Offensive coordinator Tim Lester installed a new offensive system in 2015 and with it came much hype and praise for the new role of the hybrids. They were supposed to be versatile, to run and catch and maybe even block. It was going to take this offense to the next level.
After much arguing - and some name-calling - I even agreed that if an SU hybrid totaled 20 rushes and 20 receptions in the season, I'd even start calling it the dreaded (in my opinion) ExpressBack.
At the halfway point, there are some positives and negatives when it comes to the hybrids. I actually think there's something to build on here.
Let's break down where each one stands, and what the rest of the season outlook might look like.
Erv Philips - 9 carries, 11 receptions
He's not quite on pace for 20/20 just yet, but that's primarily because Philips missed three games to injury. If you look at his per game totals, Philips would finish the season with 27 carries and 33 receptions if he plays in the final six games. You have to be encouraged by Philips so far when he's been healthy, as he's racked up 47 rushing yards (5.2 per carry) and 149 receiving yards (13.55 per reception). He's really excelling at both the run and pass game, and is exactly what the coaching staff said he would be. Now if they could find a way to get him more than 6.7 touches per game, he may truly become a star.
Ben Lewis - 5 carries, 13 receptions
In some ways Lewis has been better than expected, and in other ways, he's been a trainwreck. The problem is, he should not be playing the hybrid role in Lester's system. Lewis has been a dependable receiver, as he's second on the team with 13 caches and averages 9.9 yards per catch, including a touchdown. He's a solid possession receiver. In the ground game, he's compiled just 12 yards. He actually has a 17 yard run mixed in there, which means the other four rushes have earned him -5 yards. If he gets one more carry the rest of the year, it will be one too many.
Dontae Strickland - 8 carries, 5 receptions
Strickland stepped up in Philips' absence and took advantage with eight carries for 54 yards (6.8 per carry) and pulled in another five catches for 45 yards. Strickland hasn't earned more than four touches in a game, but even with Philips' return, could be in line for more action, since he's averaging 7.6 yards every time he touches the ball.
Brisly Estime - 6 carries, 10 receptions
Estime may not technically be a hybrid (he's been listed as a wide receiver all year), but his production resembles one. This may just be a result of Philips being out of the lineup, and Estime filling in for some carries to plug the gap. Regardless, Lester has to find a way to get Estime the ball more often. The running game isn't working particularly well (2.8 yards per carry), so commit to him as a primary receiver. The current 1.7 catches per game is simply not cutting it, especially when he racks up 20.9 yards per reception, and 21.7 yards per punt return. Estime is a dynamic player that should have the ball in his hands more.
Tyrone Perkins - 1 carry, 0 receptions
Perkins has seen action in just one game, against Rhode Island. He picked up five yards in his only carry, and probably won't see much time in the final six games (barring injuries) given the number of players ahead of him both at running back and the hybrid position.
Now that we have a decent sample size, I think it's fair to say the hybrid position CAN be dynamic and successful. Erv Philips averages 9.8 yards every time he touches the ball, while Dontae Strickland averages 7.6 yards. Both of them have contributed both on the ground and through the air. If anything, both should be seeing the ball more often.
Meanwhile, the experiment with Ben Lewis needs to end immediately. Perhaps he could play just wide receiver. Perhaps he could be a more traditional h-back (a tight end/fullback/wide receiver combo). Just never hand him the ball again, ever, please.
Even Estime should be limited to the occasional end around (I never thought I'd say that), and should find a way to get more involved in the passing game.
So my advice to Tim Lester is this: You've found something that can actually work, now just make sure to refine it around the strengths and cut back on the weaknesses. Don't overthink it.