Stephen Bailey from the Post-Standard sat down with Syracuse Orange offensive coordinator Tim Lester for an in-depth look at the hybrid position in the new offense. It's a great read and well worth your time, so go check it out right now, and then let's discuss.
OK, glad you're back. Now, what does it all mean?
From my perspective, there are some good takeaways, some scary ones, and some still pretty uncertain elements from the piece.
Last week, we took a look at the H-backs in George McDonald's offense the previous two years, and how the team pretty much failed miserably at using them in a versatile way.
The caveat in that post was that Lester reserves the right to use them in a different way in his first full year as offensive coordinator, and it sounds like that's what he plans to do:
"Lining up as an in-line tight end, on the wing, in the slot and in the backfield, hybrids will be used as weapons in the running and passing games. They'll be motioned before the play to create a mismatch on the perimeter or into the backfield to give quarterback Terrel Hunt additional pass protection. And they'll be asked to switch assignments from play to play, a responsibility level more taxing than most other positions on the field."
Just the idea of using the hybrids in the running game would be a major improvement over McDonald's H-back, as Ashton Broyld and Brisly Estime combined for just seven carries in the past two seasons as the leading players in the role. They also did not spend much time lining up in the backfield or motioning to that spot, so if Lester is true to his word, they will be more than just slot receivers.
Additionally, Bailey notes that one of Lester's best players at the hybrid position at Elmhurst was Vince Gabrys, who caught 29 passes and rushed the ball 36 times, something no hybrid players has come close to at SU the past two years.
(Potentially) Scary Takeaways
While looking back on Elmhurt's previous success at having versatile hybrids bodes well for SU trying to get guys involved in different ways, it also opens up some concerns about Lester's ability to run a Division I offense. In fact, Lester tells Bailey that he still isn't sure what will be effective for the Orange, saying:
"There are things we did at Elmhurst that look good here, there are things we did at Elmhurst that don't look good here and there are things that we couldn't do at Elmhurst that we're great at here."
The concern here is that Lester may not find out what Elmhurst plays or packages will simply not work at this level until they fail in a game. It's one thing to try plays out in a controlled setting, against a defense you know extremely well, and with your quarterback having no fear of being blindsided. It's a completely different thing when you're trying out an offense for the first time against a real team, even an FCS squad in the opener -- just ask Villanova last year.
Syracuse absolutely needs to win its first three games. This team cannot slip up and go anything less than 3-0 with the schedule that follows, so it's somewhat terrifying to imagine the offense running plays that worked very well for a D-III school and getting blown up by low level FBS and FCS teams. Something to keep an eye on.
In my opinion, the three most explosive playmakers on the SU offense (other than Hunt) are Estime, Broyld and Ervin Philips. While Estime is now exclusively a receiver, the offense has to find ways to get Broyld and Phillips the ball more, and I still don't know how they're going to do that.
Philips showed signs last year he could be a feature back in an offense that doesn't seem to have one. Philips carried the ball more times (45) last year than George Morris II (35) or Devante McFarlane (28) did. While McFarlane showed his home run capability with an 86-yard rush at Wake Forest, taking that run away leaves him with just 3.1 yards per attempt on the rest of his carries, and Morris averaged a pedestrian 2.9 yards per rush last year.
And while just talking about using hybrids in the running game is an improvement, Lester hasn't yet made it clear how that will get guys like Phillips the ball more often than if they just played running back, as Bailey elaborates:
"While the passing concepts are established for the most part ... Lester's plans to use hybrids in the running game are a bit more veiled. Philips was plugged into a jet sweep package late in last season so it's possible that makes a return. There are also a handful of misdirection or even double-option type plays that the offense could run with a running back next to Hunt in the backfield and a hybrid on the wing."
So there are ways Philips can take some handoffs and catch some passes, but will that amount to 15-20 touches per game, as he would likely get as the feature back? Considering Estime and Broyld averaged 2.7 and 4.1 touches per game, respectively, the past two seasons, it's hard to believe a hybrid player is in line to get 15-20 per game.
Again, we play the wait-and-see approach with Lester's offense, because we don't have a real in-game sample of anything. But in most offenses, you want to get your best playmakers the ball as much as possible, and I'm still left wondering how Phillips is possibly more valuable as a hybrid than as a feature back.