Team Fizz is on the ground in Rhode Island bringing you complete analysis of the day’s events.
Thanks for joining us for the annual Fizz Media Day coverage from beautiful Viking Hotel in Newport, Rhode Island. Kanell, Fitz, Glasheen and I have total Team Fizz coverage all day today. Look for podcasts, blogs, and video from SU’s final football ho-down with the Big East.
New Artillery for SU Offense
Last season, SU’s offense became as predictable as a Dion Waiters’ retweet. It was stale and Ryan Nassib and company had trouble finding the timely scoring. But now SU has some new weapons, and some old threats to pace what could be a more “creative” offense in 2012. Enter Marcus Sales & Alec Lemon.
The two will form what could be a powerful combo through the air during Nassib’s senior year. Fans know how much SU needs another offensive weapon. Lemon was fantastic a season ago between 5-15 yards, but one man simply couldn’t carry an entire receiving corps. Now with Sales back, Lemon told The Fizz Orange fans will be seeing a much more dynamic offense this fall.
“Stretching the field is something key that we have been working on, and that’s what we’re going to do. Get those explosive plays and stretch the field so the short game is open. You can’t just sit on the short game.”
Lemon caught 68 passes – a Syracuse single season record – for 834 yards and six touchdowns. He’s sure that Sales will add to that total.
“It’s exciting getting [Marcus] back on the field. He’s getting back into the grove of things during the spring, [those practices] helped him out a lot. It adds to a powerful core we have, all the weapons we have.”
The man who will make it all happen according to Lemon is Nassib. The two have bonded a great deal over these last few summer months by playing a lot of golf together. Lemon believes it’s now or never for the fifth year senior.
“[I expect] a breakout season. Not just Ryan [Nassib] but the whole offense. He’s got a lot of weapons around him he can use. We’re all here together and we’re ready to bring this thing together.”
The offense should more exciting than a season ago. The losses of RB Antwon Bailey and TE Nick Provo hurt, but the players behind them have been groomed, and all saw a good chunk of playing time during 2011. The offense will be showing Orange Nation this year, it’s not just how you start, but how you finish. – Fitz
* * *
Pitt Deals with ACC Move & New Coach
Neither Doug Marrone nor Pitt’s Paul Chryst had a problem speaking about the coming pre-season training camps, but shied away from questions regarding the future. Both head coaches face a difficult task at hand with the move to the ACC. But more of a challenge lies heavily on Chryst. How exactly will Pitt’s head man not only help establish focus on this season in the locker room, but also make his own personal adjustments as a first-year coach of a new program? I spoke with Chryst about the eventual league transfer and he thinks a personnel shift is really the only change for the players:
“I don’t think, and I may be wrong on this, the transition of leagues, when you think about these players, this is the league that they know. So I think the transition for me as a head coach for them it’s more a new staff coming in than it would be the league [ACC].”
Chryst was asked about how he plans to keep a narrow mindset for the coming season to avoid looking ahead:
“Constant messaging. Taking advantage of what today brings. Embracing the now. You just want to keep pounding the message in their heads so much that they get it.”
This is a similar approach Syracuse should consider. The way last season ended should serve as enough motivation for an improved season, but conference realignment should not be a distraction. Marrone and company are entering year number four, so redemption remains a top priority for both programs.
Chryst seems to be a reliable asset going forward for Pittsburgh. He, like many other Big East coaches, realize that despite realignment, the conference is one of the most competitive in the country:
“Each week is such a great opportunity, [and] has unique challenges in it. To not embrace each week is really shortening. Think about all the work that they do to play 12 guaranteed games. To not make each one of those to live in that moment, I think it’s cheating the game.” – Sheen
* * *
Non-Con Chance to Get on the Map
As expected, one of the hottest topics during today’s Big East Media Day for Marrone and his Orange crew was the “mission impossible” schedule Syracuse faces this year, particularly in the non-conference. In true Marrone-ian fashion, the Dougie shrugged of any assumptions that SU would be caught star-struck by the likes of USC and Missouri. He admitted he wasn’t even at the point yet of thinking about wins and losses, and instead focusing on getting players healthy and ready to go. Some of the SU players represented in Newport today, including Shamarko Thomas, were excited about it. Thomas is embracing the challenge, saying the tougher the schedule, the greater opportunity SU can be put on the map. You have to love the confidence coming from Thomas who will replace the “other” Thomas as the brand new leader of this Syracuse secondary. Despite the grumbles from SU fans about how difficult even a 6-win season might be, the Orange players are absolutely pumped by the big names on the schedule. Take the optimism for what it’sworth. Four of the final five games to finish up the 2012 season for SU will be on the road, a brutal stretch for a team that finished last year on a five game losing streak. Hopefully Orange fans will see that same excitement and energy during that final stretch in November. – Fitz
* * *
Will Loeb Bridge the Gap to Zach Allen?
I asked Marrone him if Charley Loeb is still the clear-cut backup behind Ryan Nassib. With surprising conviction, Marrone expressed his confidence in Loeb.
“I’m looking to see what Charley does right off the bat (this fall). Charley had a good spring. I don’t have any problems putting Charley Loeb on the field. And I don’t think I’ve ever said that before, but after this spring, I have no problem with Charley playing.”
Sounds like if Nassib weren’t on the roster, Loeb would be the starter, and Marrone would expect to win football games with him. This suggests that Loeb (a redshirt junior) has a legitimate chance to start next year during his final season of eligibility and bridge the gap between Nassib and Class of 2013 recruit Zach Allen. With Loeb emerging, and Allen’s recruiting stock soaring, things are starting to look dicey for redshirt sophomore John Kinder and redshirt freshman Terrel Hunt. Kinder still has three years of eligibility left, and Hunt has the full four remaining, but both will spend 2012 on the bench barring the completely unexpected.
Kinder has good size and athleticism, but he has had trouble throwing the football accurately during practice. Hunt spent the spring away from the team after shoplifting a bottle of cologne from the Carousel Mall. Marrone admitted that it’s now an uphill battle for Hunt since he missed the entire spring. He says it’s unfortunate that Hunt had to be suspended, but that it was the necessary punishment to hand out.
“It’s more important to make sure that people understand that when you make a mistake, there are consequences. Whether you sit here and argue, ‘well that’s pretty extreme. Well hell yeah it’s extreme. But you know what? He’ll never make that mistake again.”
Hunt has to bounce back from his spring absence, and Kinder must become a more consistent passer. In the meantime, Nassib and Loeb are well ahead of the pack. – Kanell
* * *
How will Pugh’s Injury Affect the Orange?
Marrone preached today in Newport that Justin Pugh may be the best offensive lineman in the Big East. Unfortunately, the all-conference standout will miss the majority of pre-season training camp with an upper-body injury. Having sat out sessions of spring practice, the injury keeps Pugh from participating in August. This is tough for an already banged up offensive line.
Having sat out the Spring Game, Pugh is itching to get back, and we saw a very optimistic Pugh in the media room. He’s obviously disappointed about the news, but looking forward to competition to fill the line’s holes:
“I think the way we’ve built the program is the older guys make sure we bring up as many young guys and speed practice up. That’s the best way to get excited to see what they have in them a week from now.”
Good to hear from a veteran presence in Pugh. He spoke only vaugely about his own injury issues, but revealed that his mindset is all about the team. Pugh even added that he hopes to fit in seamlessly with the guys who will fill in for him:
“It’s tough. You got to go through that grind to make sure that you’re back on top as an offensive line.”
Pugh remains one of SU’s biggest leaders for the season ahead. We’ll have to see how long it takes for #67 to break out the pads. – Sheen
* * *
Sit-down with Marrone: All Business
Got to sit down for a one-on-one with Doug Marrone. He was – ahem – in a less than excitable mood. Either Marrone is already agitated with the media before the season even started, or is setting an all-business tone for his team. Multiple times he discussed how the Orange has not won enough games, how he needed to do a better job, and Syracuse has not accomplished anything yet. While he’s probably right on all of those counts, the preseason is normally a time of optimism and encouragement. Not for Doug. I asked him what the bright spots are for 2012. He paused for a few seconds, then finally cobbled together an answer. I joked that he had to actually think hard to find the glass half-full for September. He did not find that amusing. ABD: All Business Doug. We discussed the magnet for NYC kids that Syracuse has become, and how sensitive the situation with Bill O’Brien and Penn State is for Marrone to walk while looking at Nittany Lions who want to jump. -D.A.
* * *
Rutgers/Pitt Deal with New Coaches
SU’s offensive line healthy is already a question with the injury to Justin Pugh. Sheen and Fitz discuss that and the transitional seasons for Rutgers and Pitt under first year head coaches.
* * *
Is Marrone Anti-Media?
Is Marrone giving the media the silent treatment for a reason? Or is his crankiness simply because there’s pressure on this program to deliver with a brutal schedule? Kanell and D.A. dissect Syracuse’s head man.
* * *
Which Backup QB will Play This Year?
Marrone interestingly has been very complimentary over the last two days of Charlie Loeb. Might we see some of the backup quarterbacks this year? Kanell and Fitz discuss.
* * *
Syracuse Ranked Near Last of Media Poll
The preseason media picks have been delivered and the outlook for the Orange is not good around the conference. The Big East media selected Syracuse to finish 7th in the 8 team conference. Hard to believe Rutgers will undergo a coaching change and finish in the top 3 of the league. Maybe this is why Marrone is so peeved today. Picked only ahead of newcomer Temple. -DA
Rank Team (First-Place Votes) Pts.
1. Louisville (24)
2. USF (4)