Focus on off-field troubles at football media day

Only one week removed from two offseason incidents, Doug Marrone addresses both issues as well as his team's 2011 goals at SU's annual media day.

When it comes to the 2011 football season, Syracuse University head coach Doug Marrone isn’t mincing words about what he expects from his team.

“Our goal as a football team, make no mistake about it, is to be able to compete for a Big East championship,” Marrone said in the Carrier Dome Friday at SU’s media day. “Now that we’re in camp, we have a philosophy that we never start where we left off; we always have to start at the beginning. We have to create this work ethic and this foundation that will help us attain our goals.”

Photo: Ashli Truchon
Mikhail Marinovich, a senior for the 2011-2012 football season answers questions in the Carrier Dome Friday at SU's media day.

While Marrone is trying to focus on what will happen on the field this season, much of the spotlight so far has fallen on player issues off it. Sophomore running back Prince-Tyson Gulley will miss seven to ten days of practice after he was stabbed multiple times during an on-campus brawl July 29. Meanwhile, senior wide receiver Marcus Sales is facing several felony drug charges after being pulled over by cops last Friday night.

Marrone had no comment on either situation, reiterating that a legal and judicial process must be undergone before more information can be released. Despite the setback for Gulley, Marrone expressed excitement over what his tailback brings to the table.

“He had a strong offseason and you can see the physical changes in him,” he said. “As far as a setback goes (in his play), I don’t expect that. I think he’s shown us a lot in the spring.”

But the distractions created by the incidents for the rest of his team is not lost on Marrone.

“Is it a distraction? Yes,” he said. “Will it affect what we do? No. Distractions can take away from your energy and focus to win football games and that is a concern. When things happen around you that are negative, you have to turn them into an educational experience for everyone else. We try to do that. We need to have all our focus and attention out here on the field for the people who are available to be on the field. The more distractions there are, the more it takes away from us being a good football team.”

And that’s the last thing Marrone wants. Coming off a 2010 season where SU went 8-5, including a victory over Kansas State in the inaugural New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Marrone wants to continue to build on what he thinks this squad is capable of by making them good students of the game.

“One of the things we look at about building a foundation is that if we want to make sure (players) learn from what we do, we have to put them in situations where they know how to do it,” he said. “That starts in the classroom and walk-throughs. How far can we push ourselves offensively and defensively? Then it always comes down to competition and speed. We want a football team where we as coaches have to go in there and say ‘hey, pull back, guys.’ It should be full speed until told not to be by a coach. Speed, speed, speed. Make plays. That’s the goal.”

A lack of plays plagued SU for much of last season. Marrone acknowledged that offensive firepower was going to be a big part of the 2011 game plan.

“Offensively, we’re excited,” he said. “We have a lot of starters returning on that side of the ball, so we look forward to four of five starters returning to our offensive line, Nick Provo at tight end is returning, we have more skill players than we’ve had before at wide receiver. (Quarterback) Ryan Nassib will be our starter and he has been in the system for awhile. (Running back) Antwon Bailey will be back there carrying the load. The problem offensively before (last season’s) bowl game was that we did not make enough big plays. Obviously, that’s a point of emphasis for us (this season).”

As the team prepares to settle into the grind of preseason training, competition becomes everything. Ross Krautman, last year’s starting kicker, enters camp hoping to hold on to his job. He earned praise from Marrone for coming in as a freshman in 2010 and contributing to the strong overall play of special teams. Krautman doesn’t see any need to start changing things now.

“I was in the weight room during the offseason, running every day, practiced my kicking, just trying to get better, like always,” he said. “You always have to look at these things as a competition. You have to be the best you can be at any position.”

Siriki Diabate, who Marrone also mentioned as a bright spot in this season’s linebacking corps, has the same vision for this year as his coach and tailored his offseason toward making it happen.

“Hopefully we’re going to compete for the big East Championship,” the junior linebacker said. “I’ve been really trying to learn the playbook and know everything and I pretty much have the hang of it now. I’m really just looking forward to contact and just the fun of the game.”

Now, as the team transitions towards camp and preparations for their September 1 season opener against Wake Forest , Marrone is confident in what his team can accomplish - this year and beyond.

“We want a team that year-in and year-out can compete for a title in this conference,” he said. “Once we have that, we can take it to the next step, things that are greater than a Big East title.”

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