So, it's been too long since I gave my final evaluations of this past spring, so I apologize to all of you for that, but let's get back on track here in the college sport-doldrums of mid-June and see what my old position, the offensive line, holds in store for us this season. The position was one of our weakest during the GRE (don't remind Andrew Robinson), but has been steadily increasing every year under Doug Marrone, which makes sense because Marrone is such an offensive line guru himself. The unit returns most of their starters, so let's see how everyone fared this past spring.
Justin Pugh: (A-) - Pugh is commonly referred to as our best lineman, and it really showed this spring. He went down during the 13th practice, and Andrew Phillips had to come in for him and Chandler Jones ran absolutely wild the rest of practice. Pugh is really consistent, and still has a few years left in orange, which is pretty exciting for Doug Marrone and company. Pugh could be looking at first team All-Big East honors, assuming his career progression continues at it's current trajectory.
Zack Chibane: (B+) - Chibane joins Pugh to make up what could be one of the strongest sides of any offensive line in the Big East. He really came into his own last year after beating out Adam Rosner for the left guard spot as a true sophomore, and he should only keep getting better.
Macky MacPherson: (B) - The worst thing you can say about Macky is that he's never going to be 6'4" or 300 lbs, but that doesn't mean he can't be an effective lineman at this level. Macky made up for what he lacks in size, with his consistency snapping the ball, and his great mobility, which gives our coaches a lot of options when running the ball. Most teams can't pull their centers, but we will see that, and it's a very useful tool. Macky does an excellent job of getting to the second level, and taking on linebackers and defensive backs. He may struggle against big nose guards, but our zone blocking scheme is going to largely center on giving Macky help when he needs it, and I think he's going to quell a lot of fans' worries with his play this year. Also, hello again Shotgun formation.
Andrew Tiller: (B) - Tiller has made perhaps the biggest transformation of any Syracuse player during Marrone's tenure. He came to Syracuse weighing over 360 lbs, but has really dedicated himself to slimming down, and he's now listed at a svelte 328. He's definitely more mobile this year, and should be one of the guys who will be getting NFL looks next April. If Tiller plays to his potential, he can be a dominant lineman this year.
Michael Hay: (B-) - Hay has also taken a solid step forward this season, and after a year starting at tackle, he should be a very solid player opposite Justin Pugh. He still has work to do in pass protection, especially since defenses are likely to attack his side rather than trying their luck with Pugh.
Nick Lepak: (C+) - Lepak is going to be an important player for Syracuse because he provides depth at a bunch of positions. Nick saw a lot of time at center, as well as both guard positions, and will probably be the guy who comes in if Macky struggles. He's a big, strong lineman, but he struggles with his snapping at time, and is not very quick, so he has a lot to work on, but he should be able to get the job done if he's thrown into the ring.
Jarel Lowery: (C+) - Lowery's another guy who is here to provide depth, and he had some nice moments at guard. He's definitely improved from last year, and should be able to fill in admirably if we need him this year.
Ian Allport: (C+) - Allport is another valuable depth guy, like Lepak, who has seen time at pretty much every position at the line. He's currently listed at tackle, which should be his natural position given his 6'5", 306 lb frame, but he originally played guard when he came to SU, and has seen time at center and long snapper. While players like he and Lepak may sort of be jacks of all trades but masters of none, it does make it easier on the coaching staff that they can plug their best back-up in almost anywhere, and Allport affords them that.
Andrew Phillips: (C) - There isn't a lot to say about Phillips, but I remember him being solid if unspectacular when he did play. Unfortunately for him, one of those times he was thrust in to action was for a banged up Justin Pugh, and he met our good friend Chandler Jones, who did not take it easy on the young second teamer. He's a big, local kid who should be able to fill in if we need him at tackle, but don't expect him to be a big contributor this season.
Lou Alexander: (C) - Lou seems to be on the same trajectory of his fellow California native Deon Goggins, who came in last year as a really highly-touted JuCo lineman, but didn't quite pan out his first year. Unfortunately for Lou, he hit some kind of academic snafu last year, which lost him a full season of football, and he came to SU pretty out of shape, and struggled a bit this spring at times. A full year in the program should do Lou some good, and like Deon, who should be a huge factor on our defensive line this year, after he adjusts to the speed of the D-1 game, we should see him really flourish next year.
Sean Hickey: (Inc) - Unfortunately for Sean, he was injured very early in the Spring and did not participate in very many contact drills. Hickey seemed to be paying a lot of attention to all of the drills and should have a grasp of the playbook after a whole year on the team, and may not start this year, but should be fighting for a spot by his redshirt sophomore in 2012.
Overall Grade: (B) - Our offensive line is getting better, it's getting better all the time. The left side should be pretty dominant against our weaker opponents, with both Pugh and Chibane vying for All-Big East spots this year, and the right side should be much improved. I love the use of zone blocking that we're implementing, and it should really allow Macky to be used to his fullest potential, and is perfect for the running style of Antwon Bailey, who should benefit from this, as well. The only thing that makes me a bit nervous about our line is that they are considered to be a bit undersized, but since we're not in the SEC or Big Ten, that shouldn't be a huge deal this season.