The offense that second-year coach Doug Marrone unveiled during Syracuse's annual spring scrimmage was a throwback to days gone by.
The difference from last season under Rob Spence as offensive coordinator to this season under Marrone was dramatic. During the spring game, Orange quarterbacks concentrated on heaving the ball downfield and were rewarded with a hefty average of 9.5 yards on their 40 attempts. Last season's team averaged 6.9. Syracuse running backs attacked the inside seams hard and ran north and south. Receivers mixed up midrange and deep routes nicely and never hung around the line of scrimmage looking for 2-yard gains.
The result was 537 yards and six touchdowns. Junior wideout Marcus Sales caught eight passes for 158 yards, one of them for 55 yards, and two touchdowns. Teammates Alec Lemon (40) and Van Chew (37) also grabbed deep strikes. Tailback Averin Collier broke off a 41-yard TD run.
Sure it was only the spring game, but considering the number of veterans Syracuse fielded on defense and the number of offensive duds displayed in the past several spring games, it was a breath of fresh air.
Under Marrone's direction, it is clear that what the Orange wants to get done is push the ball down the field.
The attacking mentality was most noticeable by the absence of the bubble screen, the play that was a staple of last season's retiring offense. The drive off the ball up front was noticeable.
The option was in the playbook but not on the field Saturday. Marrone hinted that it had plenty of company. Yet, even without it a clear statement was made. Marrone wants an offense that is physical up front and able to attack a defense on the ground or in the air. Pecking at the perimeter is history.NOTES, QUOTES
--Marrone's newly overhauled offense was being run on the field for the spring game, but the play calling was by new Orange quarterbacks coach Nathaniel Hackett. Marrone had said earlier in the spring that he wouldn't hesitate to turn over play calling duties to the 30-year-old coach, who came to Syracuse this year from the Buffalo Bills.
--Veteran guard Ryan Bartholomew, a redshirt senior, moves over to center, to replace Jim McKenzie. Junior Jarel Lowery, a former defensive tackle, is moving to the offensive line. He's currently listed behind right guard Andrew Tiller.
WR Aaron Weaver -- The Hofstra transfer has impressed coaches all spring. Along with some nice possession receptions, the 6-2, 210-pound senior showed another possible benefit for having him on the field this fall. During a scrimmage play in which Bailey was running after grabbing a short pass, Weaver leveled linebacker Dan Vaughan with a crunching block.
DT Bud Tribbey -- The senior will try to follow the in footsteps of Arthur Jones, the two-time All-Big East nose tackle who graduated in December, leaving a hole in a defense that wasn't special in any Big East categories last year except stopping the run. Tribbey started Syracuse's final three games at nose tackle after Jones went down with a season-ending knee injury. Tribbey recorded eight tackles for the season, half solo and half assists.
WR Van Chew -- Chances are that Chew at times felt invisible in his first two seasons with Syracuse after catching a grand total of 10 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown. But Chew's hard work in the offseason, coupled with a shortage of Orange players at his position, has combined to give him an opportunity to be noticed.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The base offense for us right now is if you close your eyes and think of the base offense when we were growing up -- two backs in the backfield, tight end, two receivers -- that's the origin of the offense. It starts with that personnel group and then goes to others. And you saw multiple formations and shifts and motions. And we tried to keep it simple. You probably saw a lot out there, but we have a whole bunch more than that." -- Syracuse coach Doug Marrone.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: There's much rebuilding to be done in Year Two of the Doug Marrone era. The Orange boasts some quiet confidence that it will have strong quarterback play, but the offense will be predicated on success in the running game, which means Delone Carter and Antwon Bailey with Averin Collier chipping in as needed. The pass rush could be better than in past years on defense, but the middle of that group will be young.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The team bids farewell to Greg Paulus, who set single-season school records for completions (193) and completion percentage (.667) but returns redshirt freshman Ryan Nassib, who played in nine games and saw his role increase as the season progressed. Charley Loeb, who redshirted and impressed the staff with his play on the scout team, will offer competition in the spring, and incoming recruits John Kinder and Jonny Miller will get a long look when they arrive in August. The team is in great shape at tailback with 1,000-yard rusher Delone Carter, dual-purpose back Antwon Bailey (4.7 yards per carry) and Averin Collier back. The experience and talent here may tempt Marrone to ask Mike Jones, the fourth back in the equation, to move to slot receiver. Mike Williams is gone, leaving a void when it comes to a physical, athletic wideout who can beat press coverage and get open deep.
Syracuse also loses Lavar Lobdell, who accepted his role as mostly a blocker this season with grace, and the feeling here is Donte Davis (24 receptions) will take his degree and depart even though he has another season of eligibility left.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The loss of nose tackle Arthur Jones is huge. That noted, the team returns three players at defensive tackle in Bud Tribbey, Anthony Perkins and Andrew Lewis, and Marrone hopes Cory Boatman (6-2, 256) can bulk up enough to join the rotation. If Jared Kimmel can return from his third knee surgery since arriving on campus four years ago, the Orange will return five defensive ends who gained solid game experience during the season. The outlook here is encouraging, although depth inside is a question mark. Depth will remain a big issue at linebacker, but all three starters from the most improved unit on the team are back and all should be much more comfortable after a season of playing a new position. Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue blossomed into stars as the season progressed, and E.J. Carter showed signs of joining them toward the end. Overall, this is the best trio of linebackers Syracuse has fielded in a long time.
Safety should be in great shape next season with the return of Mike Holmes, Max Suter and Shamarko Thomas, who started at three positions (strong safety, cornerback and outside linebacker) as a true freshman and is another youngster who has playmaker written all over him. Randy McKinnon, who saw time at nickel back toward the end of the season, also has another year of eligibility.
Cornerback is a different story. Look for Nico Scott, who lost his starting position late in the season and has earned his degree, to move on. True freshman Phillip Thomas, who started the final three games of the season and intercepted two passes, has plenty of potential.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: On special teams, the Orange returns punter Rob Long, who Marrone feels could compete for national honors this season, long-snapper Max Leo, and sophomore kicker Ryan Lichtenstein.
LB Marquis Spruill -- He's the Orange's highest rated recruit in the Class of 2010 and the only four-star signee. Spruill enrolled in January and will participate in spring drills. He recorded 110 tackles as a senior.
DE Max Beaulieu -- Beaulieu could get a chance to play immediately because of his speed and quickness. He enrolled in January and will participate in spring drills. A Miami Herald All-Broward County second-team selection, Beaulieu recorded 32 tackles with 12 tackles for loss and five sacks as a senior.
RB Dom Timbers -- The Orange backfield just got a little deeper. Timbers was selected to the prestigious Big 33 All-Star Game. He led Woodland High School to the 2009 WPIAL Championship as a senior and was named to the 2009 Tribune Review Elite 25 Team. In 2009, he rushed for 1,414 yards on 211 carries and scored 25 touchdowns. The Orange is shifting to a more run oriented offense, and the signing of Timbers is a big move.
--The Orange got a scare on the first series of plays in the second half of the spring game scrimmage. After running back Antwon Bailey scored on a one-yard run to cap a five-play, 40-yard drive, senior linebacker Doug Hogue stayed down on the Carrier Dome turf. The outside linebacker was helped off the field, limping, and didn't return to action. But he was soon seen up on the sidelines and looked capable of returning to the field had it been a real game.
--Marrone suspended running back Delone Carter, linebacker Ryan Gillum and defensive end Torrey Ball from the spring game. A brief statement from the Syracuse athletics department said the three were suspended for the remainder of spring practice for a violation of team rules. Marrone was not available to comment on what the violations were, but two of the players, Carter and Gillum, were taken downtown Wednesday afternoon by Syracuse Police detectives and questioned at length about an incident in which another student was punched in connection with a snowball-throwing incident. Carter, the team's leading rusher in 2009 and expected to be one of the main offensive threats this season, was later charged with misdemeanor assault and given an appearance ticket for City Court.
Gillum, a junior who had been working all spring with the first-team defense, was not charged in connection with the Feb. 27 incident. Ball, a junior, has played behind Chandler Jones at defensive end. It wasn't clear why he was suspended.
--Defensive tackle Ollie Haney sat out the final three spring practice sessions, due to the lingering effects of a concussion he suffered in practice. Haney, who hasn't practiced since being injured, had experienced post-concussive symptoms through the end of last week. Though his symptoms have cleared, he will be kept from further spring practice due to the length of his post-concussive symptoms and his history of a prior concussion in August, 2008.
Previous Report: 04/28/2010