Spring Practice, Day Two: Alec Lemon, Shamarko Thomas Stand Out for Syracuse

Dan KelleyCorrespondent IMarch 24, 2010

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Ryan Nassib #12 of the Syracuse Orangemen talks to running back Antwon Bailey #29 during the first half against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium  September 12, 2009 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)
Chris Gardner/Getty Images

For fans of college football, perhaps more than any other sports, the season never really ends.

The team may stop playing after the regular season, or if they're lucky after a bowl game, but the news never stops thanks to recruiting and the many websites that keep the flow of information going all year long.

As great as this is, it still isn't nearly as satisfying as getting the chance to see some live action. Fortunately for football junkies though, spring practice serves as a much-needed fix to hold us over until the fall.

The Syracuse Orange kicked their spring session off on Monday, staying outdoors and battling the icy cold winds and pouring rain. 

The weather was much more cooperative for head coach Doug Marrone's team on Wednesday though, with the sun shining nearly as bright as a few young Orange men who appear ready to emerge as the new stars in Syracuse.

Although you generally want to take anything that occurs in the spring with a serious grain of salt, it's hard not to get excited when players expected to do big things get off to a strong start in practice.

To be honest, I had difficult containing my jubilation as I watched the team though. A number of established stars and budding talents looked great, lending another small degree of credibility to my hope that this is the year that Syracuse turns the corner and finds its way back to a bowl game.  

Here are just a few scattered observations from what I saw in practice today:

The team wasn't wearing pads today, just jerseys, shorts and helmets. The majority of my interest went to the one-on-one passing drills, matching up a receiver with a defensive back with any of three quarterbacks attempting to complete passes. They also spent some time doing five-on-five passing drills.

True sophomore Alec Lemon looks like the clear No. 1 receiver right now. He made a terrific play going one-on-one with corner Rishard Anderson, making a sweet cut to the inside and then burning him deep for an easy touchdown. Doug Marrone praised Lemon on the play, as well as new receivers coach Rob Moore and offered Anderson some encouragement. 

Senior Aaron Weaver, a transfer from Hofstra, looks like the second-best receiver after Lemon. He could be a solid possession guy; he runs crisp routes and a lot of success on cutbacks for 5-10 yards.

After Monday's practice, Marrone said that the defense was ahead of the offense out of the gate (which is normal), and that continued today. None of the quarterbacks were particularly sharp, although Ryan Nassib clearly has the edge over backup Charley Loeb right now. He's much quicker dropping back and releasing his passes and appears to be a bit more accurate. 

The Achilles Heel of what was otherwise a terrific defense last year was the secondary and today was encouraging for that unit. Starting safeties Mike Holmes and Shamarko Thomas both looked terrific, shutting down everyone they covered in one-on-one drills and snagging an interception a piece. 

Thomas proved himself to be an intimidating hitter last year. This season, I'm predicting that he's going to cause some injuries. The guy is flat-out jacked and once the season gets going, I don't think many opposing receivers are going to like the idea of going over the middle on Shamarko's field. 

Syracuse returns 1,000-yard rusher Delone Carter and while it could be my imagination (or the lack of padding), he appears to be a bit quicker. The real truth will come out when the pads go on, but if he's managed to get faster without losing much of the strength that let him bowl through linebackers last year, then he's going to have a monster year. 

True freshman defensive lineman Max Beaulieu, probably the most heralded member of Doug Marrone's 2010 recruiting class, isn't able to participate in practice due to an injury, but just standing on the sidelines, the guy looks ready to go. He already looks big enough to compete in the trenches, and it wouldn't shock me at all if he gets significant playing time from day one. 

I'll be covering whatever practices I can fit into my schedule, so check back for more updates. You can also follow me on twitter @DanKelley44 for more info on Syracuse football, basketball, and lacrosse.