This was a weird Spring.
As you all know from my coverage last year, I'm one of the few and the proud who really took advantage of the open practices that were the norm through the first three years of the Doug Marrone era. I thoroughly enjoyed going down to Manley every Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday, taking notes, hanging out with the other die-hards, and seeing the development of our favorite football team. Going every day really allows for one to see the growth in the players and the storylines unfold, and it all culminates in the spring game.
This year the spring game wasn't the culmination. It was (almost) the whole experience. I wasn't able to go to Rochester due to Easter, so the spring game was the first I saw of the team, aside from some passing glances from Club 44 last week during a philanthropy event.
I won't begrudge Coach Marrone for closing down practice. If he thinks that something is going to help the program, then I'm on board. There really weren't many of us taking advantage anyway. It's worse for the local media. As long as they play ball in the fall, I'm happy.
The most that I really got all spring were the same whispers that circulated around the internet- Marcus Sales looks Pinstripe Bowl-esque, Ashton Broyld plays every position, the offense is opened up a bit- and on Saturday we validated most of these claims.
Game impressions after the jump...
Once again, as we all know, this is Ryan Nassib's team. He's going to get 99% of the snaps at quarterback, and no one has really done anything to change this. One of the best signs of the game was that he was much better at hitting on some of his long balls, something that he struggled at immensely last season. The return of Marcus Sales has definitely brought some good mojo.
The backups inspired less confidence. Charley Loeb was doing his best Rex Grossman most of the day, with some dump-offs mixed in. There wasn't much in between with him. John Kinder was more effective, and hit on some nice passes downfield, but he really struggled when he tried to run the ball. He isn't quite fast or elusive enough to make guys miss going laterally in the backfield. I don't think he can just step in and improvise like many think he can. The way he threw the ball also concerned me. He just floated it out there. While this makes for a catchable ball, it also makes for an eminently interceptable ball.
It's really a shame that Terrel Hunt had to miss the whole spring. If I had to bet, I think he'll be under center in 2013.
I like the mix of talents that we have in the backfield this year. We don't have a singular dominant runner, but Jerome Smith, Prince-Tyson Gulley, Adonis Ameen-Moore, Steve Rene, and Ashton Broyld are all such unique runners that I think the staff will find a way to blend their talents together.
Smith is going to get the boatload of the carries this year, and he really looks good as an every-down type back. I always love when a runner runs with confidence downhill, and I think that Smith will be a guy who we can rely on to get 4-5 yards and wear down the defense.
Gulley should be an effective Antwon Bailey to Smith's Delone Carter, if he can stay healthy. I really love his abilities in the open field.
Broyld is, as we know, the wild card. The staff is going to get the ball into his hands this year. We saw his explosiveness with the 44-yard screen he had on Saturday. He is just a really strong, natural runner, who makes a mockery of arm tackles. If we can spring Broyld in the secondary, he can do some damage. The biggest knock on him is that he seems to have trouble catching the ball, which hopefully he can remedy because he's going to get thrown to. He is also a liability in pass protection. Even if Broyld never takes a snap under center, he is going to be a major part of this offense for four years.
...and that pass to Loeb was pretty.
As a side note, don't expect to see much of that four-back backfield that Team Moore ran. Apparently Rob was having fun with the formations. I did like the look of the Smith at FB, Gulley at HB backfield though.
As for the fullbacks, I didn't catch much of what Myles Davis did, but Clay Cleveland looked good and Travon Burke has some real potential as a short-yardage runner. He probably had about 19 or 20 yards on two carries on Saturday. Don't be surprised if the walk-on wins that job.
Once we get everyone back, this should be one of the deepest positions on the team this year. Marcus Sales looks exactly like he did last spring, which is pretty dominant. He and Nassib really click on the deep balls.
I was impressed with Adrian Flemming. He has been a guy who I've expected would take a role in the offense since he was a freshman, and it just hasn't happened to this point. He made some great plays downfield on Saturday. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.
Jeremiah Kobena looks like he found his hands. He made the best catch of the day on a nice deep pass from Nassib, where he made a great adjustment to get position on the defensive back and make the grab. If he keeps catching the ball, the coaches can't keep his speed off the field.
Beckett Wales got most of the action here, and really looks like a poor man's Nick Provo. I think that we'll see most of the emphasis in the passing game move to the receivers, unless Ron Thompson steps in as a freshman and is special from day one. It was nice to see Max Beaulieu make a catch (and line up split wide). He's really been the lost man of that recruiting class. David Stevens should continue to be a decent target as well.
The poor play of the Offensive Line was the downfall of both offenses on Saturday. Honestly, it is a bit unfair to grade them, when we had so many players out, others playing completely out of positions, and walk-ons thrown onto the second team line. The defensive line absolutely had its way with this ragtag group. On the bright side, Zach Chibane looked better, albeit playing out of position, and had one tremendous block on a big run, which he followed up with a mindless block in the back away from the play. Macky looked solid, and Lou Alexander is in much better shape. Once Pugh, Hickey and Trudo all return, this should be a workable group...or we're in trouble.
The guys at the other side of the trenches won the game for Team Anselmo. Jay Bromley was inarguably the game's MVP. He had a safety on Loeb, and forced the fumble that Brandon Sharpe scooped up for a touchdown. I don't think these plays were an accident, Bromley looks like he moved into the weight room this past year. He's absolutely huge.
Moving Rob Welsh and Deon Goggins out to the ends is an interesting move. Neither is a classic defensive end, but they seemed to be effective, especially Welsh, who had a great game. Hopefully if Marcus Pierce-Brewster and the other defensive ends who arrive in the fall are ready to play, we can move them back to the more natural defensive tackle position.
Eric Crume was also very effective in the middle, and combined with Bromley, should make for a really stout interior defense.
Because the d-line was so dominant, it was hard to really get a beat on the linebackers on Saturday. Siriki Diabate made a few nice plays, including his interception off of Loeb. The guy who probably had the best day out of the whole group was walk-on Dom Anene, who was all over the field. Anene played a bit last year, and is a really solid player. The rest of the group was rather quiet.
The defensive backs are probably the youngest group on the team, but it also may have the most potential.
Brandon Reddish was the standout here on Saturday. He was a ball-hawk all day, and may have had the most impressive defensive play where he stumbled at the line against Adrian Flemming, but recovered and made a play on a ball where he was clearly beaten. He also just missed a diving interception on a Loeb overthrow.
Jeremi Wilkes looks solid at safety, although he could have had a few interceptions if he could catch the ball. Ritchy Desir also made a few nice plays in defense, including one play where he stripped away a completion from Sales.
Ross Krautman hit the one extra point attempt that he took, but it was Ryan Lichtenstein who attempted both field goals, and missed each. I'm not sure why Krautman wasn't kicking in those situations. The punting was fairly inconsistent. Both Jonathan Fisher and Riley Dixon hit some really nice punts with nice hangtime, and then others were short and flat. It was hard to accurately judge special teams when most of the plays were walked through and simulated.