Syracuse spring football clouded in secrecy
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - Syracuse coach Doug Marrone has gone from being dubbed the friendliest football coach in America to a virtual recluse as the Orange near the conclusion of spring practice.
With less than two weeks until the annual spring game, Marrone has given fans and media just one opportunity to see the team, and that was Saturday at Sahlen's Stadium in Rochester - a 90-minute drive from the Carrier Dome.
And only Marrone answered questions.
"I don't look at it as closed or trying to hide anything,'' Marrone said. "We were just trying to figure out for ourselves exactly what we wanted to be doing before we took it out to the public.''
The start of Marrone's fourth year at his alma mater probably isn't what he or anybody else around here envisioned after a banner second year in which the Orange finished 8-5 and won their first bowl in a decade.
But after a strong start to the 2011 season, the team self-destructed with a five-game losing streak, finished at 5-7, and stayed home during bowl season.
That's an environment that increases the already significant pressure on Marrone. He has several key positions to be filled and a boatload of injuries and academic issues to deal with. In fact, the team only brought about 65 players to Saturday's scrimmage.
"It has helped our focus,'' Marrone said.
Several hundred fans attended the workout as the team went back for the second straight year to show appreciation for its fan base in Rochester. If they came to see freshman quarterback Ashton Broyld, a former star from the Rochester suburbs, they only had a brief glimpse. He was in on just four plays of an 80-play controlled scrimmage - two at quarterback and two at running back.
Marrone is tweaking the offense to get the quarterback more involved in the run game. That's reminiscent of the freeze-option days of Don McPherson, Marvin Graves and Donovan McNabb, who led the Orange to nine bowls in the 1980s and `90s under the tutelage of offensive coordinator George DeLeone.
"He's trying to battle his way up the depth chart,'' Marrone said of Broyld, who spent last season at Milford Academy. "He's a playmaker. From the player we recruited to the player we have now, I've seen outstanding growth.''
Returning starter Ryan Nassib took most of the snaps at quarterback, with Charley Loeb and John Kinder also getting playing time under center.
Tailbacks Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley each scored touchdowns, as did receivers Marcus Sales and Jeremiah Kobena. There are big holes to fill after the departure of running back Antwon Bailey, tight end Nick Provo, and wideouts Van Chew and Dorian Graham.
"We probably have broken more (long) runs than we have in the past this spring,'' Marrone said.
Sales surprised, as well. Fifteen months after catching three touchdown passes in a two-point win over Kansas State in the Pinstripe Bowl, he scored twice in his first action since being suspended from the team last summer. He scored the first touchdown of the scrimmage on a quick out route and snatched a low pass on a slant for another score.
Sales did not play in 2011 after being arrested with his older brother on drug possession charges last July. The charges against Sales were dropped in October and he rejoined the team after the season.
"He's had a very good camp,'' Marrone said. "We're very excited about the way he's playing.''
Defensively, the departure of Kevyn Scott and Phillip Thomas has opened competition in the secondary. Sophomores Shu Mungwa and Durell Eskridge and junior Jeremi Wilkes split time at safety opposite returning starter Shamarko Thomas, while sophomores Ritchy Desir and Brandon Reddish took reps at cornerback. Mungwa was injured in 2011.
On the defensive line, senior Deon Goggins recorded a sack and a forced fumble early in the scrimmage and promises to be a key cog in the unit. The Orange have to replace the two starting defensive ends from last year - Chandler Jones and Mikhail Marinovich - and Goggins likely will see time at more than one position after playing nose tackle last season.
The spring game is April 21 in the Carrier Dome.