Since I fell into the cruel trap that is publishing fake content on the internet on April Fools' Day, and wrote up a completely nonfactual, bogus report from Thursday's practice, today's piece is on both Thursday and Friday's practices in Manley Field House.
This week has been an important one for the team from an installation standpoint. The offense has been doing a lot from a 5-wide empty backfield shotgun formation, with a ton of different looks. On any given play out of this formation, we can go trips to either side, bunch our receivers, and variations that include anything from 5 receivers, to backs and tight ends being split out wide. Luckily, our receiving corps might be the deepest unit on the team, and it gives Nate Hackett and Doug Marrone a lot of weapons to play with—a welcome change to last year where Marcus Sales, who hadn't contributed at all throughout the season, was our number one option.
On defense, we're beginning to see the Scott Shafer's Okie package take shape, and it to has a bunch of new looks. Last year, we had Chandler Jones move inside most of the time. However, our team was pretty small up front in that look. This year we have our normal starting DEs in (Jones and Mikhail Marinovich) with Deon Goggins starting at nose guard, a look that is still pretty agile as a 3-front, but gives us some extra size. I expect to see pass rush specialist Brandon Sharpe get time in the Okie as well.
At linebacker, Olando Fisher remains at the Shamarko Thomas spur position, with Marquis Spruill, Dyshawn Davis and Brice Hawkes rather than Dan Vaughan in at the SAM. Something tells me that this may be changing. Hopefully today's scrimmage (4:30 at the Carrier Dome) will shed light as to who fills the spot left vacant by Hawkes, whether its Vaughn or if Shafer opts for a faster player.
One interesting twist on the Okie that we haven't really seen from Shafer to this point puts us in a formation that is very reminiscent of the 46 Bear, which should excite any Buddy Ryan fans out there. The defense may be reloading this year, but there is a lot of ammunition available, and a lot of young players are going to be utilized and given valuable experience.
This week has also been big on the recruiting/visitor front. Incoming running back Adonis Ameen-Moore was at both practices, and a recruit who we in the stands deemed to be offensive lineman Robert Trudo stopped by on Thursday. Syracuse also hosts a football coaching convention on Friday night and Saturday through the scrimmage at the Dome, so hundreds of high school football coaches from around the area will be present, which is always great for establishing connections and making links to potential recruits.
More on the two practices after the jump...
Quarterbacks - The song remains the same with this position for the most part. Ryan Nassib is the quarterback for the foreseeable future, and that is assuring because he has looked very solid all spring. Charley Loeb has taken a solid step forward this week after struggling last week, and it is a real dogfight between him and John Kinder, who has cooled of a bit lately. Kinder did receive a ton of snaps during Friday's practice. Jonny Miller remains a project for now; I really hope that he can work on rebuilding his throwing motion over the summer.
Running backs - Antwon Bailey is the Ryan Nassib of this position, he rarely has an off day and looks like he's improved his game in every facet. Prince-Tyson Gulley has returned to full practice and hasn't lost a step, he's been very impressive over the last few days. Steve Rene is another person to watch out for. I'm not sure if his future is at halfback, but he's going to find his way onto the field because of his big play ability. Rene spends a lot of time as the "running back" split out wide when we go to a 5 receiver look. He's definitely a player who we're going to look to get the ball to in space.
Adonis Ameen-Moore is an impressive physical specimen. He may be a bit out of shape right now, but the kid is rock-solid. He has the body of a college senior as a high school senior. It may be difficult to keep him off the field as a power back this season.
Wide Receiver - This continues to be our deepest group. Alec Lemon has been especially impressive all spring, and probably has the best hands on the team. Dorian Graham still drops too many passes, but he has been stepping it up recently. I really thought he should be moved back to defense, but his speed is a dangerous weapon on offense. He has a knack for getting by our corners, and he can absolute shred press coverage. I really believe that Lemon, Sales, Van Chew, Graham, Adrian Fleming, Jarrod West and Jeremiah Kobena will all see the field in some capacity this season.
Tight End - A healthy Nick Provo could end up being Nassib's best friend, because he is about as solid and consistent as they come. The departure of Beckett Wales has left a hole in our depth, but David Stevens has come on strong this week. He has dropped far fewer passes recently, and it's a good thing because he will absolutely be needed this season. Stevens had an impressive spring last year as well and then was a non-factor during the season, so hopefully this year he parlays these practices into some real solid play in the fall.
Offensive Line - This unit has seen its ups and downs, and definitely struggles when Scott Shafer lets loose, but they've been improving this a lot this spring. They work a ton on zone blocking schemes which should suit someone like Bailey incredibly well, because he has such good vision as a runner. One player who deserves a ton of credit is Macky MacPherson, because few players on the team have as many doubters as he does, and he's really held his own at center.
Defensive Line - The defensive tackles have been rapidly improving, and that's huge for this team where that position may be the biggest question mark. Deon Goggins has really come into his own, making a couple of huge stops for loss on Jerome Smith runs on Thursday, one of which prompted "the Diesel" to break out the train horn dance that we all fell in love with during his recruitment. Jason Bromley got a bit of a rest on Thursday, and it allowed Goggins and others to get a ton of run.
Linebackers - Obviously the big news here is Hawkes' departure from the team, which is a real shame because he had two very good days of practice on Tuesday and Thursday, and looked to be going hard after the 'Will' Linebacker position that he would have probably been the starter at had he not been suspended to begin the spring.
One nice sign is that Dan Conley has been bringing the linebackers out earlier than any other unit, besides the specialists, before most practices to get extra work in.
Defensive Backs - Our corners continue playing incredibly physical, press coverage at the line of scrimmage, especially Ri'Shard Anderson. Teams who don't have elite speed at receivers (players like Dorian Graham) may really struggle against this style of play. Our backs seemed to be a bit more comfortable covering out of our base 4-3 defense than the Okie package, but that may be because of comfortability, as well as the fact that many of the players did not play much in the Okie last year. The loss of Shamarko probably plays a part in this as well.
Special Teams - Marrone wasn't kidding when he said that special teams would be a group effort coaching-wise. The coaches are almost all-hands on deck, with all of them besides Greg Adkins and Jimmy Brumbaugh coaching up a portion of the unit. I like this approach; rather than having one person responsible for the entire 11-man team, there are five or so coaches working with small groups of players and identifying individuals issues.
Shane Raupers continues to impress, not only as a punter, but also as a kick off guy. Ross Krautman also had some nice kicks, one of which hit the back wall of Manley, which would have been into the endzone on a regular field.
The team has its third practice in as many days tomorrow at the Carrier Dome, where the team will scrimmage at 4:30.