all of whom started games and shared the position a season ago. Sophomore Durell Eskridge claimed the starting spot at strong safety and is tasked with replacing Shamarko Thomas, a senior captain that provided a team-high 88 tackles last season. Senior Jeremi Wilkes is back to start at free safety.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Freshmen running backs Morris II and McFarlane will return kickoffs while defensive back Ritchy Desir will handle punts for the second straight season. Senior kicker Ross Krautman and junior punter Jonathan Fisher are both returning starters.

OVERVIEW

There are plenty of unknowns entering the year for SU. The starting quarterback has yet to be revealed, Shafer has yet to coach a game and the Orange is entering new territory as a first-year member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, a step up in competition from the Big East. SU is expected to struggle in the ACC and was picked to finish sixth in the seven-team “Atlantic Division,” in the conference’s preseason media poll. That being said, the Orange was picked to finish at the bottom of the Big East last year and ended up finishing 8-5 with a share of the conference title and bowl game victory. The running game should be one of, if not the best in the ACC. The Orange has a strong returning group of starters at linebacker and in the defensive backfield, but there are several new starters on both lines and the team has to replace NFL players, like Thomas and Nassib, on both sides of the ball. SU has three opponents in the AP preseason Top 25 Poll (Florida State, Clemson and Northwestern) and two more just outside the Top 25 that received votes (Georgia Tech and Penn State). They should be favored in home games against conference rivals Boston College, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest. Tulane and Wagner are nonconference games that SU should be able to win in the Carrier Dome. If either Allen or Hunt can step in and prove up to the task, the Orange should be able to surprise some people in the ACC and be back in a bowl game for the second straight year.

Prediction: 7-5 overall (5-3 ACC).

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