Blum: Syracuse must prioritize protecting Eric Dungey from further head injury

first_img Published on October 22, 2015 at 9:10 pm Three opponents’ helmets struck the helmet of Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey. Three times, those treacherous moments were masked with jubilation.The first, a toss to freshman Dontae Strickland who turned an open seam into a touchdown. He dropped the ball to the ground after his first step, blissfully unaware that his quarterback just had his neck and head twisted backward by Central Michigan defensive lineman Mitch Stanitzek.The second, a 26-yard, perfectly-executed run-pass option where Dungey leapt over a defender before being struck in the head by Virginia’s Micah Kiser as he crossed the plane to the end zone. Dungey got up and was mobbed by his teammates.The third finished with a pass to Ervin Philips, who caught the ball 2 yards short of end zone, before spinning in for the score and pointing up to the silent UVA crowd in overtime.“I try to get every yard I can,” Dungey said following the loss to UVA. “I’m a competitor.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textBut the risk of getting every yard isn’t worth the reward it reaps. Not for a possible game-winning drive and not for a Top 10 play on SportsCenter. With one “upper-body injury” — Stanitzek’s blow against CMU was enough — comes the greater likelihood of more. And with four Syracuse players having suffered career-ending fates from concussions in the last two seasons, the reality of its dangers isn’t detached from the Orange program.As a coaching staff, there’s only so much it can do to prevent brain injuries — showing a player the hits he didn’t have to take is chief among them, offensive coordinator Tim Lester said. Preventative measures only decrease risk, but can’t eliminate it. But everything that can be done needs to be, and one week removed from losing scholarship QB AJ Long for his career, there needs to be more concern expressed.“He loves to make plays,” Lester said. “He goes in his Johnny Manziel mode wanting to run around. I told him, ‘Even Manziel, when he won the Heisman, he only carried it 15 times a game.’ So he’s still got to cut three to get to that level.”Lester said he called 32 passing plays for Dungey on Saturday. Only 22 of them actually went for passes. He threw the ball away twice, two more times than he has before. “Baby steps,” Lester called it.It’s time to start making strides.Of the 31 quarterbacks that have run the ball 59 times or more, only two have played in fewer games than Dungey. Twenty-six have played in more games than the SU quarterback. He’s one of the most likely QBs in FBS football to run the ball, but there are still 105 quarterbacks with higher yards per carry totals than his 3.8. Of the QB’s with more attempts, he would place 16th on that list.He’s got the ability to run, but is far from elite status. He’s not TCU’s Trevone Boykin, a Heisman candidate averaging 5.7 yards per carry, and a player that Lester likened to Dungey when talking about football-first plays.That doesn’t mean that Dungey should never play quarterback again to limit the risk. That play against CMU was a pass, and he never put himself in harm’s way. But time and again, even after coming back against USF, he has put himself in danger. The numerous hits to the head need to be a wakeup call for refocused priorities before he has no choice but to stop playing.Scott Shafer said the line between being aggressive and smart is a fine one. His high school tapes are littered with hurdle plays like the one he made Saturday.Dungey might make plays like he’s invincible, but he’s not. And it’s on the coaching staff to make sure that’s clear.When Lester calls for 32 passing plays, there should be more than 22 attempted. When the choice is to hurdle or slide, make the safer play, even if it leaves him short of the goal line.“It’s tough to take the aggression out of an aggressive person,” Shafer said. “That’s who Eric is and that’s what makes him.”A leaping jump-turned touchdown may give reason to celebrate. That may be “who Eric is.” His grin was huge when the pile of teammates dispersed with him back to the Orange’s sideline. But the risks that accompany a play like that make it far less than worth the chance he’s taking. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more