The Syracuse football season is getting closer and closer. In the lead-up to kickoff, we'll be previewing every position group on the Orange squad, making sure you're fully prepared for September 4. Today, we take a look at the...
Syracuse Orange Running Backs
Ignored for large swathes of time last season, Syracuse's running backs failed to ever really find a rhythm in 2014. But now, with a more streamlined offense system and hopefully a healthy offensive line in front of them, there's a renewed hope that the Orange can get back to what they're good at: running the damn ball.
Devante McFarlane, (Redshirt) Junior
McFarlane tallied the most yards of any returning running back (by default, since Ervin Phillips switched positions), so he takes the spotlight as "running back no. 1" in Tim Lester's two-back system. The speedy, yet powerful back received just 28 carries in 2014 due to a weak offensive strategy that de-emphasized the run, but McFarlane still managed to make the most of those meager touches. In particular, his 10-carry, 114-yard effort vs. Wake Forest made up a ton of his 169 yards. But still: he answered the bell and showed what he can do with consistent carries (much more so in 2013). Lester's already said he'll function largely on two ball-carriers, so Devante's incredibly likely to be one of those guys. Where we could see him more involved -- even more so than with simply more rushes -- is in the passing game, a spot where he showed glimpses of excellence in last fall given limited chances.
George Morris II, (Redshirt) Junior
Morris had more chances than McFarlane did last year (35 carries vs. 28), but couldn't pull together the same sort of break-out ability in that time. He did show it back in 2013 as a redshirt freshman, however, which is where expectations will largely focus for him this season. After a fine showing two years ago, he was seen as a speedy option who could do some damage on the outside. Now, with the likelihood of 10-plus carries per game, perhaps consistency yields much more positive results than 2014's 2.9 yards per carry. Morris also missed three games with injury and was allotted more than five touches in just one contest. None of that bodes well for a back like him to make an impact, but like McFarlane, he'll only stand to benefit from the change in system. Keep an eye on him early on to see what type of groove he can get into against some easier opponents to start the year.
Dontae Strickland, Freshman
If any back can break up the two runners slated to get the lion's share of Orange carries, it's Strickland, the exciting freshman who stands a shot to challenge for playing time this fall. He's big and quick, catches passes out of the backfield and knows how to make defenders miss in open space. Strickland's an elite talent who had offers from the likes of Georgia, Louisville, Rutgers, Virginia and Georgia Tech (among others), and SU landing him really was a coup of sorts. He even got some 44 hype in the lead-up to his commitment, but now it's time to see how he can produce on the field. If Strickland shows himself able to compete with McFarlane and Morris (and based on talent alone, he should), things could turn into a three-back system very quickly. If not, or if the two more senior rushers just show themselves greatly improved, perhaps he takes a back seat. But don't bet on it.
Jordan Fredericks, Freshman
Fredericks was New York State's best running back in 2014, and based on his numbers alone (2,000 yards and 35 TDs), he's obviously a big-play back who can make a big difference in games. While we know what he's done so far, though, the jury could be out for a couple years regarding what he can do at the collegiate level. His 5'11", 196-pound frame falls in line with that of virtually every other back on the roster at the moment. So with a likely redshirt coming this fall (barring injuries), 2016 will have more eyes on him to see if he's either distanced himself with speed or perhaps a growth spurt that lets him put on some extra pounds for power.
Tyrone Perkins, Freshman
Perkins dealt with an ACL tear this past season, but if not for that, you could bet he'd have been mentioned in the same breaths as Fredericks for New York State's top honors. If he can recover from that alright (and it appears he's on track to), he's very likely to redshirt to gain a year developing his game for college before entering the halfback competition in earnest come 2016. Two years without any real game action could be a tall order for Perkins or any back, but like the rest, he can differentiate himself with play-making ability (something SU's sorely lacking at the moment).
While this year's group of running backs appears fairly cut-and-dry (Morris and McFarlane, with a dash of Strickland), 2015 also sets up a perilous situation for 2016. Lester's taken a hardline against RB-by-committee, but he may not have a choice a fall from now when two redshirt seniors, a sophomore (likely Strickland) and two redshirt freshman all vie for carries along with possibly Robert Washington. That's a logjam that could create some attrition of talented players down the road. But alas, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
The 2014 Syracuse rushing offense finished 93rd in the country -- a precipitous fall after two straight top-40 finishes, and one that coincided with a big overall drop in offense too. For the Orange to rebound on that side of the ball (especially in the red zone), it'll mean the running backs carrying a heavier and more effective load. Let's hope they can do it...