Heading into preseason camp, one of the questions facing the Syracuse football staff was how to adequately replace Jerome Smith at the running back position. The obvious choice was to make Prince-Tyson Gulley the full-time starter to be spelled by George Morris II and Devante McFarlane, but now two guys no one was giving much thought are making a push for expanded roles.
Adonis Ameen-Moore and Ervin Philips are pretty much on the opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of both size, style, and experience. Ameen-Moore, a senior, is a punishing power back who at times during his career has tipped the scales near 260 pounds, while Philips, a true freshman, weighed in at right around 180 pounds and is more of a shifty back who relies on agility and speed.
Prior to camp, given the depth at the running back position, you probably could have assumed Philips would be a prime candidate to either switch positions or redshirt this season, but it’s looking more and more likely that running backs coach DeAndre Smith and offensive coordinator George McDonald want to find a way to get him on the field. As for Ameen-Moore, the previously out of shape power back from Denver was a bit of an afterthought in an offense that’s becoming geared toward speed much more than power.
Quite frankly, Ameen-Moore’s running style just didn’t seem to fit in, so it was easy to see him getting pushed out of the rotation. However, Ameen-Moore came to camp in the best shape of his career, having slimmed down by about 30 pounds, and he’s been impressing coaches and the media with his improved footwork. That’s obviously good news for both Ameen-Moore and Syracuse, because while Gulley, Morris, and McFarlane are all very good backs, they all have such similar styles that there’s really no change of pace between the three of them. That’s where Ameen-Moore can be a major asset and help replace Smith, who like Ameen-Moore relied on power and strength more than agility or the ability to cut on a dime.
Philips, meanwhile, has been drawing rave reviews from the coaching staff, with Scott Shafer and his assistants praising his intelligence and ability to quickly pick up the offense, as well as blocking ability that you probably wouldn’t expect from a true freshman his size. Philips may not get a lot of carries this year, but the future is bright for him, and it is looking increasingly likely that he will at the very least work his way onto the field in kick return action.
A few weeks ago not many people would have been looking at Ameen-Moore and Philips as key offensive contributors, but the way they’ve been standing out through the first week of fall camp, don’t be surprised to see each of them fighting their way into the running back rotation sooner rather than later.