Andrew Renneisen | Photo EditorFootball
Smooth transition: Wales ready to fill void left by Provo at tight end
When Beckett Wales steps onto a football field, the transformation starts to take place.
Increased intensity morphs his personality. He becomes a football player.
For the past two seasons, Wales did so at the expense of his emotions. But the Syracuse tight end also watched and noted how the player ahead of him on the depth chart maintained a level head on the field.
With the graduation of Nick Provo, Wales is stepping into a starting role and replacing one of the Orange’s most consistent producers. In an offensive system where tight ends are used heavily, Wales will need to apply that lesson to the field to have success this season.
“Character. How to hold your character on the field,” Wales said. “Not getting too emotional, not getting too under-emotional. Just keeping a level head the whole time is one of the things I learned.”
Wales is still searching for his first touchdown in a Syracuse uniform. But in Saturday’s 42-41 loss against Northwestern, he caught six passes for 49 yards — more yardage than he posted in both 2010 and 2011.
If Provo’s production in his four seasons with the Orange is any indication, Saturday’s game was only the start of Wales’ status as a go-to receiver for quarterback Ryan Nassib. In 2011, Provo caught 51 passes for 537 yards and scored seven touchdowns. He only had two touchdowns in his previous three seasons combined.
The 6-foot-3-inch, 235-pound Wales will be counted on to help an offense looking to improve after a down season. Wales said he doesn’t feel pressure to repeat Provo’s performances, but instead is motivated to provide similar production. If there’s pressure at all, he said it’s a “great form of pressure.”
Wales is going to have his opportunities to translate that motivation into big plays for Syracuse.
“Especially at that position, what we do at that position,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “I’ve always made the joke that in college football, nobody covers running backs and tight ends, so it’s nice to have a guy like Beckett there that can fill in that role like (Provo), and it’s going to be exciting to see what he can do.”
That started immediately Saturday.
On Syracuse’s first offensive play of the 2012 season, Nassib lined up in the shotgun with Wales on the left side of the line. The quarterback took the snap and faked a handoff to running back Jerome Smith. Wales blew past Northwestern linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo, who immediately turned as he realized what just happened.
Wales ran out over the middle, and Nassib found him wide open for a 17-yard pass and a first down. Perhaps it was a sign of things to come for Wales and the SU offense.
Right from the start, Hackett’s play-calling showed Wales will be a major contributor to this offense.
“It’s great to play behind somebody like that, or come up and learn from somebody like that. And how he set goals for me to accomplish. It’s just things like that just make me want to play harder.”
Beckett Wales, SU tight end
If Nassib had any concerns at all about losing Provo, Wales dispelled them right away. In the days leading up to the game, Wales said he and Nassib already built a game-ready chemistry early in training camp.
“The chemistry with me and Ryan, I think, is great,” Wales said. “When I run a route, I pretty much know when I’m going to get the ball. And that’s a great thing to know, because when I turn around to expect the ball, and it’s there, it’s a great feeling.”
Three plays after his first catch of the 2012 season, Wales put his blocking skills on display on third-and-4 when he drove Ariguzo off the line of scrimmage so Nassib could rush up the middle for about two yards, setting up an Orange field goal.
Throughout training camp, Wales started off each practice working with head coach Doug Marrone and fellow tight ends Max Beaulieu and Ron Thompson. Marrone, who took over the responsibilities of coaching tight ends after last season, emphasized exploding off the line and driving the defender back.
Running at the defender, rather than staying stationary at the line and blocking from that position, was a constant focus. Day by day, Wales worked on it and improved.
In SU’s first drive of the season, Wales revealed his all-around abilities.
The lone hiccup came in the second quarter when Wales fumbled, and Northwestern’s Davion Fleming recovered the ball.
During training camp, Nassib said he expected to have the same type of connection with Wales that he had with Provo. Saturday’s game is a small sample size for sure, but it was enough to offer a glimpse at what Wales can do.
“Beckett is definitely somebody that has filled the role for the position Provo had,” Nassib said. “Beckett learned underneath Provo, so it doesn’t surprise me that their games are kind of similar, that we have a similar connection.”
Wales said he and Provo spent a lot of time together over the past few years. While Provo taught him plenty, Wales learned just as much from how Provo carried himself on the field.
With his emotions always in check, Provo was a steady force in SU’s offense.
Hackett said both Wales and Provo play with “ferociousness.” Provo tempered his aggression, something Wales is looking to do himself. Wales saw Provo play the way he did. He watched him rack up consistent yardage.
Now, it’s his turn.
“It’s great to play behind somebody like that, or come up and learn from somebody like that,” Wales said. “And how he set goals for me to accomplish.
“It’s just things like that just make me want to play harder.”
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