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Ocean State Fizz: Continuing Coverage from Big East Media Day

Marrone on recruiting. Nassib on the Sales situation. Coach P talks about his return to the Big East.

(Updated: 3:05p – Posted: Craig Hoffman) Chan Jones is no stranger to the spotlight. The junior DE has become the team spokesman and Orange fans couldn’t have picked a better candidate. He’s a Fizz Favorite as well, despite the fact that he gave the “company answer” in regards to Marcus Sales’ arrest.

“I’m just hearing about that today actually. I can’t comment on that. I’m just looking forward to the season and hopefully we can have a winning season.”

Jones was huge for SU in the Pinstripe Bowl and even had time to wipe himself down after one big play. He says they may have had too much fun though.

“We had a lot of fun in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl and for it to be a non-BCS bowl game we had too much fun. Just for us to imagine how much fun we would have in a BCS game – we’re just striving hard to get to a BCS bowl game this season.”

Although you couldn’t tell by his performance, Chan was banged up during the spring. He says he’s fine now, though.

“It wasn’t a big injury, it was just my shoulder that was a little tweaked. I reached all my goals in the weight room this summer and I’m just excited to show that on the field this season.”

This summer was huge for Jones as he wants to become the dominant defensive end in the conference. He feels confident in the work he put in to make a somewhat absurd prediction.

“Dwight Freeney came around but I didn’t really get a chance to work out with him. I saw him run through a few drills. The biggest alum that I worked out with was my brother (Ravens’ Arthur Jones). We did a lot together. He spent his whole summer down here working out with me. A lot credit also goes to Coach Douse. He changed my stance up. He got my butt up in to get me into more of a sprinter’s stance. I have a goal that’s pretty bizarre but people don’t believe it but I’m gonna do it – 30 sacks. People say, ‘shoot for the stars and you fall short, you’ll land on the moon’ so 30 sacks is my goal.”

To get anywhere close to half of that in just a 13 game season (assuming SU is again bowl bound), Jones had to get bigger, faster and stronger. Mission accomplished.

“Believe it or not, I’ve put on 20 lbs this summer. Last season I played at 247 lbs. I just weighed in at 267 lbs. Last time I ran the 40, I clocked a 4.75. Just the other day I clocked a 4.7 flat so maybe speed has been added to my game too.”

His job is much harder this year though, because he loses a safety blanket behind him in graduated linebackers Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith. On top of their football contributions, Jones says SU needs to replace their leadership and he’s the one to do it.

“I feel like on the field I need to take more of a leadership role. There was always Derrell back there saying ‘hey, get in your spot’ and I feel like I’ve got to take that position. No disrespect to Marquis Spruill, but he’s still young. He’s only had one year under his belt. It’s up to me and Mikhail to take this defense and move it forward.”

Mikhail is of course the man lining up on the opposite side, defensive end Mikhail Marinovich. Jones says having Marinovich is huge.

“It helps a lot. It’s always good to have another leader. You can have a team full of followers or a team full of leaders and when you have a team full of leaders that’s a good aspect to the game. Mikhail, he’s definitely there and he helps me in every aspect of the game and when I need him he’s there. Big shoutout to Mikhail Marinovich.”

Jones is poised for an enormous year. He’s in supreme physical shape (6’5”, 275) and is hungry for success. For a guy who’s known as much for his jokes and gregarious personality, Jones is all business in 2011.

* * *

(Update: 2:50p – Posted: Alex Plavin) Paul Pasqualoni made his return to Big East Media Day for the first time since his final season with the Orange in ’03. He started off with a rambling 12-minute opening statement that had some in the crowd wondering if he would talk all day. From there Coach P answered questions about his previous life including what he thinks of the job Marrone has done since taking over the reins.

“I had a little bit more time near the end of the year so I was able to pay more attention to the bowl game. Doug really did a good job last year getting the team to that bowl win was extremely impressive and with how quickly he’s turned it around I’m certainly happy for him.”

Pasqualoni also discussed making the transition to becoming Syracuse coach and how Marrone has done it so quickly.

“When I took over we changed a whole lot, but we tried not to fix what wasn’t broken and to see them go back to winning again maybe things weren’t as broken as everybody thought and Doug is astute enough to know good principles.”

Despite Coach P’s long and documented history with the Orange he insists it won’t be too strange being a visitor in the Carrier Dome.

“I don’t feel it being that odd. When you look at Division-1 football things change, life is full of change, so I don’t think it’s that odd. Doug has done a great job over there, he really has, so we feel good for them and just anxious to get going again in the Big East.”

Of course it’s been 7 years since Coach P was last in the college ranks so obviously some things will be different this time around. He said the biggest difference isn’t in him however, it’s the conference.

“The league has changed, we’ve said over and over again each team has a chance to win this league and in the early years with Miami around when I was in Syracuse I’m not sure that was always the case.”

Why he decided now is the time to return to the college game?

“There aren’t many opportunities if you want to be a head coach. I love the NFL, but in the back of my mind I always thought it would be nice to be a head coach again and there aren’t gonna be many opportunities. UConn is a great job I was familiar with it and I’m excited to get started.”

* * *

(Update: 2:35p – Posted: Craig Hoffman) Ryan Nassib enters his second year as the starter under center coming off a bowl victory in which he threw for 239 yards and 3 TD’s. Nassib says the final game of last year will absolutely help the squad going into the season.

“The confidence is higher. The knowledge. We know what we’re capable of and it gave us a springboard into this 2011 season.”

All three TD’s went to Marcus Sales, who finds himself in hot water after an arrest.

“The situation Marcus is in is something I can’t comment on, but anything that ever happens to any player on the team – the team is a lot bigger than one individual. There are injuries that happen, academics that might keep a player from playing but its the role of the team to just keep movin on. You just get someone else to step up and that’s kinda how college football is.”

The rest of the WR corps is solid though, with two returning starters in Van Chew and Alec Lemon, plus much hyped sophomore Jarrod West (who missed all of last season due to a foot injury).

“Being with these receivers throughout the spring and throughout the summer – I’ve learned a lot about all of them. I’ve learned their strengths and their weaknesses and what areas I can put them in for them to be most successful. Particularly Van Chew – he’s a great every down receiver. He does pretty much everything well. He’s always a great read to go to. All the other guys like Alec and Jarrod bring something to the offense and we’ll be able to use them in ways we haven’t in the past.”

Nassib was shaky last year, often looking uncomfortable in the pocket. Familiarity breeds comfort though, and he says having all those guys back, plus 4 of his 5 offensive lineman returning makes his job much easier.

“It’s given me a lot more confidence to know I can drop back and go through a progression and know I don’t have to worry about other things and other players as much. I just have to worry about what I’ve gotta get done. Having those guys back, having the experience on the offense, really having trust in each other and everybody knowing what they have to do – now we just have to go out there and get it done.”

Having a dynamic back who gives defenses fits doesn’t hurt either. He’s got that in Antwon Bailey.

“Antwon brings a whole other dimension to the offense and to the RB position. He’s a great runner. He’s tough in between the tackles. He’s explosive. He makes a lot of moves. He makes a lot of people miss outside of the tackles. In the passing game he’s second to none. He has great hands for a RB, runs great routes and creates huge mismatch problems for a lot of defenses.”

The biggest criticism of the Orange offense last year was how conservative it was. Nassib has a huge arm, but rarely used it. This year he sees that changing.

“The situations you need to get into in order to call those plays, I feel like last year we didn’t get into a lot of those positions where we could call those shots. This year with the players we have and the playcalling and the confidence we have in the offense, I think we’ll be able to call a lot of those plays and be more explosive.”

Many SU fans have high expectations for this team in Nassib’s second year as a starter and Year 3: Marrone Era. The typically conservative Nassib didn’t hold back in agreeing with those fans.

“Big East championship. It’s the end of the line. We understand how tough it is to win enough games to get to a bowl game. We haven’t won a Big East championship in a long time and that’s the goal. That’s what everyone’s been working for and I think in order for this season to be a success we gotta bring that trophy home.”

For all the questions SU has this year both off the field and on at corner, the middle of the front 7 and at running back behind Bailey, there’s no doubt that Nassib is the biggest. If the signal-caller plays well, SU will be bowl bound again and possibly headed to that BCS game. If he does not take that next step it will undoubtedly be a backward move, leaving Nassib with a senior season to figure it out and his junior year ambitions unfulfilled.

* * *

(Update: 2:10p – Posted: D.A.) Marrone chatted with me about the recruiting progress the staff has made since taking over three years ago. It was fascinating to hear him admit recruiting “was broken down pretty good” when he took over. And that for the 5-star players in-state (like Ishaq, Chad Kelly and Jarron Jones), it’s going to take a strong recruit to stand up, ignore conventional wisdom and finally stay at home as the big fish to begin the sea change at Syracuse.

“(Recruiting) is a top priority. If you don’t have players coming in, you can’t survive as a program. Our recruiting foundation was broken down pretty good when we came there. We had to reestablish that. We’ve put a lot of work into it and we’re working on our way.”

What areas is the Orange trying to grow?

“The key for us really is we have to keep expanding through Rochester and Buffalo, to not only get those players back but people back thinking about Syracuse football. We need to do a better job in eastern PA. But what you said is important, we’re being well received. We’re establishing those grounds again.

“We’ve opened up the Detroit area because we have direct flights from Syracuse to Detroit. So we’ve done things aggressively that we think will pay dividends. It’s a shame for us that you get rated. We go after the 5-star kids. But most of our kids are three – maybe we’ll get a four here or there. But we’re getting out there early. We’re making those decisions on players we’re bringing into our program.”

I asked him about the ongoing discussion about when SU will finally land the big fish in-state.

“In my studies, there’s always 12-14 players (in New York) that can play D1 football. We have to get them first from our state, before we can go outside our state to get those 5-star kids. Someone is going to have to make that commitment. People are going to hit him with ‘how can you go to the Big East?’ Hopefully one of these days, one of these young men will step up and say, ‘we’re going to Syracuse University because I want a great education, I want to stay in-state, I want to play and I want to win a championship’. Easy said, hard to do publicly for these kids nowadays because there’s so much pressure on them to go visit the top 5 schools in the country.”

* * *

(Update: 1:35pPosted: D.A.) Speaking with Doug Marrone for almost 45 minutes this morning, once again reinforced why I feel confident having him direct the Syracuse football program. It’s impossible to be around The Dougie for any amount of time and not come away convinced he’s building things with a direction, passion, and commitment.

But as strong as the program appears to be, situations like Prince-Tyson Gulley’s stabbing and Marcus Sales’ traffic stop from hell has provided more turbulent water for SU football. I asked Marrone for his comment on both situations.

“Right now, there’s investigations going on. We’re working with the proper authorities. It’s difficult for me, I know I’m the football coach. People want to hear from me. But they’re students first. When those things come across, there’s obviously going to be a decision of who lets it out. At this time, that’s all I can really say. We’re gathering information and working with the proper authorities.”

Because of limited offseason contact with students per NCAA restrictions, I asked him if he felt out of the loop on Gulley and Sales.

“I don’t know if you feel out of the loop. We’re not allowed to know how they’re working, what they’re lifting. I’m around in the building. I know if they’re going to class. I know what their internship program is. I’m there 90% of the summer. I see the players. I just want to make sure people understand, we’ve done a lot of great things in our program. Things like this unfortunately occur, but it’s not a reflection of the whole program. And we still don’t know what’s going on with these situations.”

Has he set up a meeting with Sales?

“We don’t have anything set. It was really fast. I was out of Syracuse when these situations happened. I went back Saturday and saw Tyson before his dad picked him up. Then I had to come right back down here. The timing of everything has been difficult. I have a long ride back to think about a lot of things, I have to talk to a lot of people. Then we’ll probably set something up when I get back.”

(Complete FizzCast Wrap from Big East Media Day Coming Tomorrow Morning)

* * *

The Fizz is all over Big East Media Day in Newport, Rhode Island, delivering you constant updates on this page (so keep refreshing all day) and Twitter. Keep us locked all day long as D.A., Craig Hoffman and Alex Plavin blog/tweet on the latest from inside the Hotel Viking.

For now let’s make sure you know what to look for. Last week The Fizz took a look at the biggest questions facing the Orange heading into the season, and we now know we can add the questions about Marcus Sales to that list.  Here are some of the biggest storylines from around the conference that will be hopefully answered today.

1. Is expansion/realignment over after TCU?

TCU will join the Big East next season and immediately become the biggest bully on the block. How do the current Big East coaches and players feel about the Horned Frogs impending arrival?  Also, TCU puts the total number of teams in the Big East at an awkward 9 for football and 17 for basketball. It seems that everyone has their opinions on the proper way to align the conference and which/how many teams should be added. It’s safe to say this will be one of the hot button questions of the day. We should hear plenty of creative ideas, and maybe, just maybe one or two feasible ones.

2. Does Coach P still have it?

The Huskies have to feel burned by Randy Edsall’s departure for Maryland.  Edsall oversaw the program’s transformation from 1-AA (or FCS if you prefer) to the Fiesta Bowl before skipping town. And he didn’t leave for Notre Dame or Michigan; he bolted for Maryland. That has to feel like a kick in the groin.  To replace Edsall UConn turned to a familiar face in Paul Pasqualoni. Coach P led Syracuse to a 107-59-1 record in 14 seasons as head coach, but hasn’t been a head coach since 2004.  With UConn coming off a Big East championship and BCS bid, Coach P will be expected to win right away. Also, does Coach P roaming the sideline in Storrs finally give SU a true rival in football?

3. Can new coaches light up the scoreboards?

Backyard rivals West Virginia and Pittsburgh both changed head coaches after disappointing 2010 campaigns, and their new leaders promise to quicken the pace of their offenses. New Pitt boss Todd Graham will bring a spread system with him that will bare little resemblance to Dave Wannstedt’s system.  Graham’s Tulsa team finished fifth in the nation in total offense last season averaging over 500 yards and 40 points per game. Dana Holgorsen takes over as the head man at West Virginia amidst allegations of alcohol problems and a less than amicable transition from previous head coach Bill Stewart. Holgorsen is considered an offensive wiz and will continue to run the offense featuring quarterback Geno Smith, who several people have named as a Heisman dark horse.

4.  Who is the favorite?

Perhaps the more appropriate question is: “Is there a favorite?”  The conference will again be wide open this year, largely because no team appears to be dominant. West Virginia has been tabbed the leader by most national media outlets, but the Dana Holgorsen era has already gotten off to a rocky start. Others like USF, but that program has been unable to take the next step to a conference championship, having now made six consecutive bowl appearances. Connecticut is the defending champ, but they have to adjust to a new head coach. Syracuse and Louisville are looking to make the jump to championship contenders after surprising bowl victories last year. Pittsburgh could also make a run if Todd Graham’s offensive style can translate to the Big East. All of these teams have reason to believe they can win the conference title, but none of them stand out to me as a clear favorite. Call it parity or call it mediocrity, either way it’s sure to be interesting.

Posted: Steve Neikam

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