College football: Syracuse hopes to prosper under new coaching assistants, veteran leaders

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Jul. 22—Enthusiasm surrounding new offensive coaches and the two key players charged with operating their game plan dominated discussion during Syracuse University's press conference at Atlantic Coast Conference Football Media Days.

Syracuse head coach Dino Babers and three player representatives — quarterback Garrett Shrader, linebacker Mikel Jones and offensive tackle Matthew Bergeron — spoke Wednesday before the two-day event wrapped at the Westin Charlotte Hotel in Charlotte, N.C.

They each expressed excitement to unveil their revamped system under new offensive coordinator, Robert Anae, among a slew of topics covered in the 30-minute session.

ANAE, BECK WELCOMED ADDITIONS

Babers was instantly asked for insight on working with Anae and new quarterbacks coach Jason Back and offered praise for their impact in the spring and voluntary summer workouts.

The SU head coach entering his seventh season spoke of "walking the same path," as Anae with each having roots in the Western Athletic Conference through both BYU and Hawaii.

"He was one of those guys who I always felt like, if he became available, that he would be a good fit because we do really see things the exact same way," Babers said. "Him brining coach Beck along was just icing on the cake and he has done a fabulous job. I think he's one of the bright minds in college football, one of the up and comers."

Players also reacted favorably to the new environment on offense and believe they can quickly turn around a passing unit that ranked bottom 10 nationally last year.

Shrader spoke of keeping the facets that led SU to a prolific campaign on the ground, finishing 16th nationally in rushing, while incorporating elements of the imaginative passing game that Anae and Beck have produced in recent years together at Virginia.

"I think we'll be more explosive, run game and the pass game," Bergeron said. "You saw the way last year we were running the ball, and I think we'll be a little bit more balanced next year."

Babers also credited new wide receivers coach Michael Johnson and special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky, specifying the latter as an area of emphasis ending last season.

SHRADER TAKING COMMAND

The presence of Shrader was notable after the Orange was the only league team not to send a quarterback to last year's league media days.

He came across confident and poised as the entrenched starter after taking over the role four games in last season. Babers referred to Shrader as a team leader and "one of the guys that makes us go," adding that he has the respect of his peers.

"This is the most excited I've been for a football season since I've been in college, and part of that is just because I feel like it's my offense and my team, and it can go wherever I decide to take it," Shrader said. "These coaches have done a great job, they're really exciting to play for. We have all the pieces we need."

Shrader has offered guidance as his teammates adjust to Anae, utilizing his ability to adapt embarking on his fourth offensive system in four seasons.

He also has familiarity with some of the new concepts having played in the "air raid," under Mike Leach at Mississippi State, which influenced Anae's attack.

TUCKER STILL IMPROVING

Babers didn't shy away from raising expectations for third-year star running back Sean Tucker after the All-American rushed for a program-record 1,496 yards to go with 14 total touchdowns and a 6.1 yards-per-carry average last year.

Babers noted that Tucker did not miss one spring football practice or workout while competing as a member of the SU track team this year. He then shared an anecdote about walking to his office after both the football and track teams had left campus for Christmas and seeing Tucker train solo in the weight room.

"I stood behind him in spring and watched every one of his runs live, and I will without hesitation tell everyone in this room that he's better," Babers said. "I'm saying that being modest, that he's not the same, he's actually better than last year and I'm really excited to see what he can do in 2022."