Syracuse Head Coach Doug Marrone said recently that the move of freshman athlete DeVante McFarlane from strong safety to running back says that "…there is not a great comfort level at that position," and that he was looking for more separation.
Running Backs' Coach, Tyrone Wheatley, elaborated on Marrone's comments.
"Coach (Doug Marrone) is looking at it from an overall head coach's point of view," he said. "Right now, I'm looking from the separation from the standpoint of are they separating from the point that they were yesterday? Are they separating from the point where they were last week? Are they the same back?
"I don't want them to be the same running back that they were last week. I want them to progress. I want them to separate from the old and enter into a new phase into their position, and they've done that. But to be honest with you to say has one guy emerged to be that one guy just yet? Not yet. Not yet."
When asked about the addition of McFarlane to his unit, Wheatley responded, "Right now it's kinda hard to really talk about Devante or any one back in particular because right now we're just trying to get these guys to compete to make themselves better and to make one another better, but Devante is gonna be a good back in time."
As to who has the best opportunity to be the starter in the backfield, Wheatley focused his response more toward the preparation needed for the backs as a whole.
"We're just trying to get the nuances of playing because if you look at each one of these guys, there's no one guy who's really had a starting season here at SU," said Wheatley. "So, before we even think about any of that really, it's just getting their bodies and minds prepared to just play and that's the first and foremost deal."
When asked to differentiate between the fast runners and the power backs, Wheatley began to place his running backs, starting first with speed.
"If you talk about quickness, my quicker backs would be, of course, Ashton [Broyld], George [Morris, III], and [Prince]Tyson-[Gulley]. Those are my fleet of feet. My quicker backs," Wheatley remarked.
"…Who's the quickest? I don't know," continued Wheatley. "I don't rate those guys. Hey, I give them the ball and let them run and let the stats tell me the truth. So guys who make the most guys miss or guys who what we call YAC, yards after contact, that's the type of coach I am…at the end of the day the numbers and the percentages will tell the truth, so while they're arguing over who's the best, I say, ‘I just go to the numbers.'"
Speaking next on the power rushers, Wheatley stated, "What we call your steady, move your chains, type of guys would be, of course, your Jerome [Smith]'s and your Adonis [Ameen-Moore]'s.
However, Wheatley does not want to imply that Smith and Ameen-Moore do not have speed. "…Jerome and Adonis have worked hard to improve their quick feet. So when you see those guys out on the perimeter, you'll see a little difference in them this year."
After spring practice, Smith's name surfaced concerning gaining a bigger role in the offense. Coach Wheatley provided his thoughts on Smith in the present.
"Right now, I'm just really looking for these guys to compete against themselves, and Jerome has done that," Wheatley remarked. "Jerome, each day, he comes out. He works. He wants to better himself. He wants to be better than he was yesterday, whether it be pass protection, pass receiving.
"Whatever the case may be, Jerome is going out and doing the things that are vital to get him the best position to be when it's all said and done. You can say that about all the guys right now."
Staying with the current state of the backfield, the eye on Broyld has been watching critically as the season edges closer. Wheatley offered his thoughts on what having an athletic specimen like Broyld means for the offense.
"What it could mean is almost like that word potential…I don't want to beat a dead drum. I don't want to beat a dead horse. But just to keep it plain and simple, and just to keep it on track, you don't want to make someone a star right now. You don't want to condemn them," declared Wheatley. "Ashton is doing a great job. All my backs are doing a great job of improving daily on the skills and techniques and the things that I'm asking them to do."
Wheatley continued, focusing on the uncertainty of when Broyld will make his presence known.
"As Ashton continues to do that and continues to progress, then next year, maybe at the end of this month, I don't know, but we'll be able to sit down and talk about that great specimen…but for right now, who knows? He's working. He's getting better, day by day."
Broyld has shown strength with his speed during camp, inflicting hits before taking them, and moving the pile for extra yardage. Another member of the backfield who has displayed an ability to push for more yards after contact, Ameen-Moore was also discussed by Wheatley, beginning with the weight Ameen-Moore lost going into Fall camp.
"I don't really get caught up into body size or body styles," Wheatley stated. "It's just one, can he be productive in what he does? Hell, at 255, could he have been productive there? If he was, then I would let him stay at 255." But he wasn't. So he had to drop down his weight. But right now at practice, he seems to be doing a great job…He's lost the weight.
"He's done all the things to show [improvement] not only to me but to himself that he is worthy of a shot and a chance and, hey, his body looks great. He looks good…He moves the pile. He moves that pile."
During camp, all of the running backs not only carried the ball but were also challenged in catching the ball in different scenarios. Running straight forward, turning to receive a pass, and then turning with the ball to go upfield. Going out along the line of scrimmage to catch a short pass. Running downfield and attempting to field a rainbow-style pass.
Most of the running backs had little issue getting and holding onto the ball. Ameen-Moore struggled a few times to gather the attempts his way.
The running backs also performed a drill with the linebackers in coverage. During the drill, a linebacker would be in man-on coverage, trying to prevent the running back from catching the ball. The back had to create separation by putting their body into the linebacker to give themselves an opportunity to make a play for the ball.
Gulley stood out when he used his hands to give himself enough room from the tight coverage of linebacker Oliver Vigille. Smith hit linebacker Marquis Spruill and received his pass, also.
So where does each running back fall in the totem pole of receiving?
"We have a lot of arguments in our room, if you ever ask those guys, you have to leave it up to them," shared Wheatley. "They're very competitive, and they rate themselves every day as to who has the best hands in my room, and I tell them I stay out of that one.
"You talk to Jerome, he's gonna say he has the best. You talk to Tyson, he's gonna say he has the best."
"But, as you know, this is a multiple scheme offense," Wheatley went on to say. "We're gonna try to put these guys in space and get them in certain situations. Get them the ball other than handing it off to them, and, once again, they all have improved that to where…whoever goes in the game, I feel comfortable that they will get it done pass receiving the ball from the backfield."
Wheatley concluded with a teaser trailer to the upcoming show that is the upcoming Syracuse football season.
"Has one guy kinda emerged for that to come?" Wheatley asked. "I'm gonna play like a commercial and cut that and say, ‘You'll see it soon.'"