When the Syracuse Orange rolled out the initial 2016 roster a couple weeks back, we noticed several plays labeled with the running back/wide receiver tag. None of the three -- Ervin Philips, Dontae Strickland and Tyrone Perkins -- really surprised anyone. Under Scott Shafer, they were all hybrids/H-backs/#EXPRESSBACKS. Dino Babers tells Syracuse.com's Chris Carlson that won't be the case much longer:
"We're trying to lock them in to one position and then we'll see Saturday, when we start to go live, whether they're really a running back or a wide receiver."
So that might settle it. SU's first scrimmage, happening this Saturday, might be all Babers needs to properly sort these guys. Or perhaps, they've already been sorted based on what we've seen through four practices?
Philips has spent the spring in the slot thus far, while Strickland's spent a lot more time in the backfield. Perkins has spent time at wideout, but would appear to be the only player we're really trying to figure out. If Babers likes his speed and is content with the stable of running backs in the fold (Jordan Fredericks, George Morris, Strickland -- and Jacob Hill to a lesser extent), you'll see Perkins potentially jump up over to wide receiver and compete for playing time. If not, there could be an interesting four-way split backfield that ultimately under-uses two of those players (Babers typically goes with two backs).
Carlson spoke with Philips a bit at practice yesterday on what he needs to do in order to excel in the slot. Philips seems ready to embrace the role, especially when it comes to the deeper routes the previous offense didn't really have him practice enough (according to Erv):
"I like it. I just want to be in a position to make plays, honestly. I like being in open space, making people miss. I enjoy doing multiple things."
"I don't really think I struggled (on deeper routes). I didn't get a lot of reps doing it so when I was in the game, sometimes, I wasn't used to it."
Babers will be leaning on Erv to get more involved in deep routes, which also means our dreams of him playing running back are dead (they were already, but this was the nail in the coffin). I mentioned that his pass-catching (especially deep) needed a bit of improvement. But if the culprit's just a lack of practice reps on deep balls, then perhaps that was a premature assumption he'd be better off in the backfield. For what it's worth, Steve Ishmael is already impressed with Philips's progress:
"I know he struggled some with that but you're going to see a transformation in him. "He catches on really good. He's performing well. He's catching over-the-shoulder passes. He's not the type that's going to take a month. He came out and caught a couple today."
I, for one, welcome the "Steve Ishmael is a great quote" era wholeheartedly.
So Saturday's the day for the hybrids to sort out. And we'll have to wait and see what else. Babers, while talking conservative goals for 2016, also seems aggressive in his desire to move the team forward in his image. That means a lot of change, but so far, largely for the better.