Syracuse University Football has had a rich history when it comes to the backfield. Jim Brown. Ernie Davis. Floyd Little.
The term "running back" is not taken lightly on the Orange squad. But, back during the time of Brown, Davis, and Little, the baton was passed. There were not multiple rushers trusted with carrying the load at the same time. As football has grown throughout the years, teams have begun to rely on more than one player at a time to take the reins in the backfield.
This season, Syracuse has eight running backs on the roster. Adonis Ameen-Moore, Prince-Tyson Gulley, Steve Rene, Jerome Smith, and Greg Tobias return from last season, joined by incoming freshmen, Ashton Broyld (also a QB, WR), DeVante McFarlane (listed currently at DB), and George Morris, III.
The player asked to take to the ground the most last season, Antwon Bailey, has risen to the NFL, leaving the majority share of the carries for the taking, resulting in the open competition Syracuse running backs have at their feet.
Two of those players, Prince-Tyson Gulley and Jerome Smith, spoke about their individual focus and skills as well as the backfield as a whole at Syracuse Media Day.
For Gulley, "Key, what it is, is patience and focus." He elaborated by saying, "I just gotta make sure I read all my reads when I get out there. That's the best thing I'm good at because I can make people miss in the open field. That is pretty much my game, but I gotta get there first."
Getting there was an issue last season, due to injuries that sidelined him. However, Gulley views his time off the field as an advantage.
"I feel it's given me an edge this year," stated Gulley, "to come out and prove to my team and to everybody else that I really can play, for a whole year."
Gulley's backfield mate, Smith may also have an edge going into this season after becoming a positive topic of conversation as a result of his showing at this year's Spring practices.
When asked why he his name has come up more since the Spring, Smith responded by saying, "I prepared differently. I change my mindset. I did a little bit more than just the boot camp. I watched a little bit more film. I worked out a little bit more during the Spring because I knew about the task at hand. I knew I had to get better each day. I didn't look too forward to the season or just look just to get to camp. I had to look for today, took care of today and the next day, I had to take care of the next day."
Versatility may be a determining factor in who gets onto and remains on the field this season for the Orange. When Gulley was asked about his game compared to Smith's, Gulley provided the notion that he may be a more versatile option for Syracuse. "I'm more diverse than he (Smith) is. He a bigger back, so I'm gonna bring a little bit more quickness to the table."
But, Smith refuted that statement when talking about where he is currently in his preparation for the upcoming season. "I'm working on one cut and go. That's my thing right now. One cut and go…you gotta add more to your game," said Smith. "Learn how to catch the ball a little better. Make a couple people miss. Just adding stuff to your game. Right now, I think I'm one cut and go, but I'm gonna add to that."
With no player holding the baton for Syracuse, as of yet, newcomers like Broyld , Morris and McFarlane, have an opportunity to get on the gridiron as well.
As far as Gulley's familiarity with these incoming backs, he shared, "I know that they're athletes. That's pretty much what they came here for and they can contribute to our offense to help us win games, so bring ‘em on."
Smith went a little more in depth on Broyld, stating that, "He spreads the defense out. He makes ‘em take all those guys out the box and start making them play everywhere he plays," which Smith sees resulting in more production for himself. "Hopefully, he gets all the people. Maybe he gets 11 people on him. Maybe make this thing a little bit easier for me."
Whether it be Broyld or another member of the Orange's crowded backfield, both Gulley and Smith agree that there will be more than one number carrying the ball for Syracuse.
"We're gonna have a different variety of backs," said Gulley. Smith agreed, adding onto what Gulley said by remarking that, "Even in the pros…teams use three or four running backs ‘cause everybody can do different things. Everybody's strength is a different thing. You're there to win games and I think that's the best thing for it."
Do not let either of these backs fool you, though. Gulley and Smith know what is at stake this season. Gulley will be using the competition to make him better. "That's just gonna push us to work harder at what we need to work on," said Gulley, "and when we have our chances to make plays happen, hopefully we're gonna make them happen."
Smith has familiarized himself with Syracuse's history in the backfield and understands the importance of the position he has been asked to play. "Syracuse running back. It's Ernie Davis. It's Jim Brown. Got something to uphold, and now there's a job up for grabs, so I gotta go get it."
Running Backs' Coach for Syracuse University football, Tyrone Wheatley, has not given the nod to any one back in particular with less than a month until the Orange's first game.
"[I] have no feel right now," said Wheatley. "The feel is have these guys come for this camp and compete. That's the key word for this camp right now is competition. Everybody's gonna go in and compete, and then as they say, we let them fall where they may."
One running back on Syracuse's roster whose name has been attached to his weight since he joined the team is Adonis Ameen-Moore, but Wheatley dispelled the belief that weight, either gained or lost, would hold Ameen-Moore or anyone back from playing time. "To me, weight isn't a big issue, Wheatley remarked. "If he (Ameen-Moore) can play at that weight, he can play. If he's better at a lighter weight, then he's better. But once again, I don't want to sound redundant, but he has to compete…these guys have put in an incredible offseason, whether it be gaining weight, gaining muscle, or losing weight to get faster and stronger. It just all depends on how he goes out and competes this summer."
The man in charge of giving Syracuse their best opportunity on the ground this season knows that once that competitor or competitors are uncovered, the next step is to keep them healthy. "We've created big plays. That's not the issue. The issue is durability," stressed Wheatley. "As a running back, you can't play if you're in a training room. So right now, the added muscle, the strength, and being able to keep that strength throughout the duration of the season will help them be productive, and that's the biggest thing right now, being productive. Being able to stay on the field and stay out of the training room."