SYRACUSE BY POSITION
Ryan Nassib will again be the starter in his final year with the team, and is looking to build on a season in which he set single-season school records in completions (259), passing yards (2,685), and tied the mark for touchdown passes (22). Charley Loeb, a 6-foot-4 senior, should serve as Nassibs primary backup, while junior John Kinder and sophomore Terrel Hunt will be next in line.
For the second straight season, the Orange has to replace a 1,000-yard rusher following the departures of Antwon Bailey (2011) and Delone Carter (2010). Coach Doug Marrone has stopped short of declaring anyone as the feature back, and the team may be headed toward a halfback-by-committee approach this year. Junior Jerome Smith is the top returning rusher and listed as the week one starter. He had a career-high 56 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries in last years season finale against Pittsburgh. Fellow junior Prince Tyson-Gulley, who missed the final eight games because of a broken collar bone last year, is listed as the backup and will get his share of carries. His final game before the injury was a 10-carry, 66-yard performance against Toledo. Freshman Ashton Broyld will get some touches from the halfback position, while also getting some looks at receiver and taking snaps in the wildcat offense.
Nassib has some familiar talent to throw to this season. Senior Alec Lemon, coming off a school-record 68 receptions last season, is healthy after missing spring practice with a shoulder injury. He is just 11 catches shy of becoming Syracuses all-time career leader. Redshirt senior Marcus Sales has returned from a one-year team suspension. Sales broke out in the second half of the 2010 season, and helped the Orange to its first bowl win since 2001 with a 172-yard, three-touchdown game in the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl. Speedy sophomore Jeremiah Kobena will get some action at wide-out this year, after primarily returning kicks a season ago. Coaches were pleased with junior Adrian Flemmings preseason camp, though he suffered an ankle injury during the teams scrimmage at Fort Drum. There is no official word on whether Flemming will be ready for the season opener, but he is expected to have an impact once he gets on the field. Third-year sophomore Jarrod West is another returning receiver that has impressed the coaching staff this preseason. Junior Beckett Wales and redshirt senior David Stevens will lead the tight ends, looking to replace the production of Nick Provo, who graduated in 2011 with the most career receptions by a tight end in school history.
Last years starting left tackle and All-Big East first team selection, Justin Pugh, will meet with doctors early this week to determine if he can start the season opener. The senior missed spring practice due to offseason shoulder surgery, and didnt participate in contact drills this preseason. Junior Sean Hickey would take his spot in the lineup, and could take over at right tackle when Pugh returns. The only other returning starters on the line will be left guard Zack Chibane, who has started all 25 games in the last two seasons, and center Macky MacPherson. Senior Lou Alexander will start the year at right tackle, while redshirt freshman Ivan Foy and sophomore Rob Trudo continue to battle for the starting right guard position.
Hoping to replace the production of 2011 NFL first-round draft pick Chandler Jones, now with the New England Patriots, the Orange is expected to use a six-man rotation at both the tackle and end positions. The top returnees are junior Jay Bromley at tackle (32 tackles, 5 ½ sacks last year) and redshirt-senior Deon Goggins (43 tackles). Goggins started all 12 games at tackle last season, was moved to end this offseason, and has played both positions during preseason camp. He is listed as a starting tackle on the week one depth chart. Sophomore Eric Crume, freshman John Raymon, along with juniors Zian Jones and Davon Walls, should see time at tackle. Senior Brandon Sharpe and junior Markus-Pierce-Brewster are listed as the week one starters at the end spots.Sophomore Donnie Simmons, and juniors Micah Robinson and Robert Welsh, will also see snaps at that position.
Marquis Spruill, an all Big East second-team selection at middle linebacker last season, has moved to the outside and will start at the strong-side linebacker position. Spruill is healthy after missing spring practice due to offseason surgery. He tallied 62 tackles a season ago. Senior Sirikie Diabate will take over as the middle linebacker, while sophomores Dyshawn Davis and Cameron Lynch should split time at the weak-side spot. Redshirt senior Dan Vaughan, who led the team with 72 tackles last season, should see playing time after losing his starting spot to Spruill.
Senior Shamarko Thomas, who was third on the team with 67 tackles last year, is healthy after missing spring practice and will anchor the unit from the strong safety position. Thomas is the only returning starter in the secondary. Sophomore Brandon Reddish and junior RiShard Anderson will take over the starting cornerback positions, and junior Keon Lyn will serve as the third corner. Jeremi Wilkes, who played in all 12 games last year and started five, will start at free safety.
Though hell have an increased role in the offense, Kobena will still be the teams primary kick returner. He gained 1,027 kickoff return yards as a freshman last season, which was the second-highest total in school history. He is already No. 8 on the schools all-time kickoff return yards list. Junior Steven Rene will return punts. Ross Krautman is the place kicker for the third straight season. He tied Gary Andersons single-season school record of 18 field goals in 2010. Jonathan Fisher, who made the ESPN.com Big East All-Freshman Team last season, is back for his second season as the starting punter.
Syracuse was picked to finish next-to-last in the Big East preseason media poll. Its hard to imagine with the talent level, and the chip on its shoulder from last years five-game losing streak to end the season, that the Orange will finish that low. Nassib is an experienced starter at quarterback, and has perhaps his best set of weapons in his three-year term as starter with experienced wide receivers in Lemon and Sales, and young athletes with playmaking potential in Kobena and Flemming. Broyld is a unique asset that should help produce some big plays, wherever he is lined up. There is still some sorting out to do at halfback, and the offensive line needs Pugh back quickly. Defensively, Syracuse is deeper and faster than the group that ranked 64th in the nation and gave up at least 20 points in each of its five losses to end last year. The unit returns seven starters, and more importantly, will open the season with a healthy Thomas and Spruill. The schedule is difficult. Syracuse has one of the nations toughest non-conference slates and road games with three of the Big Easts top four preseason-rated teams. All things considered, the Orange should be able to finish at .500 and earn a bowl berth.
Record 6-6 overall, 4-3 Big East
- Compiled by Times Sportswriter Josh St. Croix