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Marrone’s Baby: ESPN Ranks Syracuse Offensive Line Best in Big East

When Doug Marrone took over Syracuse football, he was billed as a no-nonsense coach who would instill a toughness in the team that was lacking for years under Greg Robinson. Rebuilding the interior strength of the ‘Cuse was considered one of the most immediate priorities to turn the Orange back into winners. Heading into Year 3 of the Marrone Era, The Dougie seems to have done just that.

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The Syracuse offensive line exceeded expectations in ’10 after coming into the season as an inexperienced question mark. This year the Orange O-Line is ranked by ESPN as the top unit in the Big East, adding to an increasing amount of national spotlight being shone on Central New York.

“The Orange have four returning starters, including two seniors. You have Justin Pugh, who made second-team All-Big East last year as a freshman. You have a more mature and experienced unit than the one last year, which had to replace four starters. There also is depth to have a nice eight-man rotation. The concern is at center, where Macky MacPherson is undersized. Actually, when you look at the entire group, it is undersized. Andrew Tiller is the only one who tips the scales at more than 300 pounds.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Marrone has been able to turn SU’s line play around so quickly since it is his expertise. The Dougie was a three-year starter on the offensive line during his playing days at Syracuse and made a brief NFL career out of banging heads with the big guys. Before becoming the Offensive Coordinator for Sean Payton’s Saints, Marrone spent four years as on offensive line coach in college, and served as the O-Line coach for the New York Jets from ’02-’05.

Marrone has used that expertise to make the Orange significantly tougher up front. With a ground-first attack, a dominant offensive line is required. SU also hopes to have a more explosive offense this season and it all starts in the trenches. For the attention given to skill players like Ryan Nassib, Antwon Bailey and Van Chew this offseason, the Syracuse offense may go as far in ’11 as the big guys up front can carry it.

Not only does the Orange have a formidable frontline heading into this season, but Marrone has made sure it’s a strength for the program into the future. SU is projected to start three underclassmen on the offensive front this year (Pugh, MacPherson, Zach Chibane), and this summer’s recruiting effort has emphasized bringing in depth on the O-Line and infusing the defensive front seven with young talent.

Commits like Jason Emerich, James Washington, LeRoy Owens, and several others promise to bring that Marrone-brand toughness to future Orange teams. SU has gotten commitments from four offensive lineman and seven defensive front seven players so far in the ’12 class.

Marrone’s plan is ahead of schedule at SU with a bowl victory in Year 2, and the Orange now looks poised to compete for a Big East title behind the strength of its O-Line. The Dougie is building a winner in Central New York the best way he knows how – from the inside out.

Posted: Steve Niekam

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