Delone Carter may be off in the NFL taking hand-offs from Peyton Manning this fall, but Syracuse should be able to continue to threaten on the ground with the backfield stable of Antwon Bailey, Prince-Tyson Gulley, Jerome Smith, Adam Harris, and others.
Antwon Bailey: (A) - Going into the spring, I had my doubts about Antwon Bailey being a featured back, but he did a lot to quell my fears. Bailey is not the biggest guy, and he does not run the fastest forty, but he flat-out knows how to run with the football. Bailey hit the hole very effectively all spring, and absolutely gashed the defense on a number of runs off-tackle, where I suspect we will do most of our damage, off-tackle. Bailey is an excellent receiver, and might be one of the best blocking running backs in the conference, if not the country (see: Kansas State defender getting flipped on deep touchdown pass). I think that Marrone and Hackett will look to get Bailey the ball 20-25 times a game between runs and passes out of the backfield.
Prince-Tyson Gulley: (B+) - PTG started spring a bit slow, and midway through the camp he sat out a few days with injury, but came back with a vengeance. Gulley is a very similar runner to Antwon, doing most of his damage off the edge, although he's not quite as effective as Bailey between the tackles. The biggest improvement that I've noticed is that he doesn't dance around in the backfield as much as he did in limited time last season, he hits the hole much more effectively. Gulley should definitely see solid playing time as a home run threat out of the backfield, and will be returning kicks and punts.
Jerome Smith: (C+) - Similar to the Charley Loeb/John Kinder situation that I saw with the quarterbacks this spring, the back-up half backs also seemed to excel when the other wasn't playing, as well. Jerome Smith was incredibly impressive as a power back during the first few weeks of the spring, but seemed to drop off a bit once Gulley returned from his injury, and then got injured himself. I still think that a power back has a role in this offense, and that means we'll likely see Smith or incoming freshman Adonis Ameen-Moore getting carries this season.
Steve Rene: (B) - Rene was definitely one of the pleasant surprises of the spring for me. He was, and still is for the most part, the least talked about member of the unit, but had a really big second half of the spring with injuries to Gulley and then Smith. Rene did not do much during the first few weeks, and I questioned whether or not he had the innate running back instincts that Bailey and others show, but he absolutely proved me wrong during the latter part of spring. He is probably our fastest back in terms of pure speed, and is dangerous with the ball. I don't know how we'll look to get the ball in his hands, outside of special teams, but I think he will absolutely find a way on to the field whether it is in the backfield or as a slot receiver in five-wide sets this season.
Mario Tull: (?) - Tull recently moved to the backfield from linebacker, where I thought he was very solid all spring. I probably would have given him a B- grade as a 'backer. However, the coaches apparently don't see Tull seeing the field as a linebacker, so he's been moved to offense. How this works out is yet to be seen.
Adam Harris: (B) - Not much has changed for the man who the spring practice regulars deemed "The Natural". Harris is primarily a blocker who may see a few carries in the short yardage situation, perhaps a few more than this past season, and may catch a few balls out of the backfield. He's just an all around solid, in unspectacular, player at fullback.
Tombe Kose: (C+) - Grading fullbacks is tough because there is rarely more to go on than "did they do their job or not". Both Harris and Kose do their job, although Kose is a bit less consistent than Harris. Watching him catch passes is an adventure, as well. However, he is a serviceable player overall.
Overall Grade: (B+) - Antwon shouldn't have a problem going for over 1000 total yards, and is definitely going to be the featured playmaker in Hackett's offense. The question is, how do the carries shake out this season? As I've said, Bailey should get around 20-25 touches a game, and I expect at least 15 will be carries, depending on how effective he is. Gulley will probably see a good number of carries, although it really depends on the opposing defense, his effectiveness, and the flow of the game. Rene is an interesting case, because he is a similar player to Gulley and Bailey and is definitely third on the totem pole in that regard, but is still a dangerous, versatile back. I think he may get more looks catching the ball out of the shotgun than on the ground. As I said above, we will probably also feature a real power back, and either Smith or the freshman Ameen-Moore should be able to fill that role.
We may not have an absolute workhorse like Delone to punish opposing defenses with this fall, but our backfield may end up being even more multifaceted and dynamic than it has been in recent memory.