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Syracuse football spring position preview: Running Backs

Can Sean Tucker remain an absolute magician?

Rutgers v Syracuse Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

In the second edition of this year’s Syracuse Orange spring football previews, we’ll take a look at one of the more consistent aspects of last season’s team: the running backs.

And no, your eyes don’t deceive you. If you missed last week’s quarterbacks preview, the Nunes staff will be splitting the spring football stories this time around. So without further delay, let’s dive into who will be taking handoffs for the Cuse in 2022.

Will the Orange keep their run-heavy offense rolling?

Who’s gone?

Cooper Lutz fell down the depth chart far enough that he entered the transfer portal back in December. The redshirt junior will be missed on special teams, but he wasn’t going to get anything meaningful in terms of touches with all of the young competition.

Jarveon Howard also left via the portal early last season, and he’ll suit up for FCS Alcorn State moving forward.

Abdul Adams used up his final year of eligibility, so the Orange will lose another special teams regular. As the song goes, he doesn’t have to go home, but he can’t stay here.

Syracuse v Florida State Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Who’s on campus?

Sean Tucker has recently been trying his hand (or rather, his feet) at track and field. By all accounts, Tucker’s legs haven’t gone anywhere, and neither has the explosive speed he showcased through most of last season. I only say “most” because defenses did crack down on the very run-eccentric Orange offense late in the year. Tucker is coming off a truly remarkable campaign where he set a milestone with 1,496 rushing yards, the most by a large margin in Syracuse’s storied history, and also scored 12 TDS. He also added 25 catches for 255 yards and 2 TDs. Tucker unfortunately ended the season on a sour note, amassing only 47 total yards against Pitt. Still, #34 (soon-to-be #44?) should once again please this writer with his performance on the field. No, I will not ever stop reusing that line.

Backing up Tucker are a bunch of redshirt freshman: Josh Hough and walk-ons Joe Pinjuh, David Obeng-Agyapong and Mario Escobar. Hough suffered a season-ending surgery all the way back in training camp, so he also has that added baggage to deal with.

Two other running backs arrived on campus in January. LeQuint Allen is the sole signing made at the RB position. In high school, Allen took home Gatorade New Jersey Player of the Year after a great senior season. He rushed for 1,903 yards and 28 TDs and also hauled in 3 TD catches with Millville.

Juwaun Price transferred to Syracuse after spending two years in a reserve role with New Mexico State. He brings with him three years of eligibility and the most experience of any of Tucker’s backups. Between his redshirt and freshman years, he rushed for 888 yards and 11 TDS.

Who’s arriving this summer?

We don’t expect any new running backs added to the roster this summer.

How far can Tucker go as the bell-cow?

This Syracuse team will live or die by Sean Tucker. It's as simple as that. New Offensive Coordinator Robert Anae won’t have to look far for the focus of his attack plan. Anae has a track record of playing to the strengths of an offense, running both run-heavy and pass-heavy packages. He had the 10th best rushing attack in the nation with BYU in 2015; that team had the most total rushing yards (3,475) in the program’s history.

Also helping out Tucker is most of the same offensive line as last year. While it seemed like just about every position had players transfer out, four of the five starters will continue to block for Tucker. The only departure is Airon Servias, who finished his career with an FBS high 60 straight starts on the o-line. Carlos Vettorello may make the move back to center, where he started every game in 2020 before shifting to right tackle.

So long as Sean stays healthy, he should have no issue replicating his production from last year. After wondering whether Syracuse would finally have a 1,000 yard rusher, there’s an argument to be made that another thousand on the ground is the floor for Tucker.

Is there a clear Number 2 Option?

On paper, Price makes the most sense. He put up decent stats with NMSU, with his best performances coming in the last two games of their season. He could get some work in change-of-pace situations.

I won’t completely rule out some others. Hough was the most intriguing of last year’s true freshman before getting knocked out in camp. His stature (6’3”, 255 lbs.) could set him up as a 3rd-and-short type RB. Allen also looks to be a promising talent, but he’s a bit too raw right now to handle more than a few touches.

What does Chris Elmore’s return mean?

What should have been the senior’s final year was sidetracked by two separate injuries. While it stung down the stretch in 2021, Elmore’s extra year could end up being a blessing in disguise. The fullback was instrumental in blocking for Tucker and his absence down the stretch was noticeable. If you go back to the Florida State and Clemson games from last Fall you can see him throwing key blocks to springing big runs. He should also provide extra support for the line early on while they make some slight personnel adjustments.