- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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Scott Shafer's debut season as Syracuse's head coach was a successful one (7-6). His sophomore campaign did not go as planned (3-9). ESPN.com caught up with the third-year Orange coach to talk about expectations for his recovering quarterback, his re-tooling defense and other happenings this spring.
How did Terrel Hunt and (new offensive coordinator) Tim Lester jell in their first full spring together in their current roles?
SS: I think all the quarterbacks have jelled well with Coach Lester. He's got great expectations and high demands for them. But he's got a really good system in how we analyze our progress with the quarterbacks, and understanding what we're asking them to do and what we're not asking them to do. And I think Terrel and the others have definitely bought in, and you can see that with their work outside of the football field and their diligence to be up here and stealing extra time here and there with Coach Lester to learn it inside-out and upside-down. So I think it's a high level of buy-in right now.
Defensively, I was talking to [coordinator Chuck] Bullough earlier this spring. He loved how, regardless of record or score last year, they never gave up. How do you keep that up when you may have eight or nine guys as first-time starters?
SS: They just know the way and they compete. We focus on controlling the controllable every single day, and not worrying about the uncontrollable, which would be lack of experience at a lot of the positions coming back. Losing Cam Lynch and Dyshawn Davis, a linebacker that played a ton of football, losing Micah Robinson and then Robert Welsh, Eric Crume and the guys up front, played a ton of football. It'll definitely be a challenge, losing three good safeties that played a ton of football. And they're ready and the first day of practice there wasn't a change. They were just different names, different jersey numbers. But they continued to control things that they could. I'm excited about a lot of this young talent that hasn't played a lot of football yet. I wish they had two, three years of experience, but in college football this is what we signed up for. For instance, at our corner position, I think everybody has penciled-in Julian Whigham, Wayne Morgan, Corey Winfield as the guys. But (Cordell) Hudson and (Juwan) Dowels had great springs, and the competitive nature at that position's going to be extremely interesting. And I don't care who starts, I really don't. We can rotate all of them if we want to, keep fresh bodies. But we had unbelievable competition at the corner position this spring.
In the inside, at the safety position, knowing that help is on the way in the recruiting class didn't do us any good for spring ball. So we tried to find the toughest corner that liked contact and give him a chance at one of the safeties with the idea that at least he could give us some depth. And Antwan Cordy ended up penciling himself in as a starter at the strong safety position and really had a productive spring. And again, (Chauncey) Scissum, Rodney Williams -- Rodney had a little bit of an injury problem last year, had to have some surgery. He was back and on a minimal basis early in the spring, and then toward the last couple weeks of spring was full-go, and he did a good job. So I think we have three guys competing really well at the safety positions, and four freshmen coming in; we're looking forward to having those guys compete as well.
Addressing the linebacker position, we moved Zaire Franklin at end of the year with some injuries, to the inside when Marqez Hodge went down and Zaire has done a nice job taking over the middle linebacker position, and (I) was pleased with the way that he took charge with the defense. And Hodge played extremely well coming off his knee injury. He's back and running around with the brace, which you couldn't tell unless you got up close to him and said, 'Oh, he's wearing a brace.' He played really well at the Will linebacker position. And then we've got a couple young guys, (Parris) Bennett and (Jonathan) Thomas, fighting to play the Sam linebacker position right now. So youth, competition, it's an exciting time, being a defensive coach, that's where my background was. So it's fun to watch these guys compete.
The area I neglected to tall about is probably the most important. That's up front. A lot of new faces competing. We put a redshirt on Kayton Samuels and Chris Slayton last year and those two guys are in the two-deep at the nose and the tackle positions, respectively, competing against John Raymon and Wayne Williams with a slew of young guys coming in once we start camp. But Kayton Samuels I'd compare to (receiver) Alvin Cornelius on offense -- maybe quietly had the best spring out of any of the newcomers, and he's playing the nose guard position for us. Chris Slayton had a vey good spring, too. Still a learning process. He played D-end for us last year. We knew he could grow into a tackle, that's what he did. So I think between those four guys -- Raymon, Samuels, Slayton and Williams -- we've got four guys that can compete for playing time. And I'd like to play all four of them if I can. So I think those guys are ready. We got to finally move Ron Thompson just to defensive and and he had a very good spring. He's got a chance to be a very good football player for us. And then at the other end position, Donnie Simmons and Luke Arciniega are two guys who are competing. Luke was a linebacker, he applied to appeal to see if he could get another year or maybe two years from the NCAA. And lo and behold we got the good news and he has two more years to play. So we played him exclusively at the defensive end position and we were very surprised and excited about how natural it came to Luke to play with his hand on the edge. So running through all those names is about all the guys that are in the fight right now without regard to freshmen that will be reporting.
Did you even bring up all the athletic department turmoil with your team throughout the spring? Did you just try to shield them from all that since the past was the past and it didn't really affect the guys in the building right now?
SS: Really the same way we try to manage all the other uncontrollables out there, and that was just to say, Hey, there's stuff going on on the other side that doesn't affect us. Our job is to get ready to win games this season. Let's continue to stay focused on that. Any of you guys have questions, come see me -- not one kid came in and had any questions. We tried to stay focused on the job at-hand. So that's the way we approached it with the kids. Now some of the parents, especially the recruits, I got some phone calls. We tried to reach out to them. We tried to nip it in the bud ahead of time because we wanted to let them know the only change agent is that they were putting us on a five-year probation which doesn't take anything away. It just means they're going to scrutinize and look at our books probably closer and make sure we're crossing the Ts and dotting the Is the way we need to and the way we always have with the football program since I've been here. Prior to my being the head coach with Coach [Doug] Marrone, we tried to take care of those things. So really it was more business as usual. And as far as the administration, for me, the administration starts with our chancellor, and Chancellor [Kent] Syverud has just been the best, and I trust in his judgment and I know we'll get a great person in here [at athletic director].
Little off-topic. Happy to see Jim Harbaugh back in college? (Shafer was Stanford's defensive coordinator in 2007.)
SS: (laughs) Yes. Yes and no. We're going to bump into him recruiting now. But it's always great to see a friend that has a passion for the game have an opportunity to pass that passion back to younger student-athletes that aren't professionals. And for him to go back to his alma mater, it's a pretty cool thing. I'm happy for him and his family and he'll do a great job.
Who won your push-up contests back in the day?
SS: It was a blast. We had a blast. If you asked him, he'd probably say he won it. If you asked me, I'd say I won. If you ask Bob Bowlsby who got to watch some of those, and who was our AD at the time, he'd say we'd both be disqualified because the technique was so poor.
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