2009 Syracuse Preview - Offense
Syracuse C Jim McKenzie
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Syracuse Orange Offense
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What you need to know:
It’s been a little over a decade since
Donovan McNabb left the Carrier Dome. To Syracuse fans, it feels
more like a century. The program hasn’t had a competent
quarterback since, parading out a sea of mediocrity that
includes names, like Perry Patterson, Troy Nunes, and R.J.
Anderson. The new face looking to change the trend of futility
is redshirt freshman Ryan Nassib, who was installed as the
favorite during spring. While no one is expecting a McNabb
reincarnation, new coordinator Rob Spence will ask his
quarterback to make a lot more plays than his predecessors. Of
course, Nassib will face more competition in the summer from a
pair of seniors, incumbent Cameron Dantley and former Duke point
guard Greg Paulus. Whoever gets the ball can take comfort in the
return of WR Mike Williams, one of the Big East’s best, who sat
out the 2008 season. Progress by the league’s worst offense will
also require improved blocking from a young and beleaguered
Star of the
Junior WR Mike Williams
Passing: Cameron Dantley
121-251, 1,298 yds, 11 TD, 5 INT
Rushing: Doug Hogue
35 carries, 232 yds, 2 TD
Receiving: Donte Davis
29 catches, 312 yds, 2 TD
Player who has to step up and become a star: Redshirt
freshman QB Ryan Nassib
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Antwon Bailey
Best pro prospect: Williams
Top three all-star candidates: 1)Williams, TE Mike Owen,
3) C Jim McKenzie
Strength of the offense: Running Game, Receivers
Weakness of the offense: Quarterback Efficiency, Pass
With a new staff often come some surprises in the depth chart.
Witness 6-3, 216-pound redshirt freshman
Ryan Nassib, who went
from a third-stringer before spring to the top of the heap
before the 15-practice session had concluded. Naturally, a lack
of experience will be an issue if he holds on to the job, but
the staff has been impressed with his poise, fundamentals, and
grasp of the offense. He moves well in the pocket, has a quick
release, and throws with accuracy. His rapid rise pushed a pair
of veterans to tight end, so obviously the staff sees something.
Projected Top Reserves:
Lurking just behind Nassib is last year’s starter, 6-1,
218-pound senior Cameron
Dantley. A former walk-on, who’s done far more than anyone
expected, he’s the most experienced contender, but has limited
upside as a reliable pocket passer. A nimble athlete, with a
strong arm, he went just 121-of-251 for 1,298 yards, 11
touchdowns, and five picks. His best value to the Orange is as a
veteran coming off the bench.
Arguably the most
intriguing No. 3 quarterback this summer will be 6-1, 185-pound
senior Greg Paulus.
Yup, that’s the same Paulus, who spent the last four years as a
point guard with the Duke basketball team. With a year of
eligibility remaining, he’s returning close to home and trying
to recapture the form that made him a Gatorade National High
School Player of the Year. He’s taking this venture seriously,
spending time in June watching Drew Brees of the New Orleans
Saints run through drills.
Out For… Doug Marrone to go with whoever gives him the
best chance to win. Sounds obvious, right? The new head coach
has made it clear that he’s not rebuilding and plans to go with
the guy who’s most ready to produce. In other words, being a
senior or a freshman is neither an edge nor a disadvantage.
Poise. Yeah, the leader in the clubhouse is a second-year
freshman, but his two closest competitors are seniors, who’ve
played in front of a bunch of large audiences. While that means
arenas and field houses for Paulus, he’s still going to bring a
veteran presence to the roster.
Proven passers. The Orange was 113th nationally in
passing efficiency for a reason last year. The stable of
quarterbacks aren’t particularly talented. Dantley had a big
hand in those paltry numbers. Nassib has proven nothing outside
of the practice field. And Paulus hasn’t lined up behind center
in more than four years. That’s not exactly a recipe for a
This ought to be a very compelling race in the summer. While
Marrone wants his first team to be competitive, he’d also like
to put his stamp on the program. Unless Paulus winds up being
head-and-shoulders better, Nassib will be tough to beat. All
things being relatively equal, it makes more sense to get the
freshmen reps in the system instead of a kid, who’ll be out of
eligibility in six months.
Starters: Much like the situation at quarterback, the
new looks ready to go unconventional in its choice to replace
1,000-yard rusher Curtis Brinkley. A backup in March, 5-8,
Antwon Bailey has risen to the top of the depth chart. He
provided a spark late in his rookie season, especially in the
upset of Notre Dame, finishing with 221 yards and two scores on
33 carries. A tough, lightning-quick runner, he uses his
diminutive stature as a weapon, hiding behind blockers and
gaining leverage on would-be tacklers.
Not only is
Brinkley gone, but so is his talented lead blocker Tony
Fiammetta, now a member of the Carolina Panthers. Taking over
for him at fullback will be 6-0, 240-pound senior, a blue-collar
product of Cayuga (NY) Community College. He failed to get on
the field in his first season, learning instead on the scout
Top Reserves: The man Bailey is edging out at this point
is 5-10, 214-pound junior
Delone Carter, a former budding star before dislocating his
hip and sitting out the entire 2007 season. He returned last
fall, but didn’t have the same pop, managing just 23 carries for
137 yards. The hope is that he can recapture the combination of
power and speed that helped him earn Mr. Ohio Football in 2005
and rush for 713
yards and four scores in 2006.
Running a close third is
5-10, 200-pound redshirt freshman
Averin Collier, one of the school’s choice recruits of the 2008
class. A tough, physical runner, with a little shake-and-bake,
his development was hampered by a small fracture in his left
foot, which kept him from avoiding the year off. Healthy again,
he’s determined to get right back in the mix.
Watch Out For…
all three of the top backs to get a crack at snaps this season.
The coaching staff plans to use Bailey and Carter, in
particular, even looking to get the two on the field at the same
time. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if, unlike last season, more
than one back logs at least 100 carries.
Between-the-tackles runners. Bailey, Carter, and Collier all
have the motors and strong lower bodies to pick up yards after
contact and churn through arm tackles. If they can ever get more
support from the blockers, this trio will be dynamite in short
Weakness: Playmakers. Bailey has some flash, but will it
be enough to strike fear into opposing defenses? Last season’s
two biggest runs came from Doug Hogue and Fiammetta,
respectively. The latter is now in the NFL and the former is
playing linebacker. On this team, you’ve got to be able to make
your own yards and provide your own electricity.
Bailey and Collier, the Orange has a couple of young runners
that an offense can be built around for the next two or three
years. If they can make a quantum leap from a year ago and
Carter recaptures some of his 2006 form, Syracuse will have the
starting ingredients of a decent ground game.
Starters: While the Orange has had plenty of offseason
defections, there was one noteworthy return that’ll have a huge
impact on the offense. Junior
Mike Williams is back in Upstate New York after spending last season
taking classes at Springfield (Mass.) Technical Community
College. One of the Big East’s premier receivers, he carries
into the season a nine-game streak with a touchdown catch,
longest among active players. When last seen, he was making 60
grabs for 837 yards and 10 touchdowns, using his 6-2, 204-pound
frame and good hops to get position on defenders.
While Williams will be the “X” receiver, 6-0,
Marcus Sales has been elevated to the top of the depth chart
at “Z”. One of the team’s top recruits from 2008, he’s a fluid,
lanky receiver, with the big hands to pluck the ball out of the
air. He caught 14 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown last
season, setting the stage for a productive career.
the Orange goes to three-wide sets, 6-0, 173-pound junior
Donte Davis will be
the primary guy out of the slot or “A” receiver. Last year’s
leading pass-catcher with 29 grabs for 312 yards and two
touchdowns, he’s one of the fastest players on the team and
fundamentally sound, combining soft hands with tight
Mike Owen has carved
out a nice career as a tight end the last two seasons. A
powerful 6-4, 251-pound senior, he’ll support the run game as a
blocker and provide a safety valve to the quarterbacks. As an
11-game starter last year, he finished second on the team with
19 receptions for 175 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Projected Top Reserves:
Battling Sales for playing time at “Z” will be 6-1, 185-pound
junior Da’Mon Merkerson,
who shifted from “A” in the spring. Bouncing between cornerback
and wide receiver since arriving, he’s had a hard time gaining a
foothold at either position. A year ago, the versatile playmaker
had 15 tackles on defense and six catches for 95 yards and a
score on offense.
Merkerson’s relo opened a spot for 6-1,
165-pound sophomore Van
Chew to move into the No. 2 spot in the slot behind Davis. A
silky smooth athlete, with the size to play above defensive
backs, he’ll need to add weight in order to avoid getting jammed
and stood up at the line of scrimmage. One of eight true
freshmen to play a year ago, he contributed on special teams and
caught four passes for 56 yards and a score.
version of an H-back will be handled by 6-4, 232-pound sophomore
Nick Provo. While his
size will prevent him from being a prototypical tight end, he
has the hands and the quickness to develop into a valuable
weapon in the passing game in the new offense.
Watch Out For…
the tight end option. Does such a play exist? It might after the
Orange shifted a pair of quarterbacks, senior
Andrew Robinson and
sophomore Cody Catalina
to tight end before the start of spring practice. Both have
decent size, and in the case of Catalina, enough athletic
ability to be slotted just behind Provo at “U” receiver.
Williams. His absence was painfully apparent last season. Now
that he’s back with the program, the Orange once again has a
go-to receiver, who’ll open up the field for the other
receivers. He’s got a knack for making everyone better,
including whichever quarterback gets the nod for the opener.
Proven wideouts other than Williams. If opposing defenses double
No. 1, is there anyone who’ll make them pay for that strategy?
Davis is good, but has yet to look like a gamebreaker. And while
Sales , Merkerson, and Chew have considerable upside, all three
still have a lot to prove this fall.
Occasionally, one player can make all the difference to a unit.
Assuming he can shake off a little rust, Williams is one of
those players, able to put up numbers despite getting
questionable help from his quarterbacks. He’s a given, but for
the corps to go from decent to dangerous, it needs someone else
to step up and produce.
Starters: Oh, the humanity. Maybe more than any other
position this decade, the offensive line has been responsible
for the Syracuse swoon. It hasn’t been BCS conference-worthy for
years, and this year should be no different. While there’s no
star power or sure-fire all-leaguers, 6-4, 286-pound junior
Jim McKenzie does
provide some of the most stability and reliability at the pivot.
A two-year starter and arguably the smartest player on the team,
he does a good job of calling out signals and directing the rest
of his teammates. With a couple more like McKenzie, this would
be a very different unit.
To the left of McKenzie at
guard will be 6-3, 290-pound junior
Ryan Bartholomew, who
started all 10 of the games he played last season. A physical
blocker, with heavy hands, he was one of the reasons the Orange
was able to produce a 1,000-yard rusher in 2008. He’s also the
strongest of the offensive linemen, consistently producing the
best weight room numbers in the offseason.
at right guard coming out of spring was 6-6, 303-pound junior
Adam Rosner, who was
a second team left guard when the 15-practice session began. An
important recruit for the program in 2006, he hasn’t quite
panned out yet, failing to crack the starting lineup. He’s got
the right size and strength, and now it looks as if he’ll get
the opportunity as well.
The veteran among the tackles is
6-5, 307-pound junior Tucker Baumbach, a starter in every game last season. Yes, he’s
still very raw in his technique, but just halfway through his
career, he’s shown the potential to be the school’s best pass
protector. An improved conditioning program has helped his
footwork, and he has the long arms needed to seal off edge
The least experienced—and most scrutinized—of
the offensive linemen will be 6-5, 307-pound redshirt freshman
Nick Speller. He sure
looks the part and has the staff excited about his future, but
he’s also going to get schooled at times by some of the Big
East’s best pass rushers. After getting a little bigger and a
lot wiser in his first season on campus, he’s poised to lift the
lid on a promising career.
Reserves: In the event that Speller isn’t ready, 6-5,
305-pound junior Jonathan Meldrum will be there to provide an insurance policy. A
two-time letterwinner, he’s played in 19 career games on offense
and special teams. The favorite to win the job become camp
opened, he failed to hold on and could have trouble mounting a
challenge in the summer.
Nick Lepak brings
experience, versatility, and power to the second unit. The 6-4,
318-pounder played in nine games as a true freshman, starting a
pair of games at tackle. This season, he started as a guard, but
has since moved behind McKenzie at center, meaning he can
basically play anywhere on the line.b style="mso-bidi-font-weight:
Watch Out For…
the newcomers. Like it or not, the Orange must elevate some true
freshmen into the two-deep once they arrive, signs of serious
depth issues. Coming out of spring, it didn’t have a single
returning player at guard beyond the starters, creating
opportunities for guys, like 6-4, 275-pound rookie
Run blocking. Much-maligned before the season began, this group
did a better than expected job of opening holes for Curtis
Brinkley and the rest of the backs. The Orange finished a
respectable 55th nationally on the ground, its best
output running the ball in years.
protection. While the Orange stepped up in run blocking, it
remained AWL in pass protection, once again allowing a whopping
number of sacks. The unit might be a little tighter on the
interior, but with a rookie at left tackle, it’s still going to
be vulnerable to edge rushers.
there were baby steps a year ago, but this remains a
questionable offensive line that’s going to get paddled by
quality front fours. Plus, the Orange better hope that there are
no injuries because the second team figures to be a ragtag bunch
with precious little experience.