There are many question marks surrounding the 2012 Syracuse Orange football team. Coach Doug Marrone is hoping to have those questions answered during the preseason camp as they prepare for their difficult schedule. A few positions should have the most competitive battles.
Maybe the biggest question mark on the team, the offensive line must deal without left tackle Justin Pugh. At Syracuse media day, Marrone declared Sean Hickey the early replacement. But that still leaves the other tackle position. Lou Alexander figures to be a strong candidate to take that spot, but he must hold off sophomore Kristofer Curtis. Curtis will look to make his case for playing time with a strong camp. Freshman Kyle Knapp will be fighting for a backup spot. The battle between Curtis and Alexander will likely come down to who performs better in pass protection.
At guard, several players are in the mix. Zack Chibane is likely entrenched into one guard spot. The other will be occupied by a player who hasn't had significant action at the college level. Ivan Foy is coming off of a redshirt year. The same goes for Baldwinsville product Nick Robinson. Rob Trudo battled injuries last season, and Omari Palmer is a true freshman. Palmer and Trudo have high ceilings, but the staff really likes Foy and Robinson. All four will get a shot during camp and need to respond if they want playing time. Palmer might be the best run blocker of the bunch, but needs to show solid pass blocking skills to get onto the field.
At center, Macky MacPherson is the incumbent but should be pushed by Rob Trudo. The higher ceiling lies with Trudo, who must show a strong football IQ to overtake MacPherson. Marrone really likes MacPherson, who will likely be the starter.
Jerome Smith is the favorite, but he will have to hold off veteran Prince-Tyson Gulley, a slimmed down Adonis Ameen-Moore, and incoming freshman George Morris. Gulley is the most experienced of the group, but Smith had the best spring and currently leads the depth chart. Running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley stressed during Syracuse media day he was not sure what to expect from this group. Competition is the name of the game according to Wheatley.
Ashton Broyld is a wildcard here. He will get some snaps at running back, and take a few carries away from the other backs. But he won't factor into the starting spot.
This should be one of the more fun battles of preseason camp, and the backfield is arguably Syracuse's deepest position.
With the loss of three of their four starters from last year, the defensive line will look drastically different from 2011. Pass rushing was not a strength last season, but incoming JUCO players could help that problem. Defensive end Markus Pierce-Brewster should make an immediate impact, but will have to battle with Brandon Sharpe, Deon Goggins, Donnie Simmons, John Raymon (assuming the NCAA issues are cleared up), and others. At defensive tackle, the starters are likely Bromley and Crume with the recent departure of Corey Boatman. Ryan Sloan and Juco transfer Zian Jones will also be fighting for playing time.
Cornerback could be another intense battle throughout camp. Returning starter Keon Lyn has maybe the highest ceiling, but starts out behind Ri'Shard Anderson after missing the spring with an injury. Brandon Reddish emerged from spring camp as an improved player who could get a starting nod. Jaston George will also be fighting for playing time, likely as a nickel or dime back. He will get pushed by incoming freshmen Julian Whigham and Wayne Morgan. Both have the talent to contribute right away.
With the recent move of Marquis Spruill to the outside, the battle for three spots will be decided by five players. Siriki Diabate seems entrenched in the middle based on Marrone's comments at Syracuse media day. That leaves an intense battle for the last two spots. Returning starters Dan Vaughan, Marquis Spruill, and Dyshawn Davis will battle with the talented Cam Lynch. None are guaranteed starting spots, and must prove themselves during camp.
Spruill, Davis, and Lynch are the three most talented linebackers. But Diabate has really impressed in the spring. Clearly he's being rewarded for that by being named a starter heading into camp. The good news for each player is that everyone will see the field. Syracuse has five linebackers that can play, which is a big strength heading into the 2012 season.
With this many battles for starting spots up in the air, Syracuse's preseason camp could be the most intense and important of the Doug Marrone era.