Football

Morris III adds depth to experienced group of running backs

Yuki Mizuma | Staff Photographer

Syracuse running back George Morris III breaks a tackle in practice on Saturday. Morris has seen an expanded role this spring with the absence of Prince-Tyson Gulley.

While Syracuse is undergoing a lot of changes this spring, the running back position is one of the few stable offensive positions.

Ryan Nassib is gone, and in his place is a fierce three-man quarterback competition. Justin Pugh and Zack Chibane, staples of the offensive line, are gone, leaving nearly half of the line in need of reshaping. Starting wide receivers Marcus Sales and Alec Lemon are gone, leaving a new-look corps in their place.

But Prince-Tyson Gulley and Jerome Smith remain, leaving running back as the unquestioned strength of the offense. On Saturday, though, Gulley watched from the sidelines, just as he will for the rest of the spring. And on the field, an unknown sophomore, George Morris III, filled his role admirably.

“You’ve got to look at the positives any time you have an injury,” head coach Scott Shafer said. “ … With Tyson Gulley being out, it does give opportunities to guys like George Morris, and those kids to get good reps with both the ones and twos.”

Morris, a sophomore running back who never saw the field during his freshman year, stole the show at spring practice Saturday, bursting through holes for long runs up the gut and exploding down sidelines for big carries.

But Morris’ big practice doesn’t come as a surprise to Smith. He saw Morris’ talent in practice last season, but there was “just a little bit of youth last year” holding him back.

Now, he’s relishing his opportunity. He was one of the best all-around high school backs in Georgia, totaling more than 700 rushing and receiving yards in his junior year at Central Gwinnett High School. He’s a mix between the Orange’s top two running backs, Smith said, with a combination of finesse and power, but it’s his unique running style that sets him apart.

“If you’ve ever seen him run, he runs like a duck,” Smith said, “so it’s hard to know where he’s going because he’s got these duck feet.”

Morris’ role in a deep stable of running backs remains to be determined, but as a group, SU will lean on its running backs.

None of the three quarterbacks on the roster have ever started a game. Both running backs have 1,000-yard potential.

“We will definitely, I feel like, lean on the run game a little more,” quarterback Terrel Hunt said. “We’ll be a run-first, pass-second team, and we have fantastic running backs, so that definitely gives us some support and allows the coaches to use them to help us.”

Morris will simply be a factor in that group. He’ll have a tough time stealing carries from Gulley or Smith, but he pushes the duo and will find himself with the ball if one of them goes down. If he continues to perform the way he did on Saturday, it’ll be tough to keep him off of the field.

The team will lean on its running game, but after practice, John Kinder delved into specifics. The coaching staff has told Kinder and his teammates they want to run the ball “50 times a game.”

If Kinder or Hunt wins the quarterback job, then option elements to the offense won’t be out of the question, meaning more running backs will have an opportunity to get onto the field.

Nonetheless, seeing more options emerge is key. With a potential first-round pick in Nassib at the helm a year ago, Syracuse had the ability to air it out and pick up chunks of yardage through the air. That won’t be the case in 2013. The Orange will need as many playmakers that can carry the ball as possible.

“If we run 70 plays, they’re going to get it most of the time, so we’re leaning on them a lot. And George Morris,” Kinder said, “he’s going to be a great running back here.”

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