Coach Doug Marrone probably didn't expect it to be in the 20s when he decided to bring his team to Rochester, NY for one of their spring practices. However, such is life here in upstate New York. While the temperature probably kept many fans in their comfort of their own homes, it did not prevent another 500 or so from showing up, tailgating and cheering on the Orange.
The man who may in fact be Marrone's biggest fan, however, has no connection to Syracuse at all. As I arrived at the stadium, there was a man in a Tennessee hat walking around with a video camera, recording the tailgating and commenting to his SEC buddies about how hardcore the Syracuse fanbase seems to be. He is apparently an uprooted Tennessee native living in Rochester who came to practice because he admires Marrone for his work as an assistant coach with the Vols in 2001, and wanted his son to meet him.
As we moved into Sahlen's Stadium, which is a very nice little venue, the sun came out, warming things up a bit. The winds continued to whip throughout the afternoon however, so fans needed to bundle up.
For the second straight day, the SU defense dominated the offense. It is very normal for a defense to be ahead at this point in the year for various reasons. Defense is largely more instinctual, while offense is based more on executing the plays given, and Marrone and Hackett are definitely throwing a lot of new material at the SU offense this spring. Coupled with the fact that the two units seemed to be very equal throughout the first two practices that I saw, I am not concerned yet.
Impressions and details after the jump...
Quarterbacks - All three players here struggled a bit today. Ryan Nassib struggled a bit with his accuracy, overthrowing his targets which led to a few interceptions. Charley Loeb definitely improved on his very poor practice last Thursday, although most of his success came on one drive where he led the offense down the field, commencing in a long completion to Jarrod West for what would have been a touchdown, or very close to it. John Kinder showed some elusiveness in the pocket, but struggled overall with Saturday's dominant SU pass rush. Jonny Miller was absent from practice for the second straight day, word is that he has the flu but nothing has been released from SU. Facing the strong wind after four straight practices indoors may have hurt the quarterbacks' play on Saturday.
Running backs - Antwon Bailey had a decent practice, but the unit struggled a lot as a whole. Jerome Smith and Steve Rene could not get much quality yardage on their runs with the linebackers flying all over the field throughout the entire afternoon. Prince-Tyson Gulley sat out, likely due to the injury he suffered on Thursday.
Wide Receivers - With the quarterbacks' struggles, it was not a banner day for the wide receivers. They struggled to gain any kind of separation from the defensive backs, and catching the ball was an adventure, especially for Dorian Graham who continues to struggle in that regard. Jarrod West did have a nice play on the aforementioned deep pass from Loeb, and Marcus Sales made an absolute circus catch on the sideline on a pass from Nassib, which was deflected up in the air, and he had the focus to haul in as he was lying on his back after falling to the ground trying to make the initial catch.
Offensive Line - While the unit had some moments, this was probably its worst practice of the spring. The defensive front seven absolutely dominated the entire practice. Andy Phillips in particular had a lot of trouble.
Defensive Line - Defense Ends Mikhail Marinovich and Chandler Jones wrecked absolute havoc in the backfield all afternoon. They seemed to be in the backfield more often then not, and the quarterbacks really struggled to get their rhythm because they spent so much time eluding the pass rush. Let's hope this is more about how good our d-line is, and less about our o-line struggling. Brandon Sharpe also had a very nice day coming off the edge. Cory Boatman, Deon Goggins and Jason Bromley continue to get the most snaps at tackle. Bromley has definitely been the most impressive thus far. Robert Welsh also got some reps in at tackle and looks solid.
Linebackers - Mario Tull started the day at the WILL, but that didn't last long. Dyshawn Davis came in within a few plays and didn't relinquish the position with the first team. Davis was probably the practice MVP, routinely hunting down the ball carrier and getting deep into the backfield. For someone who was recruited primarily as a wide receiver, and spent all of last season playing safety at Milford Academy, Davis has unbelievable linebacker instincts. Marquis Spruill might be an all-Big East selection at middle linebacker sooner than later, and Dan Vaughan looks rock solid at the SAM.
Defensive Backs - In the upset special of Saturday's practice, neither Phillip Thomas nor Ri'Shard Anderson got into a fight with an offensive player. This does not mean that the d-backs let up, as they continued with their incredibly physical play. The entire group loves attacking the receiver at the line; any receiving corps that does not have elite speed may struggle against our secondary. Early enrollee Jaston George continues to impress the spring. He may be the fastest secondary player on the roster and had a very nice interception on Saturday.
While the trip to Rochester was definitely a nice move to reach out to the WNY fans, and is something that SU should consider doing regularly (although, hopefully a bit later in the spring), the trip may have had a much larger impact in other ways. Rochester has become a bit of a high school football hotbed, and a number of area recruits and coaches came out to watch the Orange practice. The biggest name among them was Aquinas Institute's blue chip defensive lineman Jarron Jones who currently holds offers from Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Penn State, Tennessee and every school in between (not sure about Akron, but we can assume).
Also in attendance were SU signees Ashton Broyld and Jonathan Fisher, former Syracuse back Averin Collier, and curiously, Rutgers signee and former SU target Quentin Gause, who had his Rutgers hat jokingly knocked off by a Syracuse fan who approached him to chat after practice had ended.
Overall, Saturday's practice was a success on multiple levels and is definitely something that SU look to continue in the future.