Never-Ending Story

first_img This is placeholder text Advertisement With Syracuse’s all-around attack quickening, the Orange is insisting its tight ends evolve and keep up Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on August 27, 2014 at 11:57 pm Contact Jacob: [email protected] | @Jacob_Klinger_center_img Tight end means more than it used to. It doesn’t mean end, as in the last player on the offensive line. The Syracuse players that fill the position are hardly bound to that, or any, one spot.Theirs is a surviving, now expanding role. The only tightening is of their muscles, required to twitch quicker than ever as the SU offense speeds into a no-huddle system. They either keep up or get left out; learn to play from four different positions in a formation or be replaced by someone who can.Syracuse’s tight ends, like the Orange itself, are on the front line of the sport’s evolutionary battle between old, new and the change in athletes on both sides of the ball. In 2014, the Orange is searching for rare combinations of skill set and body build on the recruiting trail while it reshapes its current unit for an offense being built on unblinking efficiency.“At the beginning of the camp, over the summer, the emphasis was on tempo,” sophomore tight end Kendall Moore said. “So the tight end had kind of become a forgotten position.”Moore was recruited by SU as a tackle and told to catch passes. He played center in this year’s Spring Game. But when he takes the field for the Orange this season, he’ll do so split out like a wide receiver, off the line in the backfield as a fullback or next to a tackle, as a traditional tight end.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThere’s still room for one in the Syracuse offense under head coach Scott Shafer and offensive coordinator George McDonald. Sometimes even two, in what SU calls its “12” personnel. But whoever’s on has to stay on, in whichever position is needed. There’s simply no time to stop.“Josh (Parris) is probably the closest to what we’re looking for,” tight ends coach Bobby Acosta said. “He can run block, he could be a passing receiver, he could be a fullback in the backfield.”But Parris is out for another 1-3 weeks after having knee surgery, leaving some combination of Moore, freshman Jamal Custis, redshirt sophomore Tyler Provo and SU’s other tight ends to form the ideal player the Orange doesn’t have yet. And they wouldn’t have been called tight ends five, 10 years ago.In the cases of Moore, Custis and Provo, they weren’t called tight ends when they played their last high school games. Custis was a receiver, Moore a tackle and Provo, whose brother Nick holds the career and single-season receptions records for SU tight ends, was rated the No. 5 fullback in the country by ESPN and Provo remembers watching Nick Provo gut then-No. 15 West Virginia with three touchdowns in a 49-23 upset win for Syracuse on Oct. 21, 2011.“When my brother played here, the offense was mostly around the tight ends,” Tyler Provo said. “Now it’s mostly more of a spread.”The older Provo brother began each of his scoring plays against WVU in a three-point stance, all but hip-to-hip with an offensive lineman. He caught an SU tight end record 51 passes that season, which was also the second-to-last under head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.“When Coach Marrone and Coach Hackett were here, it was great, we utilized the tight end,” former SU tight end Beckett Wales said. “And then we got the new coaching staff and things kind of changed.”Last season was only the second in the past 10 years of Syracuse football that ended without an Orange tight end in the top five in team receiving yards. Parris and the older Provo’s successor, Wales, combined for 23 catches.Moore had six and Ben Lewis and Jacob Green each caught one pass.In 2013, short slants went to wide receivers. Dump passes went to running backs. Tight ends weren’t receiving outlets so much as they were extra blockers or decoys.It had Moore wondering what room remained for tight ends at SU.“We had to build the trust into the tight end with the offense,” Moore said.In turn, Syracuse and Will Hicks, its assistant athletics director for athletic performance, have tried to build its players for a role.Right now we’re looking for Z or X (receivers) that are — they’re too slow to play Division I-A outside receiver.Syracuse tight ends coach Bobby AcostaIt’s why the 6-foot-5 Moore, who said he’s down from 255 pounds to 240 since arriving at Syracuse, spent the summer running up to 32 110-yard sprints at a time. He followed them with weight room sessions and provided lunches of ribs, potatoes, rice, spinach or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches designed to keep his metabolism high. The workouts brought him closer, but not right to being SU’s ideal tight end.That player — 6 feet 6 inches, 245 pounds and running a 4.6-4.7 40-yard dash time, Acosta said — would allow Syracuse to keep the same personnel on the field in various formations. No substitutions, no huddle, no break for the opposing defense.Most significantly, it would put the Orange out in front of defenses in the unending physical and tactical adjustments that are growing within the sport.“What I see is that the linebackers are becoming more like big safeties,” Acosta said. “Even watching the Florida State game, those kids are very athletic. They look like safeties out there playing linebacker. So I think they’re adapting to the spread offense now.”But if SU can play faster while getting bigger by staying lean, the opponent’s defense, in theory, can’t win.Without the perfect combination of frame and speed in one body, though, SU is trying to mold players like the true freshman, 6-foot-5-inch, 230-pound Custis.“Right now we’re looking for Z or X (receivers) that are — they’re too slow to play Division I-A outside receiver,” Acosta said. “And then you move them inside and they’re usually going to be a pretty good, decent pass-catcher, but now you have to develop their run-blocking skills. And I think you can do that with a bigger kid like Custis.”Syracuse still starts practice, in front of media, with no tight ends in its “10” personnel, Moore said the tight ends have now forced the position back and further into the offense.Parris would catch three or four live passes from Hunt each day in practice. Moore said he does the same with Austin Wilson and Mitch Kimble. They’re back to being a quarterback’s best friend.“Just a more versatile safety blanket like that, coming out of the backfield,” Moore said.Acosta has set a goal of 51 total receptions for the Orange tight ends this year as Syracuse still looks for and hopes to create its perfect, full-field player in the position.If SU finds or makes that athlete, whose existence is as rare as ways to defend him, it will have a player too fast to be covered by a linebacker, too massive for any defensive back, too good to come off the field and an offense that truly stops for no one.Said running backs coach DeAndre Smith: “It is an evolution with the game.”Photo by Margaret Lin | Photo EditorRead next: Accelerated learning: Syracuse defense improves on the fly against quickening Orange offense Comments Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment.last_img

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