Syracuse happy with its options in the backfield

It didn’t take long to identify the focus of the Syracuse offense in Saturday’s annual Spring Football game as the Orange squad defeated the Blue squad by a large margin. It’s all about the running game.

But it wasn’t just one player who stuck out. An impressive array of running backs took the field today and each delighted the fans in coaches in different ways.

“Hopefully you guys saw some pictures of players that you haven’t seen running the ball as much,” Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer said. “I’m excited about those running backs.”

Smith

Jerome Smith is part of a talented backfield

One of those unfamiliar faces was sophomore George Morris III, who rushed for 68 yards. He showed impressive quickness but also proved that he could run downhill and lower the shoulder. Morris showed off his explosiveness in the first half when he found a hole and made the defense pay, running for 39 yards and a touchdown.

» Related: Recapping the spring game

Another impressive sophomore was Devante McFarlane. Though he didn’t get many touches, he showed some versatility by making a couple of catches, one of which he took for 37 yards.

“I think we have some good running backs– some good young running backs,” Shafer said. “Both of those kids [Morris and McFarlane] have a lot of ability.”

But the Orange backfield is also stacked with experience, returning four players from last year’s team that could make a huge impact this season. Jerome Smith was the veteran on display at the scrimmage. He carried the ball just 11 times for 34 yards but is the probable starter when the fall rolls around.

Smith rushed for over 1,000 yards last season, including a 152-yard performance against West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl. Despite a fumble on Saturday, Shafer was happy with his overall performance.

“I thought Jerome ran the ball well early,” he said. “Unfortunately, he has to take care of that football. That was the one turnover I was disappointed about.”

The other half of last year’s dynamic duo in the backfield is also returning. And although Prince-Tyson Gulley couldn’t play today due to injury, he’s sure to have a big impact on the team when healthy.

Gulley was the Pinstripe Bowl Most Valuable Player last season as he rushed for over 200 yards and scored two touchdowns. But offensive coordinator George McDonald says no one is guaranteed a position on the field; the players have to earn it.

“The biggest thing is that Gulley hasn’t done anything all spring due to injury,” he said. “It’s a competition. There’s only one football out there so if you’re standing on the sideline you better do something special to make sure you’re getting your routes.”

Two other backs fighting for playing time are Adonis Ameen-Moore and Ashton Broyld. Broyld, like Gulley, was also sidelined on Saturday with an injury but Ameen-Moore got a chance to strut his stuff.

He showed his bruising style of running as it often times took three defenders to take him down. Ameen-Moore wasn’t given many carries last season but ran for five touchdowns. He was often used as a goal line back to power through opposing defenses into the end zone.

Coach McDonald is most excited about the different styles of runners in the stable of backs. There’s speed in guys like Gulley and Morris and then there’s power in guys like Ameen-Moore.

» Related: Can SU make a bowl game?

“It’s going to be fun finding ways to get those guys the ball,” he said. “And I think it’s going to cause a lot of matchup problems for the defensive coordinators we’ll face.”

But there’s a lot of time until the season begins at MetLife Stadium on Aug. 31. Chances are, there wont be six players in the backfield rotation when SU faces Penn State, so who will emerge from that pack?

The players have all summer to improve themselves and will continue to compete for the starting job in the fall.

“We look forward to this last part of spring finishing up in the classroom and seeing these kids take it to the next level and take ownership of the team when the coaches can’t be there to coach them,” Shafer said. “Hopefully they make big progress when we are not around looking at them.”

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