As the ACC‘s spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing the big storylines for each of the league’s 14 (15, in this case) teams. Check back on weekdays for what to look out for during your school’s spring practices and spring game.
Team: Syracuse Orange
Spring Practice Start Date: March 19
Spring Game Date:
Syracuse wrapped up a wild 2012 season by winning six of seven games… and then watching their head coach, Doug Marrone, and seven other staff members walk out the door for the Buffalo Bills. Since then, panic has subsidized for the Orange faithful, but there are still plenty of questions for this group. New head coach Scott Shafer’s committed to keeping the transition as simple as possible (he was the team’s defensive coordinator last year after all), but the success of that strategy relies largely on the personnel. SU must replace several key contributors on both sides of the ball, and it’s unclear whether they’ll be able to alleviate those issues by the end of spring ball.
First and foremost, the team is faced with as tough a challenge as any in the nation, replacing departed senior quarterback (and program poster boy) Ryan Nassib. After a record-setting career that brought the program back from the depths, Nassib’s off to the NFL (and likely the Bills), and in his place is a massive hole to fill. As of right now, there are four candidates for the job — Charley Loeb, John Kinder, Terrell Hunt and Ashton Broyld — and without much experience (Nassib was a three-year starter), it’s virtually anyone’s game. Plus, whoever this new passer may be will also have to figure out who he’s throwing to. Top targets Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales are both gone as well, leaving the team to wonder if Jarrod West, Jeremiah Kobena and Arkansas transfer Quinta Funderburk can step up as the main receiving options. There’s also the issue of the offensive line, which must try to replace star lineman Justin Pugh as well. In the early goings this spring, the squad’s biggest saving grace may be the backfield, which returns all three top rushers from last year and looks to build upon a strong finish.
Defensively, the retention of Shafer seems to even out the loss of studs like Deon Goggins and Shamarko Thomas, and they actually return a great deal of depth on that side of the ball. As can be said about this entire team, the defense put on a fantastic performance to end the year and the hope is that they carry over that momentum in 2013. The new group will star Jay Bromley, and then beyond that… well, everyone’s proven in one way or another. The team just needs to see who’s most capable of starting. Of all the remaining players, I’m actually most excited to see what Lewlynn Coker brings to the table this spring. Though most of his contributions last season were on the offensive end (as the fullback in the team’s “Tank” package), he could very well get more playing time on D (his primary role) this fall. A lot of that comes down to both his shape and the team, however, as they figure out the linebacker spots in particular. Another player to watch will be Iowa transfer John Raymon as well, who had to sit out last season due to typical NCAA rules. The defensive end was highly regarded out of high school, and his 6’5″, 316-pound frame were certainly be put to the test against the ACC’s tough offenses this year.
Plenty is up the air for Syracuse right now, but again, that’s what spring is for. New personnel, new coaches and new expectations all come with the territory, and I’m curious to see how Shafer runs his first spring as head coach. While Marrone was extremely secretive during his time with SU, it already appears that Shafer will be much more open in the hopes of keeping the fan base excited about this team. If that remains the case, and fans like what they see out of this group early, expect a brand new buzz around the Orange this fall, too.