You hear so many times throughout the year over various sports the question, who is the go-to player on your team? Who is the one player that resides above all the rest?
There is a sense of necessity for there to be an answer to by each team to these questions.
But, when a team does not have a clear cut answer, like the Syracuse Orange football program, it can be an advantage.
Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib has thrown to at least eight different receivers in each of the team's first three games this season. With no definite go-to player, the Orange have established a strong passing game in part because receivers are not facing more than single coverage.
"I think the thing that is proven to our players is that he's going to throw to the open guy, so there's a mad dash to get open a lot of times," said Rob Moore, Syracuse's wide receivers' coach. "I think these players know that he's gonna get the ball to ‘em. He has a great feel for the offense. He knows how to read the coverages. He doesn't get fooled very often. And these guys will play hard for ‘em."
As far as how many players that are regarded in the rotation that will have the opportunity to play hard for Nassib, Moore shared, "Right now, we've really got like a four- or five-man rotation going, and all those guys have different skill sets and bring different things to the table." "And I think they all have done a fantastic job so far of really trying to be consistent in not only their effort, but the disciplines and running their routes, and making sure they have the right assignments."
Included in that rotation have to be Marcus Sales, Jarrod West, and Alec Lemon, along with Chris Clark, who has been working into the mix in his first season with the Orange after playing junior college football in California.
"Right now, he's still getting used to the speed of the game," Moore expressed when speaking on Clark. "The speed of this game's a lot faster than junior college. He's getting used to the strength of the players. You know, some of these secondary guys get their hands on you and if you don't have the upper body strength to compete, it can alter some of the things you do, so he's getting used to those things."
Moore has seen Clark make improvements in the young season. "He's also developing. He's already gained nine or ten pounds. He's working hard in the weight room. But his speed is his advantage and he's just gotta continue to work through those things so that he knows how to use it."
Not having merely one dominant threat in the passing game has aided Moore, with his players having a tenacity to get open and get the ball.
"Really it makes it easy for me as a coach ‘cause I think these players know at any given time they can get 10 opportunities to make plays, or 12 or 16, one game Marcus [Sales] had, so you never have to worry about those guys going full speed to get open," shared Moore.
"[There's] no such thing as taking a play off," Moore continued. "At any given time, you can get the ball. So I think any time you're in an offense like that, it makes it pretty easy to prepare the players and to coach ‘em."
The receivers have come to compete each game, winning against defenses despite two losses in three games. With Nassib's help, the Orange's passing attack has accumulated 1,139 yards and nine touchdowns over those three games.
Syracuse has been able to gain almost 90 first downs, largely due to the team's ability to be successful in the passing game. Receivers have completed 11 plays within the first three games of 20 yards or more.
"Well that's something they take pride in," Moore said of the deep-ball connections so far this season. "I think last year, we weren't very good at that and I thought we were much maligned because we weren't making the big plays. We weren't getting down the field. And I think those guys have taken it as a challenge that they're gonna find a way to make those plays. In the first three games, we've been able to do that."
One of Moore's core, West has stated that the no-huddle offense has helped the receivers because after a big gain, they do not have to jog all the way back, but instead, just go to their spot and head out for the next play, aiding in the conservation of energy to be used in running routes and making plays.
But the newly-instituted offense has not come without a few bumps.
"I tell ya, the first couple games, I did a poor job of really making sure the reps were even," Moore admitted. "I had some guys going 90 snaps, some 80. I think we've gotten it to the point now where those guys' reps have been limited to the point where they can sustain that type of momentum and pace throughout the whole game so that's something we're still tinkering [with], still trying to get it right, but I do think it allows those guys to play fast and it allows them to get more and more opportunities to make plays."
With receivers, tight ends, and running backs all getting looks from Nassib, taking a play off on the Syracuse offense could mean not having a play to take off the next time around. "I think one of the biggest fears for any player is you don't wanna miss games ‘cause you don't want somebody else to replace you," shared Moore. "I think anytime there's that fear, guys will run through the wall so they can continue to play."
Moore elaborated on his squad in saying, "I'm lucky to have some guys that love football, so that's also very important in this game. [If] you don't love this game, it's easy to find excuses not to play."
Syracuse has been blessed so far in not having to worry about players with a lack of love for the game. The receivers have come ready to play and performed. Now, Moore, like head coach Doug Marrone, is concerned with making sure there is a high level of consistency when it comes to positive output.
"I think one of the big things for us is we have to find a way to continue to be consistent and really just take it one game at a time, realizing that every game is different," Moore expressed. "One thing about the past three games is every game has been somebody different that's really been able to step up and make plays for us."
"We're not as deep as I'd like to be, but we're working on it." Win or lose, the Orange will have wide receiver Adrian Flemming for the first time this season in their upcoming Big East Conference-opener against Pittsburgh at home in the Dome on Friday, August 5th.
Either way, with a wideout averaging over 100 yards receiving per game in Sales, one about to become the all-time leader in career receptions in Syracuse history, and still others who provide good hands and speed, the Orange are a match-up issue for any of their upcoming opponents.