The Syracuse Orange start spring practice next week, and to prep fans for what's to come, we're previewing every position group. Last week, we started digging into the team's pressing questions by taking look at the team's quarterback situation, and how the team can move past its lack of depth.
Syracuse has lots of running backs, but do they have enough carries to go around?
Who's on campus?
Looking strictly at running backs (according to last year's distinction), Jordan Fredericks, George Morris II and Devante McFarlane are your returning scholarship players. Walk-on Jacob Hill's also back, though it would seem unlikely he sees playing time like he did last year.
On top of those names, you'll probably want to add most of the "H-backs" from last year to play as either running backs, slot receivers or a hybrid of the two (no, that term "hybrid" is not returning). So go ahead and welcome Ervin Philips and Dontae Strickland to the conversation. Tyrone Perkins is probably in that group as well, as is 2016 early enrollee Moe Neal.
Who's arriving this summer?
Pennsylvania 3-star Jo-El Shaw, who's likely to fill the much-needed role of short-yardage back. Syracuse has been without it since Doug Marrone's "tank package" vanished, which at least explains part of the team's red zone issues.
So who's actually going to be running the football?
Fredericks is probably going to reclaim his role as starter, but there's also the chance that Erv steps back into that role -- or at least works to split carries between the two different runners. While Fredericks got the lion's share of carries and yardage (107 attempts for 607 yards), the speedy Philips was equally effective in a more limited rushing role (41 and 234).
Past those two, that's where things get very weird. Morris was effective in spurts, while McFarlane was largely buried. But there's a case to be made that both redshirt seniors were outpaced by the younger Fredericks and Philips, respectively. Strickland could be plugged in a bit here too, along with Shaw, who's going to be more effective in short yardage (as mentioned) than anyone else on the roster.
What's running the ball look like in Dino Babers's offense?
A lot of between the tackles, downhill running. If you remember the Bowling Green play-calling breakdown from the MAC Championship Game, Fred Coppet was a similar back to Fredericks, while Travis Greene had a lot in common with Erv. Still, the two spent the majority of their time taking handoffs up the middle to draw in the defense and open up the outside passing game (and doing so with a ton of success). So all of those stretch runs that only sometimes worked in previous years? You can toss those out the window for the most part (except perhaps when Eric Dungey takes off with it).
So what happens to Dontae Strickland?
Unlike Philips, who seemed to struggle in the receiving role of a "hybrid" at times, Strickland appeared to thrive when he was actually involved in the offense. At one point, he might've had the team's best nose for the end zone, and his three total TDs in 30 touches extrapolates out pretty well if Dino Babers can find the right rushing/receiving balance for him.
... And Tyrone Perkins?
Perkins was (oddly) plugged in on special teams a few times last year, which means he's a true sophomore. Considering his accomplished high school resume as a running back, there's a chance he could redshirt this season and then get plugged in again at his natural spot once the depth chart sorts out a little. Keep an eye out on where his particular situation goes.
Will Moe Neal see the field in 2016?
He certainly has the talent to, sure. But considering his role is probably similar to that of Erv or Strickland, perhaps the redshirt is the best course of action for him to master the offensive scheme and the team to clear some space in front of him. Redshirting Neal this year puts two years between him and Fredericks (and Strickland), and three between him and Philips. Neal has the potential to make a huge impact once he gets rolling in Babers's scheme. Why not give him as much time as possible as a centerpiece?
So, yeah... there are a lot of players to consider. And because of their varying experiences and 2015 usage, Babers's new system and more, we don't really have a ton of ideas on how this is all going to shake out. Obviously the spring will start that process. But no matter who's running it, at least we know this team's going to be returning to its roots and moving the ball on the ground a little more.