In year one of the Doug Marrone era, the new head man showed he’s not at all hesitant about putting freshman on the field. And while the rebuilding project has proven to be more than a one year fix, the first year players that saw the field last season offered plenty of reason for optimism going forward.
Five Orange men made the Rivals.com All-Big East Freshman team last season, more than any other school. This year, a new batch of rookies will have the opportunity to earn playing time and thanks to a lack of depth and some unproven talent occupying a number of different starting spots, 2010’s incoming class could have an even greater impact than the 2009 class.
With that said, here’s a list of five freshmen who could have a major impact on the Syracuse Orange's bowl hopes in 2010.
The Orange made terrific strides on defense last season under their maniacal defensive coordinator, Scott Shafer. In just one year, Shafer managed to transform the Syracuse defense, which previously played with the aggressiveness of a doormat, into a unit with all the welcoming, friendliness of a drooling junkyard dog.
With a new attacking mindset, Syracuse led the Big East in rushing defense, allowing just over 100 yards a game on the ground. However, what held the Orange defense back from being truly dominant was a porous secondary with a habit of giving up big plays.
Although the unit should be improved this season thanks to sophomores Shamarko and Phillip Thomas having a full year of experience under their belts, it’s still an area where a rookie could earn some playing time.
At only 5’9," Jeremi Wilkes lacks ideal size for a corner. But that didn’t stop Florida State, Iowa, Louisville and Rutgers from offering this Tampa, Florida product. Wilkes has great instincts and is a solid tackler, despite his height.
Here’s what ESPN.com says of him:
Wilkes is a quick-footed corner with very good coverage skills; falling under the radar heading into his senior season. He lacks great height but is well-defined with some bulk. Smooth and fluid in his hips and turns. Transitions quickly in and out of his pedal and closes the cushion fast...
As quarterback Ryan Nassib learned last year, the post-spring depth chart is always subject-to-change. After being named the starter during the spring last season, Nassib was displaced from that role during the summer by Greg Paulus.
Now Nassib once again finds himself atop the depth chart entering training camp, and once again there will be talented newcomers gunning for his job.
Freshman Jonny Miller, from Denver, is an impressive looking prospect. With a polished throwing motion, the ability to scramble away from pressure, and decent size (6’1," 210 lbs), Miller could have what it takes to challenge for the starting job right away.
Although linebacker is a major strength for the Orange defense, it’s not a position where they have a lot of depth. Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue are as talented as any other linebackers in the Big East, but behind them is mostly unproven talent.
Marquis Spruill has two major things going for him as he contends for playing time this season: He got a major leg-up on most of the other freshman by getting to Syracuse in time to participate in spring practice and he already has more than enough size and athleticism to play linebacker at the college level.
Spruill was a revelation during the spring. He was under-recruited (his only other documented offers came from Temple and James Madison), but after witnessing his ability first hand this spring I can’t see how they’re going to keep this beast off the field.
Going into the spring, the running back position was the absolute least of anyone’s worries.
Unlike every other spot on the depth chart, the Orange were unquestionably loaded at running back. Delone Carter, who ran for over 1,000 yards last season, was coming back, and two other experienced and talented backs were right behind him in Antwon Bailey and Averin Collier.
Now, both Carter and Collier are facing uncertain futures. Carter is currently banished from the school after an altercation this past winter and is trying to work his way back, and Marrone mysteriously announced that Collier is facing a looming threat of ineligibility.
With only the small, quick Antwon Bailey a sure go for training camp, Marrone and his staff will surely have their eyes open for a freshman running back that could provide some insurance. Bailey will likely be the starter in Carter’s absence, but the Orange may need a tough, bruising tailback to serve as the thunder to Bailey’s lightning.
Enter Jerome Smith.
This is another guy who wasn’t heavily recruited, although he did receive an offer from Wisconsin and drew some interest from Boston College. However, his highlight video is extremely impressive, displaying his great vision, some shiftiness, and surprisingly good speed.
Losing players like Carter and Collier is definitely going to hurt, but Jerome Smith might be just the guy to help ease the pain.
With the issues at running back, Syracuse is in desperate need of some playmakers. Fortunately for the Orange, someone who may just fit the bill dropped into their lap this June.
Jarrod West, a receiver from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, was originally committed to Stanford, but fell just short of the school’s tough SAT requirement. With Stanford out, West decided to stay East by giving Doug Marrone a commitment to come to Syracuse.
West is a legitimate down-the-field threat who boasted offers from Cincinnati, Maryland, Missouri, Northwestern, Pitt, Temple, Vanderbilt and Wisconsin, on top of the one from Stanford. He’s a solid route-runner with good hands and adequate speed.
Playing opposite Alec Lemon, he could be the perfect threat to finally give the Orange passing attack some teeth.