Every March, Syracuse fans look forward to one thing and one thing only—the football team donning pads and taking the field to prepare for the following season.
Yesterday's practice, like the two preceding last week's spring break, took place inside of the newly renovated Manley Field House, with the women's basketball team in the Dome preparing for their next WNIT game, and the lacrosse team practicing outside.
It was fairly obvious that this was the first practice back from spring break, and the players were not exempt from the post-break malaise that consumes all students during the first few days back. Passes seemed to be a bit off their targets, and execution was not always crisp on some plays. However, the practice had no lack of intensity. In fact, four or so plays into the full contact 11-on-11 drills, after a few slight injuries and a play that lead to Jerome Smith and Ri'Shard Anderson taking swings at each other, Coach Marrone brought the whole team together in a very quiet huddle, and the team reeled in the aggressiveness a bit.
More details and impressions after the jump...
Quarterbacks - There were not many new developments with the signal callers. Ryan Nassib remains the clear starter under center, although John Kinder may be making a push on Charley Loeb's backup position. All of the QBs seemed a bit off today, with many of their passes sailing high or wide on their targets.
Running Backs - The running backs probably had the best day of any unit at practice. Antwon Bailey looks even faster this year. On one play early on in 11-on-11s, he took a ball off tackle, and hit Olando Fisher with full force, knocking him two or three yards back on the play. He also had an incredible cutback when the hole between left guard and tackle closed, which he bounced the play outside and took it to the house, as the defense was caught flowing in the other direction.
Prince-Tyson Gulley also made some noise with a huge stiff arm on Phillip Thomas, as well as a number of other big plays on the day. Late in practice he took a hand-off up the middle and got hit incredibly hard in the middle of a huge pile, and looked to be a bit banged up afterwards.
Jerome Smith has been incredibly impressive this spring. He is going to be difficult to keep off of the field this season, even with the depth that SU has at running back. Smith looks very natural running the ball, and will definitely draw plenty of Delone Carter comparisons because of his running style. He is a bruising power back but has that same subtle elusiveness that Delone runs with, especially in between the tackles.
Wide Receivers - The receiving corps had an up and down day. There were a ton of easy drops early, but late in practice they came on strong and made some very nice plays. Van Chew was back on the field yesterday, although he seems to be somewhat limited in full contact drills right now. Jarrod West stretch of poor drops that plagued him during the first practice continued early on, but he seemed to be catching everything thrown his way later on. Dorian Graham had a very nice practice, burning corners down the sideline on two separate occasions, and catching a number of Nassib deep balls for touchdowns. There has been a lot of speculation as to whether or not Graham would be moved back to defense because of the trouble has has catching passes, but he did a lot to quell those concerns yesterday.
Jeremiah Kobena made the play of the day against fellow freshman Jaston George. Kobena ran a fade down the near sideline, and made an amazing contorted, falling catch on a well-placed pass from Jonny Miller.
Tight Ends - The Tight Ends had a relatively quiet day, and seemed to struggle in passing drills. Beckett Wales was noticeably absent from practice, and afterwards Marrone told the media that he has taken a leave of absence for personal reasons. David Stevens ended up being the beneficiary, as he saw a ton of time in the rotation with Nick Provo.
Offensive Line - The individual offensive line drills were divided between Coach Greg Adkins and Marrone into two groups. Marrone worked with the left tackles, guards and center, and Adkins with the right tackles, guards and tight ends. They spent most of the period working on various zone blocking schemes. Later on, the groups switched with the centers and guards separating from the tackles and doing pass protection drills.
The o-line had two notable guests at practice; 2011 signee Nick Robinson of Baldwinsville and 2012 verbal commit Ben Barrett from Christian Brothers Academy were both at practice following the offensive line drills. Robinson had notepad and pen in hand and spent most of the time taking notes on the drills.
Defensive Line - The D-Line did not have a huge day, although they did make some nice plays. Mikhail Marinovich looked very aggressive coming off of the edge, and split time with pass rush specialist Brandon Sharpe. Micah Robinson also spent time at defensive end, and looked much bigger than I remember him. He has a huge frame and may be a prospect to move inside to defensive tackle if he continues to grow. Ollie Haney also made a surprising cameo in the backfield, tripping Gulley up with a very nice ankle tackle for a three yard loss.
Linebackers - Marquis Spruill and Dan Vaughan remain constants at linebacker, with Mario Tull and freshman Dyshawn Davis splitting reps at the remaining OLB spot. Siriki Diabate also saw a number of reps. Brice Hawkes continued his lap-running regiment throughout most of practice. He should be returning to full practice tomorrow.
Defensive backs - The competition between the defensive backs and wide receivers was incredibly physical all practice long. Jaston George had a solid day, and looks to be incredibly fast, keeping up with the two of the team's fastest players in Graham and Kobena.
There was one very alarming two-play stretch which saw all three of Phil Thomas, Lyn and Anderson go down with injuries and get treatment off to the side. All three injuries seemed to be minor cramps, however, and the players returned. Within minutes, Thomas was mouthing off to the o-line after a play and Anderson was throwing punches at Smith, so the injuries did not seem to hinder their play at all.
Special Teams - The pre-practice special teams session was really the tale of two punters. Shane Raupers looked very solid in his punting duties once again. However, if he and incoming freshman Jonathan Fisher are unavailable, Syracuse may be in some trouble, because Ryan Lichtenstein really struggles punting the ball. For every decent punt, he has two or three that only go thirty or so yards, and he gets very little hang-time on his kicks.
Syracuse has practice once again Thursday. Practice was originally scheduled to be in the Carrier Dome, followed by a season ticket holder event with Marrone and Adkins, but it has been moved inside Manley. Friday's practice has been postponed for now. On Saturday, the team heads to Rochester for a noon scrimmage at Sahlen's Field.