2013 Syracuse Preview - Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Syracuse Orange Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Former Miami wide receivers coach George McDonald is assuming control of an offense with one central goal this offseason—finding a replacement for All-Big East QB Ryan Nassib. There are two distinct choices for the staff, athletic sophomore Terrel Hunt, the leader exiting spring, and Oklahoma import Drew Allen, the former coveted pocket passer recruit who joins the fray in August. While Syracuse wants what most offenses seek, balance, the focus will clearly be on the running game, especially in the early going. The Orange boasts what could be the ACC's best backfield duo, powerful Jerome Smith and shifty Prince-Tyson Gulley, which combined for 2,001 rushing yards in 2012. Otherwise, don't expect to see too much pop or star power out of this blue-collar offensive attack. The heart-and-soul of the unit will be senior C Macky MacPherson, who along with LT Sean Hickey, are Syracuse's all-league contenders up front.
Star of the offense: Junior RB Jerome Smith
Passing: Charley Loeb
1-1, 8 yds, 0 TDs, 0 INTs
Rushing: Jerome Smith
227 carries, 1,171 yds, 3 TDs
Receiving: Jarrod West
43 catches, 588 yds, 2 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior QB Drew Allen
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LT Sean Hickey
Best pro prospect: Smith
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Smith, 2) Senior C Macky MacPherson, 3) Senior RB Prince-Tyson Gulley
Strength of the offense: Deep backfield, physical receivers, blue-collar O-line
Weakness of the offense: Unproven quarterback, playmaking receivers, O-line depth, turnovers
Syracuse's best quarterback since Donovan McNabb was on campus, Ryan Nassib, has graduated to the NFL. Now what? The Orange spent the offseason auditioning successors, a process that will surely continue throughout the summer. By the close of spring, 6-3, 215-pound Terrel Hunt had risen to the top of the depth chart. The sophomore has yet to attempt a pass, but was the most comfortable of the contenders in the spring. Plus, he's easily the best all-around athlete among the program's quarterbacks.
Lagging behind Hunt during the offseason was journeyman senior Charley Loeb . The 6-4, 220-pound left-handed pocket passer brings game experience into the season, which is a major plus on this team. However, most of Loeb's snaps have come as a holder on field goals and PATs, as he's only attempted six career passes.
Watch Out For … the impact of newcomer Drew Allen. The Orange received an infusion of talent when Allen decided in April to transfer over from Oklahoma. The 6-5, 226-pound San Antonio native was never able to steal reps from Landry Jones, finishing his Sooner career 18-of-30 for 160 yards, no touchdowns and no picks.
Strength: Competition. The Orange quarterbacks have been slugging it out even before spring practice began, each attempting to impress the coaching staff during conditioning drills. The arrival of Allen in August further ensures that the competitive atmosphere is here to stay. The staff is banking on the surroundings and the climate bringing out the best in all of the participants.
Weakness: Reps. Allen is the most seasoned of the Syracuse quarterbacks, and he's been a career reserve … at a different university. Hunt has played well in practice, but he remains green as a pure passer, an evolution that will continue throughout the 2013 campaign. Oh, and where does the leadership come from since Hunt is only a sophomore and Allen has yet to fully acclimate?
Outlook: The falloff from Nassib to whoever starts in 2013 is going to be steep and unavoidable. Maybe Allen is a one-year answer, providing a stopgap until the kids are in a better position to excel. Or maybe Hunt is ready to lead the offense right now. The more likely scenario has Syracuse struggling in the passing game, with Nassib's value to the program growing as the weeks pass.
Unit Rating: 6.5
With change swirling around every aspect of Orange football these days, the program will lean harder than ever on a backfield rich in depth and talent. Junior Jerome Smith evolved into the feature back that the program was seeking last year, carrying the ball 227 times for 1,171 yards and three touchdowns. He's the quintessential north-south runner, piercing the lanes between the tackles, and bouncing off would-be tacklers for additional yards. Syracuse expects the 6-0, 217-pound Smith to pick up where he left off, when he rumbled for more than 100 yards in five of his final seven games.
The new staff will make sure to save a few touches for senior Prince-Tyson Gulley, the perfect complement out of the backfield to Smith. Lightning to Smith's thunder, Gulley is the kind of 5-10, 192-pound athlete who can make people miss in space. Not only did he rush for 830 yards and nine scores on 158 carries off the bench, but he also swung out of the backfield for 33 catches for 282 yards and two more touchdowns. Gulley was one of the stars of the 2012 postseason, torching an overmatched West Virginia D in the snow for 213 yards on the ground and three total touchdowns.
Since Smith and Gulley are seniors, the staff will keep an eye on the future, making sure younger backs get touches in 2013. The best of the lot appears to be 6-0, 200-pound George Morris II. Just a redshirt freshman, he's looked during the offseason as if he'll have feature back potential in 2014. Morris runs with good vision and patience, wasting little energy getting through the hole.
Fullback will once again be the domain of junior Clay Cleveland . The 6-1, 226-pound lead blocker has come a long way since walking on to the program, appearing in 16 games over the last two seasons.
Watch Out For … Smith to find the sledding a whole lot more difficult than he did in 2012. Not only will the schedule in the ACC be much tougher, but the senior is going to receive a whole lot less support now that QB Ryan Nassib, LT Justin Pugh and the team's top two receivers have departed.
Strength: Complementary styles. The combination of Smith and Gulley gives the ground game ideal notes of power and shiftiness with which to challenge opposing defenses. The mere fact that the Orange houses two players capable of sharing the load means that neither figures to get overworked this fall.
Weakness: Explosive plays. To some degree, it's splitting hairs, but the Orange backs can be somewhat methodical and lumbering on the ground, especially when the ball is in the hands of Smith. He's a fine back, who keeps the chains moving, but he'll be caught from behind at times upon breaking into daylight.
Outlook: Syracuse's deepest unit on offense, and maybe the entire team, will be in the backfield. Smith could vie for All-ACC honors in 2013, while Gulley has already proven that he's not the garden variety reserve. Yards, though, will be tougher to come by this fall. The level of competition is heading north, and neither Smith nor Gulley will catch any opponents off guard this season.
Unit Rating: 7.5
This promises to be a very important season for junior Jarrod West, who'll need to dramatically step up his game now that leading receivers Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales have graduated. He did a nice job in the most extensive action of his Orange career, finishing third on the team with 43 grabs for 588 yards and two scores. The hard-working West isn't the kind of receiver who'll turn on the jets and blow through the secondary. Instead, he prefers to use his 6-2, 202-pound frame to gain position on defenders, and to climb the ladder in order to win jump balls.
At the other starting wide receiver spot, 6-3, 201-pound Adrian Flemming has built separation on the rest of the pack. Dogged by injuries throughout his career, the senior has yet to catch a pass at this level. Still, he impressed the coaches in the spring with his physicality, sure-hands and penchant for laying out defenders with clean blocks. Flemming is capable of being one of the offense's biggest surprises in 2013.
Back for a final year at tight end, or "Y" receiver, will be 6-3, 238-pound senior Beckett Wales. He was clutch a year ago, his best season with the program, catching 35 passes for 389 yards and two touchdowns. Wales is a long possession receiver, unafraid of crossing over the middle of the field in order to keep the chains moving. He'll be a reliable target for the unproven quarterbacks in the fall.
Lining up behind West is 6-0, 179-pound junior Jeremiah Kobena, arguably the most dynamic member of the pass-catching unit. He has the speed to be a big-play guy, quickly streaking behind the secondary, but he needs to stay healthy and work on his fundamentals. In a glimpse of his potential, he turned six catches into 146 yards and two touchdowns in 2012. Flemming's understudy for now is 5-11, 162-pound senior Christopher Clark, though his spot in the rotation is not a certainty. The speedy second-year transfer from East Los Angeles (Calif.) Junior College debuted with 11 receptions for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
Watch Out For … the academics of 6-3, 190-pound junior Quinta Funderburk. The much-hyped former four-star recruit of Arkansas had a quiet spring that required him to spend additional time hitting the books. He's buried on the depth chart right now, but the team is hoping that he can gradually work his way into the rotation in the summer.
Strength: Physicality. While the primary receivers won't cause much of a stir with their wheels, they can intimidate with their, strength and penchant for making plays in traffic. The trio of West, Flemming and Wales all weigh at least 200 pounds, which allows them to box out defenders and serve as valuable downfield blockers.
Weakness: Wide receiver depth. West is a worthy starter, but Flemming is hardly a guarantee to go from 0-to-60 overnight. The Orange is going to need a lot of help up and down the roster, or else concerns about depth and overall talent will haunt and derail the passing game throughout the 2013 season.
Outlook: A quarterback of Ryan Nassib's caliber may have been able to elevate this ensemble of wide receivers and tight ends. A newcomer to the huddle is a very different story. The pass-catchers work hard and possess good size, but they lack pop and depth. Far more reliable than flammable, the Orange playmakers are likely to struggle to find space against quality ACC pass defenses.
Unit Rating: 6.5
Of the seven primary blockers to see the field in 2012, four return for another season. No loss will be felt more than LT Justin Pugh, a first-round pick of the New York Giants in April. The new inspirational anchor of the line will be 6-2, 280-pound senior C Macky MacPherson, the grandson of Syracuse coaching legend Dick MacPherson. Very smart and very durable, he's started 25 consecutive games for the Orange. While MacPherson lacks prototypical size, the program loves the intensity and passion he brings to the field every Saturday.
Stepping in for Pugh at left tackle is 6-5, 287-pound Sean Hickey, a starter in all 13 games last season. He actually played left tackle in the first four games, shifting to the right side once Pugh returned from an injury. Hickey does a very nice job of pass protection, employing the footwork needed to slide out and seal off the edge.
Now that Hickey has vacated right tackle, sophomore Ivan Foy is being asked to fill the void. At 6-4 and 318 pounds, he's a powerful blocker capable of bullying his man off the line of scrimmage. However, Foy's four starts form a year ago came at right guard, so he'll have to prove he can neutralize speed rushers without the support of teammates on both of his shoulders.
The veteran of the guards entering 2013 will be 6-3, 285-pound sophomore Rob Trudo, who put down a stable foundation in his first season of action. The left guard played in all 13 games, starting nine for a program that was very successful running the ball. Trudo won't overpower his man, but he uses his hands well, and will continue to improve with experience.
Wrapping up the projected starting lineup is sophomore Nick Robinson. At 6-5 and 281 pounds, he's built more like a tackle in need of more time in the weight room. However, he's staying put at guard for now. Robinson will have a lot to prove this summer and fall, having only appeared on special teams last season.
The second team is flush with redshirt freshmen, such as Kyle Knapp, Omari Palmer and Jason Emerich. The only veteran presence will have to come from senior RT Daniel Anyaegbunam, a walk-on still looking for his first game experience.
Watch Out For … the young backups and newcomers to get a lot of reps during the month of August. The Orange may not get the opportunity to build its rather questionable depth in September, especially with Penn State and Northwestern on the schedule in the first two weeks. Getting the reserves as ready as they possibly can be could pay underrated dividends later in the year.
Strength: Run blocking. Pugh is gone, as are Zack Chibane and Lou Alexander. Still, the Syracuse blockers have been well-coached on the finer points of opening holes for the team's running backs. Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley both averaged more than five yards a carry, and the holdovers in the trenches had a lot to do with that success on the ground.
Weakness: Depth of talent. Syracuse didn't just lose its best blocker, Pugh, to the NFL, it lost a lot depth and veteran leadership as well. It's not so much that the Orange is likely to start three sophomores along the front wall in 2012, something the team can manage. The bigger concern is that not one of the projected second-teamers has earned a letter for the program.
Outlook: Coming off its best season in years, the Syracuse O-line will enter 2013 with the wind stiffly at its back. But will it last? The Orange is suddenly very young around MacPherson and Hickey, with the need to bolster its depth before beginning life in the ACC. While this team should be able to move the ball on the ground, keeping the pocket clean is going to be a chore.
Unit Rating: 6.5
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