Last we spent time breaking down the football team's position battles for 2013, we'd surmised that the identity of Syracuse's starting quarterback was still very much up in the air. Then a run to the Final Four happened, and suddenly, everything about spring practice (and the spring game) moved to the back burner.
So now, back to football, we continue our look at 2013's position battles with the Orange running backs. As was mentioned the other day, new offensive coordinator George McDonald is a big fan of each and every one of them, and after a big second half of the season last year, we're likely headed for a two- or three-back system. But which two or three backs will get the majority of the carries? We take a look at the candidates.
Jerome Smith: After a slow start to the season (just 355 rushing yards over the first six games), Smith wrapped up his junior year with a total of 1,171 yards on the ground -- helping set a new school record for consecutive seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher (currently at five). While he was never necessarily a "feature back" last year, his carries (and results) did increase over time, which would lead us to believe he's the frontrunner as of now. Syracuse.com's Brent Axe concurred following the spring game, lauding him as the clear no. 1 rusher on the depth chart.
Prince-Tyson Gulley: PTG sat out spring practice following back surgery, but as you'll recall, his most recent performance in the Pinstripe Bowl was quite a show (272 total yards, three touchdowns). As much as Smith is the lead back, Gulley has a ton of speed, and has proven himself as an extremely reliable receiving option out of the backfield. While we can't necessarily expect a Pinstripe Bowl repeat every game (it was, after all, against West Virginia's putrid defense), it would behoove this offense to get him between 12 and 18 touches per game in some capacity.
Adonis Ameen-Moore: Ameen-Moore's relevance in the offense is directly tied to whether or not the "tank package" is employed again this year. And for SU's sake, we certainly hope it is. On just 30 carries, the sophomore scored five touchdowns and by year's end became a lethal short-yardage option. With so much talent in front of him, it's unlikely he sees regular carries, but again, his should still be the number called for goal line sets.
Ashton Broyld: It's unquestioned that Broyld has the talent to contribute, but after sitting out spring ball, there's still no clear answer on where to plug Broyld in. Expect him to see fleeting playing time once again, with some additional work out of a potential "wildcat" formation. He's also got potential as a slot receiver, but still, very much a work in progress.
Devante McFarlane: The redshirt freshman was plugged into several different positions prior to last season, before he was ultimately sat out. And while the depth chart is certainly stacked against him, McFarlane's spring performance may give him some touches yet. Talk after the game was all about his 37-yard screen catch, but with options like PTG and Broyld available, similar opportunities will be rare during the regular season. Luckily, with four years of eligibility remaining, the team can very much hedge their bets on McFarlane's promising future.
George Morris II: Morris, who also redshirted last year, was an unknown commodity to a lot of observers, and yet, was arguably the most raved-about player coming out of the spring game. Compiling 69 yards on just eight carries will do that, especially when you're alluding most tacklers infield. He's a bit bigger than PTG (6'1" vs. 5'9"), but with the same explosiveness out of the backfield and getting around the end. Like McFarlane, he's unlikely to see a ton of playing time, but expect a few carries here and there.
Obviously, we've come to somewhat of a verdict after spring ball, and it's not all that surprising. Expect the majority of carries to go to Smith and PTG, with Ameen-Moore hopefully taking care of things at the goal line. But with so much talent available and so much uncertainty in the passing game, who's really sure how much (or little) McFarlane and Morris end up involved? I'd also point out that there's arguably never been a better time to #Restore44, but that's an argument for another day.