Syracuse football's 2015 spring practices have already started at the Ensley Athletic Center. And as we prepare ourselves for another season, we'll spend some time previewing everything that matters on and off field for the Orange. Today's topic:
Big Changes at the Running Back Position
Who's no longer at Syracuse?
Long-time SU back Prince-Tyson Gulley departs, as does Adonis Ameen-Moore. After five years on campus, it'll be odd to see an Orange backfield without PTG, but it also ushers in an era we figured would actually start last season -- bringing us to:
Who's on campus?
Right now, the two obvious ones are redshirt juniors Devante McFarlane and George Morris II. Both figured to be larger parts of the offense last year, but with the team de-emphasizing the run (again, why?!), there were rarely opportunities for both backs to get involved. As you probably remember, the speedy Ervin Philips has been switched to an H-back/wide receiver role, because whatever. Apparently there's a walk-on wearing no. 24 at running back, but we've yet to get an update there. Maybe today?
Who's arriving this summer?
Here's the very good news, for those worried about having just two running backs in the fold right now. The class of 2015 brings aboard three different players -- Jordan Fredericks, Tyrone Perkins and Dontae Strickland -- who are going to try and break through in the backfield. The latter two, in particular, could challenge for playing time early on. Strickland, specifically, looks like a potential freshman on the rise, especially after the coaches spoke to him about potentially wearing 44 during the recruitment process.
So who has the inside track on the starting gig?
Given the shared backfields of recent years, you'd have to think Morris and McFarlane are ready to share carries as the primary backs. That doesn't close the door to others -- we thought it would be tough for Philips to get touches last year in a crowded, five-man backfield and he did just fine. But you'd have to think that the two veteran backs are the ones who can grasp the new offense quicker, and therefore, will be lined up in the backfield more often than not... and hopefully not in a two-back set.
What's going to change with the running game compared to last season?
Hopefully a lot. Syracuse running backs ended up with just 1,415 rushing yards and two touchdowns in 2014. As you're aware, that's completely unacceptable, especially for a team that should have been leaning on a deep running back corps. for the majority of last fall. Telegraphed runs were the norm, and no back was really ever able to get a rhythm going. All of that can change, however, if Tim Lester's new offense does what it's supposed to.
With a two-"tight end" set more often than not, that will create additional blockers downfield, and actually take up additional attention with the defense. With single-back sets and that many players potentially out wide, it removes the telegraphed nature of this offense and adds a bit of a guessing game for opposing defenses. With the "tight ends" being geared more toward the best athletes instead of actual tight ends, that actually opens the floodgates for more speed on the field, and again -- more defensive emphasis on potential pass-catchers instead of the running backs. Not guaranteed, of course, and it's dependent on the effectiveness of personnel execution. But it's a step in the right direction and could mean bigger things for SU's very capable running backs.
Is the next '44' on the roster yet?
That obviously depends on whether or not the athletic department is willing to take the number out of the rafters, but given the conversations with Strickland in the recruitment process, you'd have to think it's possible. Our own Ben Norowski thinks we're better served using it for a player like 2016 running back Robert Washington, but that largely depends on whether or not Washington actually ends up on the Hill. The answer (on all of this) for now is "TBD."
So what do we think? Happy with the running backs situation as it currently stands, or are we in for another year of less-than-ideal usage before a 2016 season that emphasizes the position once again? Share your thoughts below.