2012 Syracuse Preview - Offense
Syracuse WR Alec Lemon
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Syracuse Orange Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Head coach Doug Marrone wants a power running to be a part of his offense’s identity, but leading into the summer, he’ll have more weapons in the passing game. The Orange has a seasoned veteran, Ryan Nassib, behind center, and an underrated collection of pass-catchers. Big-play Marcus Sales returns after sitting out all of 2011, joining Alec Lemon, who caught a team-high 68 balls for 834 yards and six touchdowns last fall. Syracuse might need to air it out a little more than usual now that 1,000-yard rusher Antwon Bailey has graduated. Jerome Smith has nudged ahead in an uninspired battle at the running back position that could bleed into August. Explosive rookie Ashton Broyld, who arrived on campus as a quarterback, could be used in some Wildcat packages in an attempt to light a fire under the ground game. In the trenches, the Orange is staring at a tale of two competencies. To the left of C Macky MacPherson, the offensive line returns a pair of starters, G Zach Chibane and T Justin Pugh, a two-time All-Big East pick. To MacPherson’s right, though, there are question marks. G Ivan Foy and T Lou Alexander are the frontrunners to be in the opening day lineup, but have a long way to go before earning the staff’s confidence.
Star of the offense: Junior LT Justin Pugh
Passing: Ryan Nassib
259-415, 2,685 yds, 22 TDs, 9 INT
Rushing: Jerome Smith
37 carries, 134 yds, 1 TD
Receiving: Alec Lemon
68 catches, 834 yds, 6 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore RB Jerome Smith
Unsung star on the rise: Junior TE Beckett Wales
Best pro prospect: Pugh
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Pugh, 2) Senior WR Alec Lemon, 3) Nassib
Strength of the offense: Veteran quarterback, receivers, left side of the line, protecting the ball
Weakness of the offense: The running backs, right side of the line, lack of big plays, red-zone scoring
Back for his third and final season as the Orange starter is 6-2, 229-pound senior Ryan Nassib, a steady presence in the offensive huddle. More of a game manager than a big-play guy, he won’t generate a lot of big plays, yet won’t kill his team with poor decisions either. He made positive strides a year ago, setting a smattering of school records by going 259-of-415 for 2,685 yards, 22 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. Nassib has a firm grasp of the offense, and his role within in it, and is particularly accurate on short and intermediate routes.
Providing a safety net for Nassib is 6-4, 212-pound junior Charley Loeb, a left-handed pocket passer. Aside from being the holder on field goals and extra points, he has seen the field sparingly throughout his career, completing 3-of-5 field goal attempts for 41 yards. If he’s behind center in 2012, it either means Nassib is injured, or the game is a blowout.
Watch Out For … Nassib to take another step forward in his progression. All signs point to a solid finale for the senior, who does a lot of things well, even if he doesn’t get the credit. He’s been in the system for many years, has earned the respect of his teammates and will be flanked by a quality contingency of pass-catchers.
Strength: Senior leadership. The Orange has not only a returning starter, but a fifth-year senior who has been the man behind center since the 2010 opener. Nassib is a poised leader of the offense, who won’t easily become flustered or crack under the pressure of a close game in the fourth quarter. He’s the proverbial coach on the field, helping make those around him better.
Weakness: Proven depth. While Syracuse is comfortable with its man at the controls, can it survive an injury to Nassib? The downside of the senior’s durability is that no one else on the roster attempted more than a single pass in 2011. If Loeb, sophomore John Kinder or redshirt freshman Terrell Hunt is forced into action, it’ll be a huge problem for the Orange offense.
Outlook: Fans will gripe because Nassib isn’t the sexiest quarterback on the East Coast, but Syracuse could do a lot worse than No. 12. He’s a very reliable veteran who will put his team in a position to win games. He limits mistakes, knows his place in the offense and is an ace in the red zone. Orange fans may be reluctant to accept it, but Nassib is the program’s best quarterback since Donovan McNabb roamed Upstate more than a decade ago.
Unit Rating: 7
The Orange are in a tough spot in the backfield, with no obvious successor to 1,000-yard back Antwon Bailey. The favorite exiting spring was 5-11, 213-pound sophomore Jerome Smith, a north-south power who possesses the upper body strength to carry tacklers on his back for additional yards. He’ll be at his best working between the tackles and in short-yardage situations, lowering his head before lowering the boom. Smith got a taste of action a year ago, touching the ball 37 times for 134 yards and a memorable touchdown run versus Pitt.
The backup figures to be 5-9, 181-pound junior Prince-Tyson Gulley, lightning to Smith’s thunder. He has the most wiggle among the backs, and is tough to trap in space. After missing the back end of the 2011 season to a collarbone injury, he’s itching to become more than just a dangerous return man.
Although the aptly-named Adonis Ameen-Moore missed spring practice to recover from last fall’s surgery, the staff remains optimistic about his future. The 5-11, 244-pounder runs as if he’s channeling his inner Jerome Bettis, barreling through arm tackles for extra yards.
Sophomore Clay Cleveland, a stout 6-0, 236-pounder, has gained control of the fullback job, which will require him to plenty of blocking without ever touching the ball.
Watch Out For … the whereabouts of rookie Ashton Broyld. The Orange is absolutely giddy about the potential of its 6-4, 229-pound athlete, who will do more multi-tasking than the equipment manager. He can pass, he can run and he can even catch the ball, which will force the staff to invent new ways to employ unique athletic skill set.
Strength: Power. In Smith, Syracuse believes it has a Delone Carter-type back who will keep the chains moving, and wear down opposing defenses in the second half of games. While not a gamebreaker, he possesses many of the workhorse, blue-collar quality that this offense looks for in a feature back.
Weakness: A sure-thing. Okay, so the staff is eager to see what Smith can do with 20-25 carries every weekend, but it still has no idea how the sophomore is going to perform with the weight of the ground game resting on his shoulders. And after No. 45, absolutely no one on the roster has played meaningful minutes on offense.
Outlook: Yeah, the Orange has done a solid job of developing backs during Doug Marrone’s tenure, but the upcoming season presents a tougher-than-normal challenge. The backfield houses a collection of unknowns, and very little overall experience. Now, Smith or even Ameen-Moore could wind up being exactly what the offense is seeking, but that subject is a mystery that won’t begin being answered until September.
Unit Rating: 6
The program has cautious optimism that it could house one of the Big East’s most dangerous corps of receivers. The big news at wide receiver is that 6-0, 183-pound senior Marcus Sales, the starter at “Z”, is back after sitting out all of 2011 to navigate off-field issues. When last seen, he was carrying a massive head of steam into the 2010 offseason, catching 21 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns, all in the Pinstripe Bowl, in just four games. The former top recruit, with the big-play ability, has lacked consistency throughout his career, leaving him with one year to put it all together.
The Orange’s top receiver is 6-2, 202-pound senior Alec Lemon, a Second Team All-Big East performer a year ago. After scratching the surface of his potential in 2010, the starter at “X” caught a single-season school-record 68 passes for 834 yards and six touchdowns, becoming Ryan Nassib’s security blanket. He’s more of a possession receiver when compared to Sales, running crisp routes, finding the soft spots in defenses and rarely allowing a catchable ball hit the ground. Lemon has evolved nicely into one of the league’s best receivers.
The program is eager to get back Sales’ caddy, 6-2, 204-pound sophomore Jarrod West, back from an injury that kept him out of the spring. The likely successor at “Z” is a fine possession receiver, catching 16 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown in 2011.
Behind Lemon is exciting sophomore Jeremiah Kobena, one of just 10 true freshmen to play a year ago. He provides an exciting infusion of speed and acceleration with which to stretch a defense. After playing mostly on special teams, he’ll be used as an offensive weapon in the fall.
The passing game will miss sure-handed Nick Provo at “Y” or tight end. His successor appears to be 6-3, 253-pound junior Beckett Wales, a two-time letterwinner just itching for more reps. He has nine career catches for 62 yards, starting a game in 2011, and soft enough hands to entice Nassib to look in his direction. Provided he can fend off four-star gem Ron Thompson, Wales is poised for a productive season.
Watch Out For … Sales’ ability to pick up where he left off in December of 2010. It’s been a long time since the senior has absorbed contact, and the program is eager to find out if his fast finish was a fluke, or the start of a furious finish that earns him looks from NFL scouts.
Strength: The one-two punch. If Sales is the genuine article, his long ball hitting combined with the singles and doubles of Lemon will make the Orange a formidable passing game. The program will really be capable of challenging opposing secondaries on the outside, opening up the middle of the field for the tight ends.
Weakness: Durability and consistency. The wide receivers and tight ends need to prove that they can deliver on a weekly basis, and remain off the shelf for the better part of the year. This is a promising collection of athletes, but you won’t know it if they’re dropping passing or in the trainer’s room.
Outlook: Depth is an issue, and a talented tight end must be replaced, but Syracuse remains optimistic about its potential at receiver heading into 2012. The combination of Lemon and Sales could give the team a pair of 50-catch seniors for opposing defensive backfields to handle. The development of Wales bears watching, since the Orange like to use the “Y” with such regularity.
Unit Rating: 7
Sound the warning sirens. The Orange O-line could be in serious danger this fall. The entire right side of the lien needs to be retooled from a group that labored to run and pass block consistently in 2011. The beacon of hope in the trenches will once be 6-6, 292-pound junior Justin Pugh, a two-time All-Big East performer at left tackle. While he continues to pack on weight and add muscle, he hasn’t lost the light feet or lateral quickness that first helped earned him a scholarship. He’s the total package in a tackle, nuancing outstanding leverage and technical skills with a complete grasp of the Syracuse offense that allows him to play fast at all times.
Next to Pugh at left guard will be Zack Chibane, a sturdy force entering his third year in the starting lineup. The 6-5, 293-pound ex-high school wrestler does his best work in tight quarters, using heavy hands to redirect the path of an oncoming pass rusher.
Back in the middle for a second straight year is 6-2, 269-pound junior Macky MacPherson, the grandson of Syracuse coaching legend Dick MacPherson. He’s heady and very quick off the snap, but gives away a lot of weight to opposing defensive tackles, a major problem at times during the 2011 season.
The right side of the line is the site of plenty of consternation among the coaches. At guard, 6-4, 318-pound redshirt freshman Ivan Foy took advantage of the injuries around him to move to the top of the depth chart. He’s a powerful run blocker from Brooklyn, but obviously has no game experience at this level.
For now, right tackle belongs to 6-4, 331-pound junior Lou Alexander, the second-year transfer from the College of the Canyons (Calif.). He was unable to make it into the rotation last season, but played well enough in the spring to work with the first team. Among other things, he needs to keep his weight down in order to remain in the lineup.
Watch Out For … the competition to rage throughout the summer. The Orange had a number of blockers, like G Rob Trudo and T Sean Hickey, sit out the spring, but are expected back in the summer. Particularly to the right of MacPherson, the staff is keeping a very open mind about its two-deep rotation.
Strength: The left side. Pugh is going to play in the NFL someday, and Chibane knows his way around the starting lineup. The tackle and guard, respectively, are the cornerstones of the line, the side of which most running plays will be run.
Weakness: The right side. It’s a good thing QB Ryan Nassib isn’t a lefty, or else he’d really need to keep his head on a swivel. The projected starters at right guard and right tackle have absolutely no experience at this level, and haven’t exactly wowed the coaching staff with their play in the offseason.
Outlook: The offensive line was supposed to exceed expectations last fall, but wound up underachieving. Now that the right side is getting a facelift, there’s reason to worry that the unit could sink a little lower in 2012. Pugh is a bona fide star, and arguably the offense’s best player, but he’ll need to be more than a one-man fortress at left tackle if the Orange is going to manage some of the Big East’s better defensive fronts.
Unit Rating: 6
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