During our Syracuse Orange running backs preview a few weeks back, we'd mentioned that the Orange would likely be playing at least one freshman at this position this fall. Now, we hear it straight from the horse's mouth that several should see the field, even in minimal roles. That horse? SU Running Backs Coach DeAndre Smith.
As Smith told Syracuse.com's Nate Mink yesterday:
"Baseline (expectations) would be they're going to help us, there's no question. It all depends how much they can retain. You don't want to give them too much. If they can handle a couple different roles, we'll let them do it... Bare minimum, they'll play. I just don't know how much."
And that makes a lot of sense, based on the role freshmen have played in his backfield since taking over his position in 2013. As either true or redshirt freshman, George Morris II, Devante McFarlane and Ervin Philips have all taken handoffs from the halfback position. This year, it'll likely be Jordan Fredericks's and Dontae Strickland's respective turns (as a reminder, Tyrone Perkins was shifted to the hybrid role for this season).
Smith goes on to talk about both Fredericks and Strickland getting a fair shake at kick returner, though that role could end up going to junior Brisly Estime (yes, please!). If they're not returning kicks, they could have other special teams roles too on the punt/kick coverage or blocking teams (or both).
Smith's notes on the freshman running backs are just the latest notes that the Orange will have a lot of inexperienced (but talented) players on the field this fall. Yesterday's defensive line preview revealed a position group largely comprised of true or redshirt freshmen, and the offensive line and secondary should also have plenty of them in the mix as well. Part of this is due to departures this season (especially on the defensive line where several players left "unexpectedly." But the other part of this could be setting Syracuse up well for next season too. Like Dan and I discussed on today's podcast, you'd rather 2016 was a roster full of experienced sophomores than a bunch of true and redshirt freshman ALL being thrown in at once. As much as this strategy could put us on edge a little bit this season, it has the potential to pay some bigger dividends for 2016 and beyond.