2022 Syracuse Football Preview: Offensive Line
The Syracuse offensive line was tricky to assess last season. On one hand, the Orange ranked top 20 in the nation in both yards per rush (5.22) and rushing yards per game (213.5). On the other hand, the unit gave up over 2.8 sacks per game. In fact, the ‘Cuse ranked 120th in sack rate, suffering a sack on one out of every ten pass attempts, per Football Outsiders. The offensive line created lanes for star running back Sean Tucker (1,496 rush yards), but also forced quarterback Garrett Schrader to escape collapsing pockets.
The advanced rushing numbers tell a complicated story as well. Syracuse ranked top 35 in opportunity rate at nearly 52%, per Football Outsiders. This stat measures “the percentage of carries (when four yards are available) that gain at least four yards.” Essentially, the line functioned at least sufficiently on 52% of normal run plays. The unit also ranked in the top 35 in "power success" at nearly 75%. This stat measures the percent of runs on 3rd or 4th down that are two yards or less that get converted for a first down or touchdown. But the Orange ranked 90th in "stuff rate," at just under 20%; on nearly one out of five rush plays, the running back was tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Fans should expect SU to pass the ball more this season. In 2021 Syracuse ran the ball on over 60% of their offensive plays, ranking 15th in the nation. New offensive coordinator Robert Anae (hired from Virginia this offseason) plans to incorporate a higher percentage of passing plays. With that said, let’s introduce the guys on the offensive line.
Since Fall Camp has not begun yet, the coaches have not designated official starting positions.
Matthew Bergeron, Junior
Bergeron will start at left tackle this season. He played in all 12 games last year, the only member of the returning offensive line who can say that. He’s played in 28 games in his career at Syracuse, and is considered one of the top tackles in the ACC. In 2021, Bergeron led all left tackles in the conference in yards per rush going off the left tackle, per ESPN. This offseason, the 6-foot-5, 327-pounder has taken on a leadership role amongst the offensive lineman. He has the best chance of anyone on the Orange o-line to get selected in the 2023 NFL draft. Fans should expect another good season from the Canadian.
Dakota Davis, Redshirt Senior
Davis, should he get a starting job, will probably slot in at left guard. Bergeron noted that given their collective experience dating back to 2019, saying it feels like “[the two have] been playing together forever.” The 6’5” 336-pounder played in 10 games for the Orange last year, the second most of the returners.
In Competition for a Starting Spot
Enrique Cruz Jr., Redshirt Freshman
Cruz, despite a lack of experience playing at the collegiate level, has a good shot at grabbing the starting right tackle spot or backing up Bergeron at left tackle. In the span of a year, the 6-foot-6, 303-pounder has shown lots of improvement. Bergeron has high praise for the youngster. Bergeron notes that Cruz Jr. “has lots of talent,” and added, “I think he’s definitely going to be an NFL type dude down the stretch.” Watch out for the Cruz, the Chicago native, becoming an impact player this season for the Orange.
Christopher Bleich, Redshirt Junior
Bleich began his career at the University of Florida, but transferred after making 13 appearances in the 2019 season. The NCAA denied his waiver claim in 2020 so he had to sit out that season. He returned to the field last year and played in eight games for S-U. The 6-foot-6, 335-pounder is described as a “real talented guard” by Bergeron. Bleich’s most likely position will be right guard. It’s also worth mentioning that he underwent hip surgery in the spring, but is good to go entering this season.
Carlos Vettorello, Redshirt Junior
About to begin his 5th collegiate season, Vettorello appeared in eight games last year. It was in the 8th game, at Virginia Tech, when he injured his lower body on a roll-up type of play. He missed the last four games of the season, and he presence was missed. He’s back now and in good shape for the 2022 season. The 6-foot-4, 299-pounder can play either center or tackle (two games at center, six games at tackle in 2021), but Bergeron notes that he’s actually more comfortable at tackle. It’ll be interesting to see where the coaches assign him, but along with Cruz Jr., Vettorello has been a guy that has impressed this summer.
Darius Tisdale, Redshirt Senior
In 2021, Tisdale’s role was to come in “relief duty” when a starter went down with an injury. He was a plug-in type of guy, and appeared in eight games. However, this season, he is expected to compete for a starting role, either at tackle or guard, two positions that he played last year.
Kalan Ellis, Sophomore
The Hawaii native appeared in nine games last season for the ‘Cuse. However, Ellis got in trouble in spots last year due to lack of quickness. Bergeron said that he’s lost some weight this offseason and is working on his agility and footwork. Should he win a starting spot, he’d probably play a guard position.
Josh Ilaoa, Sophomore
The 6’3” 302-pounder might have a chance to be the starter at the center position. Bergeron noted that the Orange will need the younger guys like Ilaoa to step up this season. The Charlotte native appeared in 11 games last season but made just one start.
Tyler Manguson, Redshirt Freshman
The Minnesota native, standing at 6’6” 286 pounds will also be competing for a spot. If anything, he’ll provide depth at the tackle position.
The Syracuse offensive line is not among the top units in the country, but it also isn’t horrible. Notable Twitter presence “Big Game Boomer” did not have the Orange o-line in his top 50 nationally, but that’s just one opinion. With a running back line Sean Tucker to block for, the 2022 Orange o-line could be a net positive for the team.