|Offensive line fundamentals have much in common with potty training. Image courtesy of Syracuse.com|
Our preview of the 2011 Syracuse Orange football team rolls on. It seems hard to believe that the season opener is a little over a week away. Today we will examine the prospects for the offensive line. But before we do, let me remind all of you to like Three Idiots on Sports on Facebook. After all, when the State Fair starts selling bacon wrapped, deep-fried Snickers bars, you'll want to know about it as soon as possible. You can follow us on Twitter as well.
The Orange return 4 of 5 starters from last year's unit, with the only departure being starting center Ryan Bartholomew, who is now trying to earn a spot with the Baltimore Ravens. He'll be replaced by sophomore Mackey MacPherson, who lacks ideal size but is drawing praise for his speed, technical skills and knowledge of the offense. Right now, that's the equivalent of saying he's got a "nice personality." Behind those five, it seems everyone one else on the unit has suffered some sort of injury in camp, however players are starting to get healthy. Should the any of the starters go down, depth is certainly a concern.
Pre-season Depth Chart (year listed by football eligibility)
LT - Justin Pugh (soph), Andrew Phillips (soph)
LG - Zack Chibane (junior), Lou Alexander (junior)
C - Mackey MacPherson (soph), Ian Allport (sr)
RG - Andrew Tiller (sr), Nick Lepak (sr)
RG - Michael Hay (sr) Sean Hickey (rf) Nick Robinson (rf)
Projected Changes to the Depth Chart
For the starters, don't expect many changes, unless Lou Alexander can somehow unseat Michael Hay. As for the second string, expect the unexpected. Hickey has already been lost for the season, Robinson has been injured, as has Ian Allport. Expect Nick Lepak and Lou Alexander to fill in at multiple spots if the need arises.
I'm not going to lie to you -- I haven't seen the team practice, I don't have access to game tape and it's been a 100 years since I was a bad JV football tight end, so there's no way to intelligently break down this unit from 150 miles away. Here's what I know - they should be pretty good based on the following factors:
- Almost the entire group, that was decent to pretty good last year, returns. Continuity matters.
- Doug Marrone and Greg Adkins understand the intricacies of line play better than anyone.
- Being able to use the shotgun can mask some problems.
Last year I thought Tiller struggled in pass protection at times, but was becoming a very good run blocker. Of all the guys coming back, I was the least impressed with Hay. Speed rushers gave him problems, he took some dumb penalties and he didn't look comfortable at times. The staff was very high on Hickey before he suffered his season-ending injury and he could have pushed Hay. Hopefully another year in the program and some more tutelage will allow him to raise his game.
The big question with this line is can MacPherson handle the center duties? He looked awfully small last year and he's generously listed at 6'2" 265. The good news is that in the Big East he's not going to be facing Wisconsin-sized monsters week in and week out, but all eyes will be on Dick MacPherson's grandson. If he can't handle it, expect Lepak to get a shot. He has the opposite problem, the dude looks like he ate a couple of walk-ons.
Last year the line was decent. This year the unit evolves to one of the best in the Big East, which is kind of like being the skinniest kid at fat camp, but still...More weapons give Nassib options to get the ball out quicker, MacPherson uses all the guile in the world to get by and Justin Pugh and Zack Chibane become monsters. Look for the Orange to run left a lot this year.
Best Case Scenario
The five guys listed above start every game in 2011.
Worst Case Scenario
MacPherson gets man handled, Andrew Tiller decides to give his teammates a tour of Turning Stone at 5 am, Michael Hay doesn't get any better and Antwon Bailey gets killed constantly picking up blitzes the guys up front missed.
B (would be higher but the depth is questionable at best right now)
All the motivation this unit needs is in this video. May this never happen again. By the way, I had Iowa fans sitting next to me at this game, the dudes looked like meth addicts.
The 2011 Preview to Date: