No rush: Without a clear-cut starter after preseason camp, Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone will weigh his options at running back during the season
Syracuse started training camp with five players competing for the running back spot. As training camp progressed, no running back separated himself from the group.
Jerome Smith, Prince-Tyson Gulley, Adonis Ameen-Moore, George Morris III and Ashton Broyld were all in the mix. With only days left in camp, the Orange coaches moved safety Devante MacFarlane to running back to see if he could earn the starting job.
But head coach Doug Marrone said at the end of camp that none of the backs emerged as the team’s primary option.
“No, I wouldn’t right now say, ‘Hey, here’s the guy we’re going to give the ball 30 times to. I would not say that right now today,” Marrone said. “That may change in the next couple of days but right now you’ll see a couple of guys. We’re discussing exactly who they are.”
Smith is listed as the starter for SU’s season opener against Northwestern. Marrone said the decision came down to his prior game experience and his performance in camp. Still, each back remains in the discussion to see time throughout the season.
Hometown: Akron, Ohio
Prince-Tyson Gulley started last season second on the depth chart behind Antwon Bailey. Gulley showed promise in Syracuse’s fourth game of the season, rushing for 70 yards on 10 carries — both career highs.
But Gulley suffered a broken collarbone after the game and was out for the final eight games of the season.
“I’m just looking to finish where I left off and keep it going,” Gulley said.
Gulley returns in 2012 as part of a crowded backfield fighting for time. He worked back from his injury and got back on the field during the summer, using the time to regain his strength. As a freshman, Gulley played in 10 games and ran for 74 yards on 13 carries. He also served as the Orange’s primary kick returner, taking 29 kickoffs for 633 yards.
The shifty running back said he’s looking forward to seeing the unit improve heading into the season.
Motivated by his injury-shortened 2011 season, he’s ready to make something happen when his name’s called.
“Just patience and focus — that’s all I’ve been thinking about, man,” Gulley said. “When it’s my time, make sure I can make a play and put myself in the best position to make big plays.”
Hometown: Denver, Colo.
Adonis Ameen-Moore shed 15 pounds during the offseason and enters the season at 229. Marrone said during camp he was happy to see Ameen-Moore’s hard work had paid off.
The sophomore only saw the field in four games his first season, rushing for 40 yards. This season may be tough for him to break into the rotation, but he said the fierce competition will only benefit him.
“Every day, I just go out there and try to do my best,” Ameen-Moore said. “Just try to show the coaches I can help win games, hopefully.”
Ameen-Moore enjoyed a decorated high school career, earning all-state and All-American honors at Mullen High School in Colorado. He rushed for 1,774 yards and 26 touchdowns his senior season and led his team to three state titles.
The highlight for Ameen-Moore in 2011 came against West Virginia when he gained 19 yards on five carries.
After working hard in the offseason to reshape his body, he finds himself with an opportunity to earn more time in an unsettled situation at his position.
“We’re all competing, trying to get a job. So we’re all going to go out there and compete hard, and we’re going to practice even harder,” Ameen-Moore said, “because when we see somebody else do good, like ‘OK, I got to top that.’”
Hometown: Wheatley Heights, N.Y.
Devante McFarlane was a late addition to the battle for time at running back. In the final week of camp, Marrone moved the freshman from safety to running back.
“When the situation came up of the running back situation where no one was really taking it,” Marrone said, “we just moved Devante over there, and he’s done a nice job.”
McFarlane played running back at Half Hollow Hills West High School, where he was a first-team all-state selection and rushed for 754 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior. Marrone said he wavered back and forth on where to play McFarlane when he arrived at SU. He saw a big, strong, fast kid who could develop into a safety or even grow into a linebacker.
Marrone said that after just two days at the position, McFarlane was in the mix to see time when the season begins.
Hometown: Bear, Del.
Jerome Smith was listed first on Syracuse’s preseason depth chart, though the competition for the starting running back spot was ongoing through training camp. When camp ended, none of the running backs created any separation, including Smith.
Last season, Smith was Antwon Bailey’s primary backup and rushed for 139 yards on 37 carries, scoring one touchdown. Smith knows about the lineage of his position. Syracuse has had a 1,000-yard rusher for the past four seasons, but Smith isn’t focused too much on that number.
The only number he cares about right now is the one that sits in the Orange’s win column.
“You set personal goals, but all those goals don’t mean anything if you don’t win games,” Smith said. “I’d rather have a lot of wins. I’m not going to lie.”
Though Smith’s playing time at SU has been limited, he put up impressive numbers the last time he was a starter, which came during his senior year of high school at Pencader Charter in Delaware.
He ran for 1,334 yards and 16 touchdowns on 193 carries. He has the ability to make the big plays Syracuse is looking for, but Smith said as long as everyone fulfills their responsibilities, big plays will happen.
“Our biggest thing is just everybody doing your job,” Smith said. “If you do your job, big plays are going to come.”
Hometown: Rochester, N.Y.
A quarterback throughout high school, Ashton Broyld worked primarily with the running backs in training camp. The Syracuse coaches want to get him on the field as soon as possible, so having him line up in the backfield is likely the best way to do that.
Broyld was a dual-threat quarterback who spent a lot of time playing in a spread offense, so he’s shown he’s dangerous with his legs and will continue to showcase his rushing skills with the Orange.
As a senior at Rush-Henrietta High School, Broyld rushed for 1,540 yards and 24 touchdowns. That’s in addition to throwing for 1,961 yards and 24 scores.
For at least this season, Broyld won’t be beating defenses with his arm but with his legs instead.
While he’s vying for a running back spot, he could also be used in the slot and will take direct snaps in a wildcat formation.
“The physical part isn’t the hard part. It’s more of a mental and learning the plays and doing the little things right,” Broyld said. “I’m just trying to get better every day.”
The balance for offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, though, has been not overloading him with too much information. Broyld has learned the system little by little and said he understands it better each day.
Wherever he lines up, the Orange is simply excited to see him on the field.
“Ashton right now has shown that he’s a darn good football player. The key is going to be he’s still a freshman,” Hackett said. I’m very excited to give him enough so he can showcase what he can do but not overload him to hurt him being a freshman.”
George Morris III
Hometown: Lawrenceville, Ga.
In the competition for the starting running back spot, George Morris isn’t in the lead and probably won’t see much time on the field as a freshman.
As a senior at Central Gwinnett High School in Georgia, Morris rushed for 1,045 yards and 17 touchdowns. He has speed and has impressed the Syracuse coaching staff but was listed sixth on the preseason depth chart.
Still, since none of the tailbacks separated themselves from the rest of the group in training camp, it isn’t out of the question that Morris will play a minor role this season.
The depth at the running back position is something offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said is something he’s happy to have. Morris is among the backs he’s excited about and brings skills that could become valuable over the course of the season.
“Our depth at that position, it’s exciting,” Hackett said. “It allows you to really mix it up, but you can keep it simple. And you can throw a lot of different guys. It puts a lot of stress on the defense.”
—Compiled by The Daily Orange Sports staff, firstname.lastname@example.org
Published on August 30, 2012 at 3:44 am
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