When the annual spring scrimmage was in the books for the Syracuse Orange, coach Doug Marrone seemed more relaxed than he’s been in a long while.
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That five-game losing streak to end last season seemed a distant memory.
”We made some plays,” Marrone said, hopeful the usual modest crowd of 3,716 fans liked what they saw on Saturday in the Carrier Dome. ”When I look at spring football, I look at it as a body of work. When you look at the 13 days (of practice) we had before we split up the teams, it’s been outstanding. People are getting better. A lot of the younger players made an outstanding push. That’s exciting. Hopefully, we’ll be accelerating that process.”
Led by junior tackle Jay Bromley, the defense did the scoring in a 9-0 game won by Team Anselmo over Team Moore.
Bromley sacked quarterback Charley Loeb for a safety and forced a fumble that Brandon Sharpe returned 17 yards for a touchdown. Assistants John Anselmo and Rob Moore were the coaches, with Marrone helping call the shots for Moore.
”It was a good overall effort by the offense and defense,” Bromley said. ”We tried to play the best we could. We had a lot going for us.”
After posting an impressive 8-5 record in Marrone’s second year that ended in a two-point win over Kansas State in the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl, the Orange seemed poised last season to build on that success.
They stood at 5-2 after a stunning 49-23 upset of No. 11 West Virginia in late October, then crashed over the final five games.
Returning to the postseason on a regular basis is paramount going forward, and wideout Marcus Sales and freshman quarterback Ashton Broyld figure to be counted on a lot next season.
This scrimmage was a big deal for Sales, who missed all of last season. He caught two passes for 68 yards.
”Me coming back being off the year, just getting back in shape and getting back to the speed of the game was the thing I wanted to focus on in spring ball,” Sales said. ”I think I was able to accomplish that. I think it was a great spring.”
Sales and his older brother were pulled over last July for running a red light and Syracuse police found an open container of alcohol, several bags of marijuana, a bag of painkilling pills, and several digital scales.
Sales was suspended for the season, but the charges were dropped in October after a grand jury did not find enough evidence to charge Sales with drug possession. Marrone allowed him to return for his final year of eligibility.
”I wasn’t really worried. I just stayed focused, worked out, stayed with my teammates,” said Sales, who caught three touchdown passes in the Pinstripe Bowl and was expected to be a force last year. ”It was real hard at the beginning (of spring), not being in shape and not running full-speed for a whole year. Coach Moore was able to get me through it.”
Broyld, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound, dual-threat quarterback from the suburbs of nearby Rochester, did not take a snap under center, but he displayed game-breaking talent.
He turned a short pass reception in the right flat into a 44-yard gain that featured some nifty fakes and also threw a pass while lined up at running back, a throwback to Loeb that gained 14 yards.
”He has the ability to make plays,” Marrone said. ”He’s a special kid as far as a talent. We just have to bring him along.
”I think he’s going to be a great asset to us offensively. He’s the one that can make a lot of plays.”
Fourteen players were out because of injury, including wideouts Alec Lemon, Jarrod West, Kyle Foster, and MaCauley Hill. That allowed Sales and Jeremiah Kobena to get many more reps than usual in the spring.
Marrone said Kobena improved in the final practice sessions, and it showed on Saturday. Kobena had three catches for 55 yards, including a pretty 48-yarder along the right sideline from No. 1 quarterback Ryan Nassib, who finished 11 of 18 for 163 yards passing.
All but two of the Orange’s spring practices were closed to fans and the media as Marrone sought to keep the team focused. The players liked the decision.
”I know you guys don’t want to hear it, but having the press not there … has really helped us to buckle down and get a lot done,” senior offensive guard Zack Chibane said.