For months now, we've been previewing the Syracuse Orange football season like it's just around the corner. Well... now it sort of is. As we've done in years' past, we'll preview a different SU position group each week. Last week was the quarterbacks. This week:
The ground game started out so promising for Syracuse (over 300 yards rushing against Rhode Island in the opener). But then things fell apart rather quickly (despite the team continuing to run a ton).. SU relied too heavily on quarterbacks running in order to move the ball on the ground. No ball-carrier received enough carries to develop a rhythm. And the Orange fell short of a 1,000-yard rusher yet again. This year's offense should change most of that.
Dontae Strickland, Sophomore
Among a few surprises on Dino Babers's post-spring depth chart for Syracuse was the fact that Strickland sat atop the team's list of running backs. Once relegated to the dreaded "hybrid" role in SU's previous offenses, the speedy ball-carrier moves back to his natural position of running back which will certainly mean a lot more carries out of the backfield. In 2015, Strickland seemed explosive in spurts, though admittedly much of that production came when he was a receiving option (nine catches for 137 yards and two scores). His rushing numbers were less explosive, something Bill Connelly even took note of in his season preview. Still, he's got speed and that's exactly what Dino Babers is looking for. Even if there's questions early, he will be splitting carries with others.
Jordan Fredericks, Sophomore
Syracuse's leading rusher from 2015 appears to get a demotion via the dept chart. But in reality, it's just a shift in priorities that will still yield him more carries than he had in the previous offense. SU's "Fat Back" has been spending the offseason shedding some pounds, and comes back hopefully with the same burst, but a little more quickness. Wile he possessed some size last fall, Fredericks was not a power option by any means. His value came in the burst he used to hit the hole, a feature that made him among the most explosive backs in college football. He's less of a receiving option than Strickland, but again, will receive plenty of touches. Keep an eye out this summer for how Babers starts to use Fredericks vs. Strickland.
Moe Neal, Freshman
While he was originally recruited as a hybrid, Neal's calling was always going to be as a player coming out the backfield. Over the past two seasons in high school, he tallied 49 rushing scores and 3,400 yards on the ground. He can catch the football as well, which is where the hybrid demands could come into play for both him and Strickland. Even without that element, however, there's plenty to like. One of the biggest talking points coming out of Syracuse's spring game was the speed Neal showed off, absolutely blowing by the line. While Neal wasn't a Babers recruit initially, he's exactly the type of athlete this offense is made for. Being an early enrollee makes it even more likely he sees the field a bunch this season.
George Morris II, (Redshirt) Senior
Morris may appear to be the forgotten man with the three names in front of him and various other Syracuse players who can and will get the ball in their hands more often. Still, he serves a meaningful role to get fresh legs out there, could allow for a change of pace and has plenty of in-game experience to lean on. Babers's offense requires fresh legs. Having four running backs (and no more than that) means they're all seeing the field at least a little. Though Morris has shown inconsistency while at SU, he's also been a home run threat now and again. That's a valuable commodity off the bench.
This list would've featured one more player if not for the news yesterday that would-be freshman Jo-El Shaw failed to qualify and will go the JUCO route instead. Shaw was bigger, and his installation would've seemingly put an end to recent Orange red zone woes with a real power back to go to. Alas, it wasn't mean to be, and we ride with the four guys already on campus. Running back will certainly be a priority for the 2017 class.
But what do you think of Syracuse's running backs? Obviously they're all seeing playing time, but can any hit the 1,000-yard mark? Is there anything from Bowling Green's offense and how it used Fred Coppet and Travis Greene that helps inform us as to how Babers will utilize SU's players? For some of us (Dan, myself, probably others as well), it's still puzzling to not see Ervin Philips's name above. But are we past that now? Discuss any and all of these questions in the comments.