Syracuse’s freshmen aren’t playing like freshmen

first_img Comments Lined up in the slot to Eric Dungey’s left, freshman receiver Taj Harris burst out of his stance and down the field, streaking past Clemson safety Nolan Turner in coverage.Dungey saw the wideout dart open and flung the ball to Harris, who ran under it, making a bobbling catch for 51 yards on third down to set up Syracuse’s first touchdown against then-No. 3 Clemson.“I was running, running, running, running,” Harris said of the play postgame, “and I put my hands out and just waited for it to hit my hands.”Harris’ catch is just one highlight play from Syracuse’s (4-1, 1-1 Atlantic Coast) freshman class. Safety Andre Cisco, cornerback Trill Williams, running back Jarveon Howard, Harris and a handful of other freshmen have all made steady contributions, large and small, early in their SU careers, bolstering a roster that in years past lacked depth.“We’re trying to be a different class here,” Williams said. “Bring a different dynamic to the team.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textBut before the group stepped on campus, head coach Dino Babers acknowledged the difficulties of playing college football as a true freshman during his National Signing Day press conference. He referred to the 2018 recruiting class as a “break” class, meaning the players could take a break from playing football regularly to learn and develop.Harris remembered asking Babers about the opportunity to play early. Babers, as Harris recalls, said that if he was serious about contributing right away, he needed to study the playbook and refine his craft as much, and as soon, as possible.The gap started closing as soon as most of the freshmen stepped on campus at the beginning of summer. Before official conditioning workouts began, Williams, Harris and Howard, along with a handful of others — all freshman, sophomore or transfer skill position players and quarterbacks  — gathered on South Campus to practice.A common drill pitted wide receivers and defensive backs in one-on-ones. Harris particularly remembered lining up against Williams and experiencing the 6-foot-2, 202-pound defensive back’s jam at the line of scrimmage. Harris learned it’s part of Williams’ trademark physicality.“He’s gonna lay the boom on a lot of people,” Harris said. “He’s jamming cats up at the line, chest work.”The freshmen entered their first fall camp at SU, where they started making an impression. Williams, said junior cornerback Chris Fredrick, led all players in camp interceptions. Harris developed a connection with Dungey. Cisco, who enrolled early and practiced in the spring, was the starting free safety during fall camp.”This is the most ready I’ve seen freshmen come in,” senior wide receiver Jamal Custis said on Aug. 16.Laura Angle | Digital Design EditorIn the season opener against Western Michigan 15 days later, Cisco recorded an interception — his first of a college football-leading four — less than five minutes into the game. He snagged two more against Wagner and another against UConn.While Cisco’s ballhawking has been a boost to a team striving for turnovers, other parts of his game, particularly deep ball coverage and run fits, have come along slower. The freshman got burned badly against the Broncos and is prone to taking bad angles against the run. Cisco has recognized the issue, though, due to the difference in speed from high school to college. In response he’s played deeper from the line of scrimmage to accommodate.Williams’ arc of progression has been longer, playing in spurts at cornerback or nickel throughout Syracuse’s first five games. Cisco benefitted in part from a thin safety depth chart. Williams hasn’t had that luxury, stuck behind Scoop Bradshaw, Chris Fredrick and Antwan Cordy at cornerback and nickel back, respectively. Published on October 3, 2018 at 10:46 pm Contact Andrew: [email protected] | @A_E_Graham Even in limited reps, Williams has been consistent in coverage and sturdy against the run while making occasional splash plays.Against Clemson, Williams picked off Tigers quarterback Chase Brice for his first career interception. Before the drive, on the sideline, Williams remembered teammates saying he was due for an interception. When Brice badly overthrew an out route to his right, Williams pounced.“What a coincidence,” Williams said.Aside from the defensive back duo, Howard, a big-bodied running back from Mississippi has arrived as Syracuse’s power run option. Against Florida State, Howard took a shotgun handoff from Tommy DeVito and followed left tackle Cody Conway. With a defender closing the edge, Howard hit a cut inside and rumbled inside the five before getting chased down from behind.So far, the freshman has toted the football 24 times for 187 yards and hasn’t scored.And there’s Harris, who caught his first touchdown against Wagner on a 24-yard crossing route. But the freshman wide receiver from Beverly, New Jersey, had his best performance to date against the Tigers, notching career highs in catches (three) and yards (66).Harris, just like the other freshmen, is trying to use each rep to prove he deserves the next.“You’ve got to earn it,” Harris said. “And if you earn it, you get a shot.” Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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