It wasn't a particularly impressive offensive showing by any measure, the defense may have looked better on Saturday because of injuries, and there was a lack of big-plays – but there were some interesting trends to track as Syracuse put on its annual spring game on Saturday.
Quarterbacks: As if it weren't already set in stone, Ryan Nassib put even more distance between he and the rest of the signal-callers on the roster. He was fluid in his decision-making, throwing motion and he got the ball down the field on a consistent basis. Nassib, who was 11 of 18 for 163 yards, hit Marcus Sales on a pair of 30-plus yarders (on target) and he was just as accurate deep on the sideline while connecting with Jeremiah Kobena on a game-long 48-yard go-route.
John Kinder took the second-most reps, and he looked to be the second-best quarterback on the roster. He started off very slowly, even forcing some balls down the field while under pressure, but he settled in nicely and led a solid third-quarter drive. Kinder, who completed 5 of 11 passes for 56 yards, also ran the ball six times.
Charley Loeb also progressed as the game did, but he was subpar more times than not. The lefty often floated passes into double-coverage and looked uncomfortable in the pocket when any pressure was on him. His most effective play of the afternoon was on a hot-read against an SU blitz, in which he got rid of the ball on time to Ashton Broyld for a 44-yard catch-and-run. Loeb threw the game's only interception and completed just 3 of 10 passes on the day.
Broyld didn't take any snaps at quarterback, but he did complete his only attempt of the day – a 14-yard halfback pass back to Loeb.
Running Backs: As expected, Jerome Smith was the first running back to see the field, though Prince-Tyson Gulley ended up with more carries. The game was more of a passing showcase, as neither back could amass more than 20 yards on the afternoon. Smith had a nice 9-yard scamper in which he used his one-cut style to run through a Franklin Santos arm tackle. Gulley ran hard when given the chance and he broke several tackles on an 11-yard run towards the end of the game.
Reserve backs Steven Rene and Travon Burke combined for five carries for 33 yards – one more than Smith and Gulley for what it's worth. Broyld carried just once, gaining 4 yards, despite lining up in the backfield more than at any other spot.
Wide Receivers: Sales continued to assert himself on the outside, as we saw in Rochester two weeks ago, hauling in a pair of passes for a game-high 68 yards. Each deep ball was from Nassib and each was in stride. The first was over the middle on the strike and the second was a pretty over-the-shoulder effort against Joe Nassib. The veteran looked comfortable in his routes and he shook off an early drop and big-hit combination from Ritchy Desir.
Kobena was the No. 2 wideout all afternoon, and – for the first time – he played the part well. Along with a diving 48-yard grab in the second-half, he snagged a pair of short strikes that seemed to give him problems more times than not during the 2011 season.
Adrian Flemming and Keenan Hale each got into the mix with some down-the-field grabs late in the game, but Broyld looked like the most effective player on the outside after the two starters (Sales, Kobena). He dropped the first ball his way, but picked it up over the next two receptions for a total of 50 yards including a gaudy 44-yard catch-and-run in which he showed excellent strength in breaking Jeremi Wilkes' tackle in the open field.
Offensive Line: With Justin Pugh injured (lower-body), Zack Chibane slid out to left tackle while Nick Robinson occupied Chibane's usual left guard spot. While Chibane seemed to adjust well to the new spot, the same can't be said for the combination of Robinson and center Macky MacPherson in the middle. The defenses had a field day against them, coming up with a safety early on and pressuring any quarterback that was in the game on a very consistent basis.
There was just three sacks in the game, but the pass protection was spotty at best. The right side of the line, also inexperienced, was a bit better than they were two weeks ago in Rochester – but Ivan Foy and Lou Alexander still have a long way to go before the unit is considered a balanced front.
Defensive Line: The entire group feasted on the depth-seeking offensive line on both squads. Jay Bromley was the game's best player, registering a pair of sacks along with the safety and a separate forced fumble that led to the game's other score as Brandon Sharpe returned it 17 yards to pay-dirt. Bromley was also in on a tackle-for-loss against the run. Fellow linemates Donnie Simmons and Cory Boatman proved to be the best unit on the field.
The rotational linemen held their own as well, as Eric Crume penetrated consistently and Deon Goggins got in on a few running plays his way. Robert Welsh also made an impression while making tough stops in the open field – particularly on the small and shifty Gulley.
Linebackers: The group has the chance to be not only the deepest unit on the roster, but possibly the strongest. Siriki Diabate looked good once again in place of the injured Marquis Spruill at the middle linebacker spot. He led the team in tackles on the afternoon and came up with a pair of signature plays – a sack and the game's only interception – in the process. Dan Vaughan had a rebounding effort after a subpar showing in Rochester, securing a handful of stops while Cameron Lynch continues to push him for the starting job with another solid effort. Lynch was one of three players to notch a tackle for a loss on the afternoon.
Defensive Backs: Though the group with the biggest question-marks, the secondary held its own all day long. Even when the reserves were gashed by Nassib and company on occasion, the pass defense kept each offense out of the end zone.
Shamarko Thomas moved around plenty, even lining up at linebacker in passing situations, but he was his usual self once ball-carriers came his way. He got the big-hit of the day on a run by Rene, in which he stood him up to the oohs and ahhs of his teammates to go along with a tipped pass that ended up being picked off. Even with that, the unquestioned MVP in the secondary was Brandon Reddish. He stood in for Keon Lyn, as he has all spring, and put on a show against the pass – getting in on three attempts and nearly interception two of them. Reddish showed blazing speed on vertical routes and the ability to get up and make a play even after being knocked down. Ri'Shard Anderson held things down on the other side, limiting passes his way.
But the position battle, and it was a battle one again on Saturday, remains at free safety. Wilkes again got the majority of the snaps with Thomas on the first-team defense, but Durell Eskridge continues to make strides as does Desir and even Shu Mungwa – though he didn't look as impressive as he did in Rochester on April 7.
Wilkes missed some tackles and showed some vulnerability in coverage – but so did Desir and Mungwa. Eskridge may have helped his case most on the afternoon, though there is plenty to be settled at the free safety spot in the offseason and in fall camp.
It was simply not a good showing for most involved, particularly Ryan Lichtenstein. Ross Krautman was not brought on for either of two field-goal tries, and Lichtenstein missed each to the right. The first was from 28 yards and the second, which hit the upright, was from 28 yards out.
The punting unit had a much better day, as Jonathan Fisher booted a long 48-yarder before the day was done while pinning the opposition when needed.
LB Femi Aliyu injured his right hamstring later in the game, but no report on his status was given later on.
Several players missed the scrimmage due to injury and one missed due to suspension. Here's the list:
TE Louie Adazzio (upper body inury)
FB Carl Cutler (lower body)
WR Kyle Foster (lower)
RT Sean Hickey (lower)
WR MaCauley Hill (lower)
QB Terrel Hunt (suspension)
WR Alec Lemon (upper)
CB Keon Lyn (upper)
RB Adonis Ameen-Moore (upper)
LT Justin Pugh (lower)
DE Micah Robinson (upper)
LB Marquis Spruill (lower)
RB Greg Tobias (lower)
RG Rob Trudo (lower)
WR Jarrod West (upper)