I'll open with a few apologies for missing out on the normal blogging schedule because of a hectic weekend that included a Thursday night Ra Ra Riot concert at Westcott, spending all day Saturday at Relay for Life (Syracuse raised over $165k so awesome job everyone), and the normal weekend at SU shenanigans in between. Alas, I was not able to make it out to Saturday's scrimmage, and Thursday's practice was not the most eventful, so after I recap that, I'm going to mix it up a bit and answer some of the questions that many of you have left in the comments field under these posts, since not everyone reads those and I do think that they are worth highlighting. Normal coverage of practice will continue on Wednesday morning as we head towards the spring game this Saturday.
Quick Thursday round-up:
Thursday was the first day since the Rochester scrimmage where the team was outside, this time at Schwartzwalder-Katz fields which are at the Manley athletics complex.
The practice opened up with a fair amount of special teams. Both Shane Raupers and Ross Krautman took kickoffs and looked solid. Raupers kicked more, although Krautman's kicks went a bit further. Raupers continued to take almost all punts, and his inconsistency under pressure is still an issue. While some of his punts go 40-50 yards, others struggle to reach 20, which is obviously a major problem. Krautman kicked field goals afterwards, and looked very solid, although Ri'Shard Anderson was able to block one.
One of the nice things about being "behind the fence" outside for practices is that we're much closer to the action, which gives great insight to the various coaches and how they handle their players. Thursday, I spent most of my time watching Dan Conley and the linebackers, and the Syracuse great is a real pleasure to watch. He's constantly teaching and motivating, and he coaches with a ton of energy and passion. He's also very detail oriented, which is great because of how young his group of linebackers is this year, and it's obvious that he's had a great impact because of how good that they have looked as a unit this year.
During the scrimmaging portion, Antwon Bailey was held out for the most part (probably just to give him some rest as we come down the final stretch of the spring), and Prince Tyson-Gulley and Steve Rene took most of the carries. Both continue to look very solid and I think we'll find a spot for both of them on the field.
The defense seems to have returned to form, and had another great practice. Playing outside seems to favor that side of the ball, especially in the windy upstate weather.
Thursday was also "red zone day" as many of the excited defensive players yelled on many occasions. Most of practice was done inside of the twenty, and it was just as spirited as always. Midway through practice Jeremiah Kobena and Jaston George, who seem to be matched up on almost every play, went at it, although it was broken up fairly quickly.
SU signees Kyle Foster, who had been in Syracuse all week while on spring break, and Cameron Lynch both made it for practice. Lynch watched the linebackers the whole time, and had a spring playbook in hand.
Now, on to some of your questions...
What's going on with the back-up quarterback spot? Loeb or Kinder? Also, since Kinder is so fast, will we install a package for him?
John Kinder impressed me more early on in practice, but Charley Loeb has come on very strong since the third or so week. I think that as the defense has installed more things, Kinder has struggled to read everything that they throw at him. He might be the most naturally gifted athlete at quarterback, but he's just not ready now.
As for having alternate packages for Kinder, or either young quarterback...I don't see it. Loeb doesn't bring much to the table that Nassib does, and Kinder isn't ready for the big time, even though he definitely has the wheels. I think that we'll definitely see some youth in at quarterback, but hopefully that is when we're up 30 in the fourth quarter against URI.
Also, Ryan Nassib looks really good. We're lucky to have him for two more years.
What are we looking at in terms of special teams? Who's going to punt? Who's going to return kicks?
The specialist work before every practice, but it's really hard to judge them effectively unless they're going live against a real rush. Ross Krautman is great, and will have that kicker position locked down for years to come. Shane Raupers looks good at Punter, until he feels the pressure, then he becomes wildly inconsistent. We have the best punter in New York state Jonathan Fisher coming in this summer, and I expect him to win that spot. He may also have kick-off duties, although I think either Krautman or Raupers could be serviceable if need be. Ryan Lichtenstein brings some nice depth to the kicker spot if need be.
Unless one of freshman comes in and tears it up as a kick returner, I expect that we'll see Dorian Graham, Prince-Tyson Gulley, Steve Rene and/or Jeremiah Kobena handle those duties. They are four of our fastest players, and can be pretty dynamic with the ball in space.
How do you thing the carries will end up being distributed between our running backs?
We're very deep at running back, even before freshmen Tyree Smallwood and Adonis Ameen-Moore make it to campus.
Obviously, Antwon Bailey is going to be the main option here, but I don't think we're going to give him 25 carries a game. He's not the type of back who is going to take it up the middle and pound the defense. I think we'll see him get around 15 carries and around 5 receptions a game, and try to get him matched up with defensive backs.
Prince-Tyson Gulley has been too good this spring to ignore as well, and I think he will come in to spare Bailey most often.
One of our two power backs will probably see carries, whether it's Jerome Smith who has been up-and-down this spring, or Ameen-Moore who is coming in this summer and looks the part.
Steve Rene has a ton of ability, and I can see him getting a lot of run split out wide when we go to 5-wide sets, and I think we'll have plays drawn up to get him the ball since he is a dynamic ball carrier.
Is Alec Lemon going to make me cringe every time we throw the ball in his direction this year?
I don't want to jinx it, but no, I think Alec is primed for a big year. We have a great stable of receivers this year and they will take the pressure off of him. He is also healthy now, which obviously helps.
Will we finally have depth this season?
Injuries are going to happen, but right now we are deeper than we have been in Doug Marrone's first two years. We have four capable running backs, seven capable receivers (last year we had one at the end, and that was a revelation), some very solid back-up linebackers who look like they can play if need be, and good young defensive backs.
There are a few positions where depth may be a bit worrisome however. At tight end, after Nick Provo we have a largely unproven David Stevens and walk-on Thomas Trendowski. The offensive line looks pretty decent on most days, but the second line doesn't fare nearly as well. Defensive tackle is also notably light, and if Deon Goggins isn't having one of his good days, it will be difficult for Jay Bromley and Cory Boatman to shoulder the load of an entire game.
The one position where an injury would really worry me is quarterback, which is the case with most teams. I think Charley Loeb could be serviceable, but we would definitely cut a lot out of the offense if he's thrust on to the field.
Overall, we should be okay at most positions if injuries happen, and we have a large portion of our recruiting class that hasn't made it to campus yet.
What's going on with Louie Addazio? Isn't he on campus? He didn't flee to Temple with his dad, did he?
Louie is here, but he had surgery this off-season so he hasn't been in any contact drills. He has been running routes and catching passes, and looks solid doing that, but it is really hard to judge a player until they are going full-contact, however, so his potential is largely yet-to-be-seen.
Cameron Lynch was a dominant high school linebacker in the South, should we pencil him in as a starter?
While I'm just as excited for Lynch as most people, I would hold off on expectations for him as a freshman. Marquis Spruill looks great at MLB and could be a surprising All-Big East type player as a sophomore this year. Dan Vaughan looks very solid, and makes up for his lack of speed with great instincts, and Dyshawn Davis might be the surprise of camp at the other OLB spot. For someone who hasn't played LB before, he looks great, and should be able to give us what Spruill or EJ Carter did as freshman, if not more. Lynch should be a great player down the road, but there is nothing wrong with redshirting someone like him.
What is Marrone's role in practice?
Doug oversees things during most of practice, letting the position coaches and coordinators handle most of the hands-on stuff. The two times I've noticed him take a more active role are during individual offensive line drills, especially when teaching zone blocking, but otherwise he walks around and observes, and during instillation on the offensive side during the beginning of practice.
What do you think about all the fights in practice?
In my opinion it's not a bad sign, it means the players really care about what is going on, and take pride in their play, even at practice. I hope that the repeat offenders (cough, cough, Phil Thomas and Ri'Shard Anderson) don't cost us in a game, but I'd rather have too much fire than none at all.
Is Macky MacPherson really starting at Center?
Yes, and he has looked decent. Does he struggle at times because of his size? Yes. However, our blocking scheme this season is going to give Macky a ton of help. While the biggest issue may be pass protection, Macky gives us a ton of options in running the ball because he blocks down field very well, is quick getting to the second level, and can pull, which is a valuable asset to have at center. He's also a great shotgun snapper.
How are we going to do this season?
With a gun to my head, I'll say 8-4, and I really don't think we'll do much worse than that. I think our floor is 6-6 with a bowl berth, and we could even go as far as winning 9 (or 10 if you're really drinking the Kool-AId) games, if everything goes our way. Our offense should be light-years ahead of last season, and our defense shouldn't take as big of a step back as we may have feared with all of the losses we have through graduation. I expect that the season will be another very good step forward for Marrone & crew.