Syracuse searches for toughness on Army base

Doug Marrone didn’t hesitate when the opportunity arose to take

his Syracuse Orange to preseason train on an Army base.

”My thought process was very simple,” Marrone said. ”I’m

bringing my football team up there to get better, to get tougher,

to work hard. All the things anyone would look at on the


So the Orange, 5-7 last year and 1-6 in the conference, spent a

week at Fort Drum in northern New York. And any toughness they

might have found along the way will be needed After all, they

finished 2011 on a five-game losing streak.

That is Marrone’s mission. And it’s a big one. This is the start

of his fourth season at the helm of his alma mater, and it is the

Orange’s last in the Big East before they depart for the Atlantic

Coast Conference.

The pressure is on.

”It’s a very big help. Coach brought us here for a reason,”

defensive tackle Davon Walls said. ”He really wanted us to come

together as a unit and be accountable for whatever we do.”

Syracuse returns 12 starters, five of them on offense and none

more important than senior quarterback Ryan Nassib, who guided them

to a 5-2 mark last fall before the team self-destructed. Nassib set

school single-season records for completions (259), passing yards

(2,685) and tied the mark for touchdown passes (22). Lefty Charley

Loeb is slated to be the backup.

”It’s my last go-around. The last couple days when I was home

on break I was feeling a little anxious about the year,” Nassib

said. ”But once I started driving up here, that’s when the

excitement started hitting me. What lies ahead is something no

person can really comprehend because you kind of have to be a part

of it. It’s your last year, you put so much into this school and

this team, and having one last chance is something special.”

When the Orange open the season against Northwestern in the

Carrier Dome on Sept. 1, Nassib won’t have the luxury of handing

off or throwing to All-Big East tailback Antwon Bailey, who

graduated after a stellar season (1,051 yards rushing and 29

catches for 200 more yards). Vying to replace Bailey are juniors

Jerome Smith, Steve Rene, and Prince-Tyson Gulley, who missed the

final eight games of 2011 with a broken collarbone.

There will be the luxury of incorporating freshman Ashton Broyld

into the offense. The 6-foot-4, 229-pound Broyld, the Orange’s

version of Tim Tebow, was a star quarterback in high school in

suburban Rochester, N.Y. Broyld, who threw for 1,961 yards and 24

touchdowns and rushed for 1,560 rushing yards and 24 more scores as

a senior, is expected to see time at receiver, tailback – basically

whatever Marrone throws his way.

”My job is just to come in here and do what I can do for the

team, and that’s all I’m going to try to do,” said Broyld, who

enrolled in January after spending last year at Milford Academy.

”I really don’t know what to expect. I just want to win.”

Back, too, is senior wide receiver Alec Lemon, one of only 11

players to start all 12 games last fall. He set the program’s

single-season record for receptions with 68 for 834 yards. Redshirt

senior Marcus Sales also returns after a drug arrest kept him out

of school last year. He’s anxious to prove his performance in the

2010 Pinstripe Bowl – five catches, three for touchdowns, and 174

yards – was no fluke.

”It’s a big thing for us because (Lemon) has been very

productive, and Sales being back helps,” Marrone said.

However, Nassib will have to watch his back early in the season.

All-Big East left tackle Justin Pugh (6-6, 292 pounds) is

recovering from shoulder surgery and isn’t likely to start the

opener. Still, there are plenty of other big bodies up front,

including Lou Alexander (6-4, 331) and Zach Chibane (6-5, 293).

”We have a lot of talent, probably the most talent we’ve ever

had,” Pugh said. ”We’ve always had a good four or five guys, but

the depth was always lacking. We have some guys this year that can


There are a couple of gaping holes on defense – end Chandler

Jones skipped his final year and is in the NFL with New England and

Phillip Thomas, who had six interceptions and was the team’s

leading tackler, chose not to return to school because he was

facing a one-year suspension. Also, defensive tackle Ryan Sloan is

out for the season with a lower body injury, running back Steven

Rene is out for three to five weeks with an upper body injury, and

six other players were listed day-to-day as camp winded down.

The bright spot is at linebacker, where all three starters

return, though they’ve been shuffled around. Marquis Spruill has

been moved out of the middle in favor of Siriki Diabate, and

Dyshawn Davis is back after leading the team with 10.5 tackles for

loss. Placekicker Ross Krautman, already eighth all-time at

Syracuse with 33 field goals his first two years, also returns.

One of the Orange’s glaring weaknesses has been the lack of big


They’re working on that, too.

”There are steps you have to take in this game,” Marrone said.

”That’s where we haven’t been as consistent – making plays, making

those big plays. We’re trying to create greater opportunities for

these guys to do that, but I feel good. I think we’ve run faster

than we have in the past. But we’ve got to do that on the field.

We’ve got to do get by people, beat a block and score a


Syracuse didn’t do that nearly enough after humbling 12th-ranked

West Virginia 49-23 last October, a victory that many expected to

send the Orange to a higher level and their second straight bowl

game. Instead, they averaged just 16 points in losing the final

five games, and as they get set to play their final season in the

Big East, they figure to be faced with a good dose of adversity on

the road.

”That taste last year ended on a bad note. It really hurt us a

lot,” senior defensive end Deon Goggins said. ”I see the changes

in a lot of the young guys that have to step up. You can see they

didn’t like that, they didn’t like that feeling, so they’re more

focused than ever.

”They see – and not only the young guys, but us – that it’s not

easy to win.”