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September 17, 2020
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Marrone steps into organization in need of a turnaround; A breakdown of what Marrone will find in Buffalo

first_imgWhen Chan Gailey was hired by the Buffalo Bills three years ago, he made a vow to get the once-proud franchise back into the playoffs. When his team started 5-2 in 2011 (with both losses on the road, by three points, to eventual playoff teams), Gailey’s words were poised to ring true throughout Western New York.But Gailey’s offense didn’t hold up. Opponents began to adjust to the Bills’ quick-strike passing game and bubble screens that had been so effective earlier in the season, and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s limitations became clear. Buffalo staggered to a 1-8 finish in 2011, and a 6-10 campaign this past season (despite the free agency acquisition of much-hyped defensive end Mario Williams) led to Gailey’s demise. The offensive-minded coach was fired Dec. 31, the day after the Bills concluded their NFL-leading 13th season without a playoff berth.From there, Buffalo quickly announced major changes regarding the makeup of the organization. Team owner and founder Ralph Wilson, who had maintained the final say regarding all team decisions through this past season, ceded control to CEO Russ Brandon, who now holds the title of team president. Brandon announced the introduction of a football analytics department at a press conference on Jan. 1, and vowed to lead a comprehensive search for the next Bills head coach.Brandon’s team immediately flew to Arizona and began interviewing candidates for the position, such as ex-Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, ex-defensive coordinator Ray Horton, ex-Bears coach Lovie Smith and Oregon coach Chip Kelly. Early Sunday morning, word began to circulate that Doug Marrone would become the next Bills head coach.After turning a downtrodden Syracuse football program into a two-time bowl winner in his four seasons at the helm, Marrone assumes another turnaround project. The Bills have had a losing record in seven consecutive seasons, and have not recorded double-digit victories since 1999, the last year they made the playoffs.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textFor Marrone, the task may not be as daunting as it seems. General manager Buddy Nix has assembled upgrades in talent and depth throughout his three years at the helm, particularly on the offensive and defensive lines. Although the group has not put everything together yet, the potential is there. It’s up to Marrone and his staff to make it work.Here’s a position-by-position look at the current state of the Bills:Quarterback: Ryan Fitzpatrick maintained control of the position for the last three seasons, as Gailey refused to lose faith despite Fitz’s alarmingly high interception rate (54 in the past three seasons) and inability to hit the deep ball. The Bills currently have no better option, though, as Tarvaris Jackson was inactive all year after acquired in a trade from Seattle, and backup Tyler Thigpen has a career 1-11 mark as a starter. Thigpen and Jackson are currently unrestricted free agents.In the wake of Fitzpatrick’s struggles and Gailey’s demise, Marrone’s crew has a decision to make. The Bills can avoid paying a $3 million roster bonus if they cut him by March 1, but doing so could mean a lack of quarterbacks on the roster. This is a position likely to be addressed in free agency or in the early rounds of the draft, and one marked by much uncertainty. Fitzpatrick could very well be the opening day starter in 2013, but that is nowhere near certain.The Bills have not found a true franchise quarterback since Jim Kelly retired, and the fans’ level of frustration has reached its peak as quarterback experiments fail time and again. Marrone’s ability to choose the right quarterback and develop him effectively could be the key to his level of success – and eventual legacy – in Buffalo.Running back: This is definitely one of the strongest positions on the roster, and one that gives Bills fans optimism heading into the offseason. Former top-ten draft pick C.J. Spiller had a breakout season in 2012, electrifying fans with his sizzling speed and averaged 6.0 yards per carry (tied with Adrian Peterson for the lead among all running backs). Many fans believe Spiller was under-utilized this past season, with only 207 rushing attempts, and Marrone will be charged with the task of how to manage Spiller’s carries most effectively.Power running back Fred Jackson serves as a perfect complement to Spiller, with a between-the-tackles, wear-and-tear style of running. Jackson has been injury-prone throughout his career, though, and the 31-year-old may be nearing the end of his career. Still, the Spiller-Jackson combination leaves Buffalo in no place to complain about production in the running game.Third-stringer Tashard Choice is an unrestricted free agent.Wide receiver: The Bills have a top-tier receiver in Stevie Johnson, who is the first receiver in Bills history to notch three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons (2010-12). Johnson has demonstrated a knack for getting open throughout his career, using dynamic footwork to break away from the secondary. Johnson is under contract with the Bills for the next four seasons.Aside from Johnson, the receiving corps is a patchwork unit of decent, yet unspectacular, receivers. Two thousand twelve third-rounder T.J. Graham has shown flashes of potential yet seems to have a hard time learning his routes, and No. 2 receiver Donald Jones is an unrestricted free agent, as is journeyman Ruvell Martin. Slot receiver David Nelson is a reliable option but was hurt for almost all of the 2012 season, and will likely be expected to play a large role once he returns.The Bills likely need to pursue a big, physical wide receiver either in free agency or the early rounds of the draft. Especially if Jones leaves in free agency, the current corps poses no sizable threat to opposing secondaries – especially with the current state of the quarterback position.Tight end: Relatively unknown before Gailey and company picked him up off of waivers in late 2010, 6-foot-7 Scott Chandler has become a sure-handed, reliable target for the Bills at tight end. In Gailey’s spread attack, Chandler had, by far, the two best years of his career the last two seasons, racking up 960 yards and 12 touchdowns. In the right scheme, Chandler can thrive, although he lacks the raw athleticism that can create true mismatches with opposing defenders.Lee Smith, who serves in mostly a blocking role, serves a complementary role to Chandler and Dorin Dickerson, a hybrid tight end-fullback type who saw more action as injuries mounted over the past few weeks. The Bills’ tight ends group is nothing to write home about but is certainly serviceable as long as Chandler is healthy.Offensive line: After years of inconsistency on the offensive line, Nix vowed to bolster the unit once he took the helm as general manager, and he hasn’t disappointed. Former early round selections Eric Wood and Andy Levitre have played to near-Pro Bowl levels at center and guard respectively, and first-year tackle Cordy Glenn showed potential to be an offensive-line mainstay for years to come. Guards Kraig Urbik and Chad Rinehart have performed adequately, as have tackles Chris Hairston and Erik Pears. The Bills have a key decision to make this offseason in whether to keep Levitre, who is an unrestricted free agent.The success of the offensive line has played a major role in opening holes for Jackson and Spiller, who have attained solid numbers over the course of their Buffalo careers. The line has also been solid in pass protection for Fitzpatrick, ranking near the top of the league in sacks allowed in the last two seasons, although this has been due in part to Gailey’s quick-strike passing philosophy.If the Bills allow Levitre to walk, expect another guard to be pursued during the offseason. Nix has done a good job building offensive-line depth throughout his tenure, and this is not a position of great concern for the Bills at the moment. As a former offensive lineman and offensive line coach for much of his career, Marrone should enjoy this unit.Defensive line: After last offseason’s six-year, $96 million signing of Mario Williams, it appeared on paper as if the Bills had one of the league’s top defensive lines. Combined with the strong interior line duo of former Pro Bowler Kyle Williams and 2011’s third overall pick Marcell Dareus, and the addition of defensive end Mark Anderson from New England, the defensive line looked ready to provide consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks – critical in a division that includes Tom Brady.It didn’t quite work out that way, though. Williams had a solid season with 10.5 sacks, but was injured for much of the season and struggled to maintain consistency to justify his contract. The line as a whole was inconsistent, excelling against inferior opponents but finding trouble when matched with foes such as San Francisco and Houston. The trend mirrored that of the Bills season – an ability to notch victories against the likes of Jacksonville and Kansas City, but the potential to get blown out by teams like San Francisco and Seattle.Nix has also done a good job building depth on the defensive line, with Alex Carrington, Kyle Moore and Chris Kelsay providing a punch in a fill-in role, especially after Anderson was hurt early in the season. The line certainly still has the talent to become one of the best in the league, if the new staff can help it fulfill its potential.Linebacker: Frankly, the unit may be the worst in the league, and the Bills need to find more capable cornerbacks in the higher rounds of the draft or in free agency, if not both. Kelvin Sheppard, Nick Barnett and Bryan Scott possess enough talent to be in the league and make the occasional impact play, but have not shown significant skill or athleticism to adequately support the defensive line. Barnett appears to have lost a step since his days with the Packers, Sheppard has not shown a knack for being a game-changer, and Scott is too undersized to be an every-down linebacker.Two thousand twelve fourth-round selection Nigel Bradham saw plenty of action throughout the season and could develop into a strong contributor if given time. On the flip side, Shawne Merriman has never been the same since he tested positive for steroids, and he could be on his way out of Buffalo as an unrestricted free agent.When Williams and Anderson were signed, the theory was that the defensive line could make up for the deficiencies of the linebacker corps, but the defensive line’s disappointing season exposed the linebackers’ shortcomings time and again. This resulted in the Bills’ defense being outmanned, in a season where it allowed 45 or more points on four separate occasions.Safety: The key here is Jairus Byrd, a big-time player who can do it all, excelling in tackling and coverage while possessing a knack for the ball (18 interceptions in his four-year career). However, Byrd is an unrestricted free agent, and the Bills will have a hard time replacing Byrd’s impact if he is lost.Aside from Byrd, safeties George Wilson and Da’Norris Searcy are serviceable but represent a significant downgrade. The 31-year old Wilson is a vocal team leader whose career may be winding down, and the 24-year old Searcy does well stopping the run but finds trouble when asked to play in coverage.Cornerback: For the Bills, this may be the position with the most potential along with the most question marks. Stephon Gilmore, a 2012 first-round pick, improved throughout the season and endeared himself with an aggressive style of play, but took many damaging pass interference calls and was caught out of position on occasion. Gilmore certainly has Pro Bowl potential as his career progresses.Aside from Gilmore, the clear No. 1 corner, the Bills have a collection of possible No. 2’s that have been inconsistent in game action. Two thousand eleven second-rounder Aaron Williams, 2012 fourth-rounder Ron Brooks, Justin Rogers and Leodis McKelvin look to fight for the job in training camp, and Marrone’s staff will need to make judgments on each one. Brooks and McKelvin may be better suited for roles in nickel-and-dime coverage situations, but Williams could ultimately prove to be the weakest link or be moved to safety. Terrence McGee is injury-prone and may have to fight for a roster spot.The Bills could certainly use another top-tier corner, but shouldn’t sacrifice much to get one at this stage in the team’s development.Special teams: Kicker Rian Lindell missed one field goal all season before missing two in the finale against the Jets, and rookie punter Shawn Powell has shown consistency and leg strength to handle Buffalo’s fierce winter winds in meaningful games down the road.Leodis McKelvin handled punt return duties for much of the season and displays breakout speed, shown with a 79-yard return touchdown against Miami on Nov. 15. McKelvin led the league with an average of 18.7 yards per punt return.McKelvin, Brad Smith and Justin Rogers shared kickoff return duties for much of the season, with Smith returning a kickoff for a touchdown against Tennessee. The unit ranked fourth in the league, averaging 27.0 yards per return. Comments Published on January 7, 2013 at 3:31 pm Contact Kevin: kmprisei@syr.edu Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more

September 16, 2020
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Syracuse women’s basketball NCAA tournament opponent preview: What to know about Fordham

first_imgNo. 12 Syracuse (24-8, 11-5 Atlantic Coast) hosts Fordham (25-8, 13-3 Atlantic 10) at the Carrier Dome in the first round of the NCAA tournament at 1 p.m. on Saturday. SU is the No. 3-seed in the Portland region and earned an at-large bid after falling to No. 3 Notre Dame in the ACC tournament semifinals two weeks ago. Fordham, the No. 14-seed, last played on March 10, when it defeated Virginia Commonwealth in the A10 tournament championship. The Rams are currently riding a 12-game winning streak and haven’t lost since Jan. 27, with nine of those wins coming by double-digits.Here’s what to know before Saturday’s matchup.All-time series: The series is tied, 2-2Last time they played: Syracuse defeated Fordham, 76-54, on Nov. 28, 2015, in the Las Vegas South Point Thanksgiving Shootout. Alexis Peterson paced the Orange with 25 points, eight assists and five steals on just eight shot attempts. The Rams had three scorers with 12 points including Lauren Holden, who was a freshman at the time and is the only current player on either roster who played in the teams’ previous meeting. SU began the fourth quarter up just 5 points but opened the period with a 16-0 run to break the game open. The Fordham report: Fordham comes into Saturday’s game as one of the hottest teams in the tournament. Despite their dozen straight victories and 25 total wins, though, the Rams have played just one contest this season against a ranked opponent. That matchup came on Nov. 25, when they fell to then-No. 10 Texas, 72-54. AdvertisementThis is placeholder textFordham enters the NCAA tournament ranked 82nd in RPI, top in the Atlantic 10 but behind 11 teams in the ACC. The Rams have the 7th-best scoring defense in the country at 53.9 points per game, nearly 14 points fewer than the Orange allow on average. Offensively they are not as strong, averaging just 60.5 points per game — 264th in the nation. The Rams are led by redshirt sophomore guard Bre Cavanaugh, who is averaging 17.3 points and 6.4 rebounds. Senior forward Mary Goulding is Fordham’s best player however. The New Zealand native is the only other player on the team who averages double-figures in scoring and also leads the Rams in 3-point percentage, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.This is the third NCAA tournament berth ever for Fordham, which first earned a berth in 1994 after winning the Patriot League. Its most recent appearance came five years ago, when the Rams reached the tournament for the first time under head coach Stephanie Gaitley. They earned the 10-seed that year and led 7-seed California late in the game, but missed out on their first NCAA tournament win after the Golden Bears hit a go-ahead shot with 14 seconds left.How Syracuse beats Fordham: The Orange are the better team in this matchup, and they need to make use of their talent advantage early. A good way to do this would be to shut down Fordham’s offense, which shouldn’t be too hard. The Rams are a generally-poor shooting team, having shot just 39.4 percent from the field this season. If they have any chance at upsetting the Orange, it’ll be done through 3s. Fordham has taken the 22nd-most 3s in the country this year, and if Syracuse’s 2-3 zone can hold firm on those triples, it’ll be in good shape.Should SU be able to shut down the Rams on the perimeter, it’ll grab the lead early and run with it. Fordham is a team that hasn’t lost since Jan. 27, so once the Orange jump ahead, it very well may be for good. Offensively, Syracuse boasts a top-20 offense to counter the Rams’ top-10 defense. Even if Fordham has a hot shooting day from outside, SU should be able to run by the Rams with its up-tempo, high-scoring style of play. The Orange have the best offense Fordham has seen all season, and that’ll pose an issue for their in-state foe. Stat to know: 53.9 – The number of points Fordham allows on average per game. That not only tops the Atlantic 10, but is fewer than any ACC team allowed per game this season. The Rams’ defense features three players with 30 or more steals and is coming off two games in which it allowed only 81 points combined. The best defense statistically that the Orange faced this season was Central Florida’s, which allows 55.6 per game and held SU to a then-season low 57 points on Dec. 22.Player to watch: Bre Cavanaugh, guard, No. 10While Mary Goulding’s skillset may make her Fordham’s most complete player, if the Rams upset the Orange, it’ll be Cavanaugh leading the way. The redshirt sophomore earned second-team All-Atlantic 10 honors last year in her first season at Fordham after transferring from California. This season, she’s been even better. Cavanaugh has the ability to explode offensively on any given night, and is playing her best basketball of the year. She’s averaging 24 points over her last four contests, including a season-high 29 points against Massachusetts in the quarterfinals of the A10 tournament. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+center_img Published on March 22, 2019 at 1:40 pm Contact Eric: erblack@syr.edu | @esblack34last_img read more