Beginning the final week of the spring, Tuesday's practice was far from the most crisp that the Orange have had during the camp. Execution was pretty sloppy all around from both the offense and the defense, and the coaching staff's frustration was quite palpable. After seeing enough during 11-on-11 drills, Marrone called practice at around 6 pm, 40 minutes earlier than the scheduled 6:40 end time for practice, which has ended up being closer to 7 more often then not. Maybe he wanted everyone to head to the Dome to enjoy the lacrosse game...If that's the case, it didn't go so well.
The defensive line really struggled in an inside drill against the offensive line where they faced a lot of double teams and chips up to the linebacker. Granted, we have no huge SEC-type nose guards who eat the double team effectively, but it was a rare sight to see players like Chandler Jones struggle so much in practice. Defensive ends coach Tim Daoust was very critical of his group's play in these situations.
The offense had plenty of its own struggles as well. A lot of practice was focused on goal line situations, and the defense absolutely dominated this portion of practice. In quick succession, Phillip Thomas, Siriki Diabate and Lewellyn Coker all made huge hits at the goal line on running backs up the middle to prevent them from diving the pile and scoring. The offense's ineffectiveness left offensive coordinator Nate Hackett furious. I've never seen an SU assistant as animated as the normally calm, upbeat Hackett, and that includes the ever-entertaining Scott Shafer.
There was one change of note on the new rosters that were available to attendees, walk-on Colin Reno appears to be off the team.
A number of guests came out to watch Syracuse practice on Tuesday. Offensive line signee Nick Robinson from Baldwinsville made the quick trip to get a jump on things. He's been at SU to watch practice a number of times this spring. A few soon-to-be Orange alumni also stopped by, including Anthony Perkins and NFL hopeful Mike Holmes. Current injured upperclassmen Ollie Haney and Cody Catalina continue to help out at practice with the defensive line and tight ends, respectively.
ESPN Big East Blogger Brian Bennett also stopped by to watch Syracuse practice. I had a chance to speak with him very briefly, and he admitted to being a TNIAAM fan. He seemed excited to head over to Dinosaur BBQ after practice.
More impressions after the jump...
Quarterbacks - The shortened practice probably sliced into a lot of the passing that we normally see at practice. One nice note is that Jonny Miller seemed to be getting the ball out a lot quicker than he has all spring. The weird hitch that he has in his motion is still there, but he was definitely getting a faster release on his passes, which is a great sign.
Running backs - The backs had a number of struggles on Tuesday. Besides the aforementioned goal line drill, the backs seemed to have issues hanging on to the ball, which hasn't been a big concern this spring. The defense was definitely focusing on forcing fumbles, as all of the units worked on stripping drills during the individual sessions with Dan Conley and John Anselmo, but ball security still has to be a major focus.
The day was not without highlights for the backs. Prince-Tyson Gulley had what may have been the play of the day on a pitch right following a fake fullback dive, where he almost literally juked corner Jaston George out of his shoes, and sped down the sideline.
Wide Receivers - The receivers did not have their best practice of the spring either. While there was not a great deal of passing on Tuesday, when the offense did put the ball in the air, there were a fair number of drops. On one play, Marcus Sales burnt by the defense and got way behind the secondary but dropped a sure touchdown pass from Ryan Nassib. Dorian Graham also had a number of drops, which plagued him earlier in the spring. To his credit though, his hands look much better overall then they did a few weeks ago.
Tight Ends - Nick Provo is definitely going to be the security blanket for this offense. He catches almost everything, and creates great mismatches against slower linebackers and smaller safeties. He looks especially dangerous off of the play-action when he can get a free release into the secondary.
Offensive Line - Justin Pugh got banged up in practice, and missed most of the live drills. Andrew Phillips filled in and was okay, but Chandler Jones gave him all he could handle, and beat him pretty badly on a few plays. Pugh is one of our best linemen, and luckily the injury doesn't seem to be serious. The line struggled in the goal line scenario, especially when we just tried to pound the ball up the middle, so that is definitely an area of concern at the moment, especially when the defensive line isn't very big.
Defensive Line - Aside from the double team drill, the line had a good day in the full 11-on-11s. Deon Goggins had another good practice. Attendees joked that we should expect very big games out of him every other week. Max Beaulieu came off the field in pain at one point, and really looked uncomfortable on the sideline. He's had a very quiet spring, and it would be nice to have him start to play up to his potential, as one of the highest regarded players in his recruiting class.
Linebackers - We may only have a few scholarship players at linebacker at the moment, but they all can play. The three starters: Marquis Spruill, Dan Vaughan and Dyshawn Davis all continue to look very good, and I would not be overly concerned if any of the second unit of Coker, Diabate or Mario Tull was forced into action. Dan Vaughan did struggle a bit when the offensive linemen chipped up to take him on, but his great linebacker instincts should help him in these situations in the games.
Defensive Backs - Phillip Thomas continues to be the enforcer on defense while Shamarko Thomas is out with an injury. He had two monstrous hits on Tuesday, one of which was a goal line stop where he jumped and met the running back in the air and drove him a yard or two back and into the ground. All of the corners had a very good day in coverage, especially Ri'Shard Anderson who may be a lock-down guy for the next few years.
Practice concludes tomorrow, Thursday April 14th, and the Spring Game is this Saturday. As Sean has already told you, you'll all be there, so I look forward to seeing you all at the Dome.