It wasn't too long ago -- 2008 to be exact -- that the Syracuse University football program had a play-making wide receiver who could turn a five-yard slant or a jump ball into six points. That wide receiver was Mike Williams, who, as a sophomore, seemed to be on his way to breaking every Syracuse receiving recorded there was. But, that didn't happen -- a year later, Williams got into some mid-season trouble with first-year head coach Dough Marrone and either was kicked off or quit the team.
Whether you liked or disliked Williams, nobody could argue against his talent. Two years later, the 'Cuse fan base, which is used to seeing players like Williams, Marvin Harrison and Art Monk -- heck, they'd even take a Quenton Spotwood at this point -- is still waiting for a player to step up and be that play-making receiver who could help the offense become a complete package.
If there was one obvious aspect missing from the SU offense during the mid-April spring game, it was the play-making ability of a guy like Williams. The final score, which featured the White squad defeating the Blue, 13-7, was proof that something on the Orange attack was missing and, unfortunately, for 'Cuse fans there wasn't much signs of a new Williams on the field.
Just like last season, senior Van Chew (6-foot-1, 161 pounds) and junior Alec Lemon (6-2, 196) are slotted to be the top two receivers at the beginning of the year. Last season, Chew led SU in receptions (41), receiving yards (611) and touchdowns (5), while Lemon snagged 32 catches and four TDs. However, most of Lemon's and Chew's production came at the beginning of the year, and late-season injuries to both allowed teammate Marcus Sales to become quarterback Ryan Nassib's main target.
Many thought Sales, who had a 172 receiving yards and three TDs in the Orange's 36-34 victory over Kansas State in the Pinstripe Bowl, would carry his late-season production into this season and become the Orange's deep threat. However, that all changed in early August when Sales was arrested on felony drug charges and then suspended from the squad.
Now, the Orange offense, which thought it would make up for the lack of talent with four veteran receivers -- last season, senior tight end Nick Provo caught 33 passes -- will begin with two average wide outs as starters and a bunch of question marks behind them.
According to SU's preseason depth chart, the Orange's backups at wide receiver are sophomores Jarrod West (6-2, 202) and Adrian Flemming (6-3, 196), and senior Dorian Graham (5-10, 185). Combined, the three caught zero passes last season.
But, there maybe hope for this group as West seems to be progressing extremely well during training camp, while three freshman -- Jeremiah Kobena (6-0, 184), Keenan Hale (6-2, 185) and Kyle Foster (6-3, 205) -- have really impressed head coach Doug Marrone.
"I like ‘em. I do," Marrone told Syracuse Post-Standard writer Nolan Weider in early August. "They’re big. I think it’s the first thing that you notice. They’re bigger kids. They can run, and they catch the ball well."
It remains to be seen if there's the next play-maker in this group, but early indications (read the bottom of the article) are positive. The loss of Sales will be a tough one to deal with, however, it won't be impossible to replace the senior as he wasn't a dynamic weapon. The big key for the 'Cuse receivers will be Chew and Lemon staying healthy and being consistent at catching the football, while the young guns will need to progress quickly and make plays for Nassib when he throws it to them.
SB Nation New York has been previewing Syracuse football all week. If you've missed any previews, click below:
- Monday, Aug. 15: Quarterbacks
- Tuesday, Aug. 16: Linebackers
- Wednesday, Aug. 17: Running backs
- Thursday, Aug. 18: Defensive Line