Syracuse football’s 2023 tight ends: A true freshman is poised to be an early contributor

Published Jul. 18, 2023, 7:00 a.m.
By Emily Leiker |
Syracuse, N.Y. — When Syracuse football running backs coach Mike Lynch made his recruiting rounds to Christian Brothers Academy in Albany this spring, CBA head coach Bobby Burns had a question for him.
Did CBA alum tight end David Clement, an early enrollee this spring for the Orange, have a shot at making the field this fall?
“Well, it’s kind of hard to replicate 6-7, 275 (pounds),” Burns recalled Lynch saying.
Clement’s a bit shy of those numbers on the official roster, but his stature is still the second-largest in Syracuse’s 2023 tight ends room. He’s poised to be the most-used true freshman on the team this fall, even in a tight ends room that returns basically its entire group from last season.
Oronde Gadsden and Max Mang are back, along with Steven Mahar Jr., Dan Villari (who switched from QB midseason) and Carter Clark.
Walk-on Josh Kubala, who was with the group as a freshman last year, moved to linebacker. His spot was taken by Clement.
Though very limited in roster changes, the position group does get a shakeup via a coaching change. After being a somewhat secondary responsibility to ex-coordinator Robert Anae last year, the tight ends get their own coach for 2023.
Nunzio Campanile came to SU this spring after five seasons at Rutgers. He spent four of them as the Scarlet Knights’ tight ends coach, with additional duties, including two separate stints as interim offensive coordinator, mixed in.
Campanile’s addition doesn’t seem to indicate that much will change about the way Syracuse uses its tight ends as it continues Anae’s offense (or something adjacent to it) under new coordinator Jason Beck. At Rutgers last year, the Scarlet Knights’ No. 3 pass catcher was a tight end.
And that’s not to say that all the guys don’t do both. Mang had five catches last year for 31 yards. Gadsden said in the spring one of his biggest goals is to become a better blocker. That was on head coach Dino Babers’ list for him, too.
Burns said Clement doesn’t have too much experience as a pass-catcher, but that he has the skills — a high football IQ and the hands of a former basketball player — to develop into that type of role if SU needed or wanted him to.
“He can handle it, there’s no question (but) ... my guess would be they’re probably seeing him more as an in-line blocker or a pass grabber,” Burns said Monday.
There had been plans for Clement to be more involved in the receiving game until a knee injury at CBA training camp last July ended up sidelining him for his senior year.
Clement tore articular cartilage in his knee and wasn’t able to have surgery until the fall, due to the specificity of the injury. Burns said he believed Clement had been fully cleared about a week before SU’s spring camp began.
It will be good for Syracuse to have another ready-to-play tight end in the mix.
Mang has been a workhorse the past two years, with Gadsden joining him in the mix last year. The pair have played a combined 1,180 snaps while Mahar and Villari have just 115 snaps between them. Clark redshirted last season while recovering from an injury he suffered in high school.
While Mang showed improvement in his second season as a contributor for SU, he’s still far from a top-tier tight end. Pro Football Focus has him graded at 51.9% in run blocking and just 40.6% in pass blocking.
Only 300 of Gadsden’s 750 snaps last season saw him do any blocking. He posted a 65.8% run blocking grade and a 80.2% pass blocking grade, though he only pass blocked on a total of three snaps.
Clement will have the adjusting to do that any true freshman does, but his high school coach feels confident he can shake that off quickly.
Burns said that in the same conversation he asked Lynch about Clement’s playing chances, the SU coach commented on Clement’s football IQ.
“(Lynch) actually noted that what was probably putting (Clement) ahead of a couple other kids on the depth chart was the fact that he was that intelligent,” Burns said. “He had a general understanding of the offense ... He’s the type of kid that can adapt to any situation.”

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