Football

Hickey to start on shaky offensive line

Andrew Renneisen | Photo Editor

Sean Hickey (60) will make his debut on Syracuse's new-look offensive line this weekend. Injuries and departures have forced inexperienced players like Hickey to step into starting roles.

Sean Hickey’s time at Syracuse has been marred by injury. Finally healthy, he’s getting a chance to play because of an injury to SU’s most reliable offensive lineman, whom head coach Doug Marrone considers the best in the Northeast at his position.

Hickey is taking over the left tackle spot for 2011 All-Big East first-team tackle Justin Pugh, who had shoulder surgery in the spring and will likely be out until the end of September. After injuries to both knees, including tearing the ACL in his right knee before the start of last season, Hickey’s finally going to see some playing time.

Hickey, a junior, is a member of a revamped offensive line that is a major question mark heading into the season. Though Syracuse has veterans in left guard Zach Chibane and center Macky MacPherson to count on, the right side of the line is inexperienced after losing starters Michael Hay and Andrew Tiller to graduation. Hickey’s performance will be critical for the line early in the season.

“I trained as hard as I possibly could this past year with Coach (Will) Hicks in the weight room, and with my footwork once I was cleared to do that,” Hickey said. “I had to shake some playing rust off because you’re going to have that.”

Hickey came to Syracuse as a left tackle, but Pugh already had that position locked up. The coaches moved the 6-foot-5, 285-pound Hickey to the right side to back up Hay. The knee injuries, though, ended those plans.

With the injury to Pugh, Hickey is back at left tackle.

From the start of training camp, Marrone raved about Hickey’s work ethic and ability to practice at a high level despite his limited action with the team in the previous two years. At the start of preseason, Marrone also said Hickey is among the best linemen that he and his staff have recruited.

“He’s been solid. I think that’s a credit to him because going into it, I was very concerned,” Marrone said. “Going through those injuries and really not being on the field, for him to come in and do the job he’s done, I think that’s very commendable on that part.”

While Hickey’s role as the starting left tackle is likely only until Pugh returns, his status as a starter might not be as temporary.

Right tackle Lou Alexander never showed the SU coaches consistency during camp. Even on Saturday, when Marrone released the depth chart of the season opener against Northwestern, the head coach said Alexander still has to improve.

Marrone said Alexander is starting because he was the best player “available” for that position. When Pugh returns, Hickey could slide over to right tackle.

Marrone called it a “good problem,” and offensive line coach Greg Adkins said the coaches have some decisions to make as the season progresses.

“We’ll have some options down the road,” Adkins said. “We’ve got some good decisions down the road that we can certainly look at.”

Syracuse looks to develop specific qualities in its offensive linemen. Rather than only focusing on brute strength, the Orange wants linemen who are strong enough to handle defensive linemen off the ball while also being athletic enough to block the linebackers in open space.

It’s a combination of strength and quickness that doesn’t come right away.

“We’re making progress still,” Adkins said. “We’re not a finished product, but I see the arrow pointing up.”

Guards Ivan Foy and Rob Trudo battled for the starting spot on the right side, and while Foy is listed as the starter, he technically hasn’t won the competition. On the depth chart, Marrone listed the starter as Foy “OR” Trudo.

Foy has also never played in a game at Syracuse.

If Hickey lives up to Marrone’s expectations, then the left side of the line shouldn’t suffer much without Pugh. If the right side falters, though, the Orange likely has to get through the first month of the season before Pugh returns and the line can be shaken up.

For now, Hickey’s waited too long to get caught up in hypotheticals. He’s finally getting his chance, and he’s not about to waste it.

“I’m going to go out there and play the best football I can play,” Hickey said. “And the coaches, it’s up to them whatever they decide to do.”

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