A new coaching staff will change the dynamic of an incoming recruiting class without a doubt. But for players already on the team, it rarely results in significant changes. There is a strong suspicion that defensive end Ron Thompson left Syracuse because of a new coaching staff, and now running back Devante McFarlane has elected to leave the program as well.
McFarlane joined the program in Doug Marrone’s last season as head coach and redshirted during his first year on campus. His first season of eligibility was his most impressive, as he totaled 292 yards on 48 touches, including his only career touchdown to date. In 2014, though, McFarlane’s production dropped off as he had only 28 touches on the season. Last year, he fell behind two true-freshman backs on the depth chart and touched the ball just 35 times. He finishes his career at SU with 563 yards and a touchdown.
Although Syracuse’s depth chart isn’t littered with running backs, there is plenty of talent at the position between true running backs and hybrid players. The two breakout freshmen of last season, Dontae Strickland and Jordan Fredericks, figure to see a majority of the touches out of the backfield. Strickland rushed for just 81 yards on 21 touches last season, but added nine catches for 137 yards. He scored three touchdowns. Fredericks, on the other hand, led the backfield with 107 touches and 607 rushing yards. He scored five touchdowns. The third man in the rotation is George Morris II, who will be entering his final year of eligibility. He has totaled 761 yards on 180 touches in his three years with the program, but only one touchdown.
Aside from these three players, SU also boasts a ton of hybrid players that can take screen passes out of the backfield, line up in the slot or out wide, or more traditionally carry the ball out of the backfield. SU’s leader at the hybrid position is clearly Erv Phillips, who has become a red zone weapon for the Orange. He totaled eight touchdowns last season despite missing time due to injury. Furthermore, the Orange is bringing in three-star running back Jo-El Shaw out of Pittsburgh. While it’s hard to imagine him flying up the depth chart, Fredericks and Strickland were able to do the same last season.
So, does McFarlane’s departure hurt the Orange? Not really. He was buried on the depth chart behind more talented and younger players, so it didn’t make sense to give him touches. However, if injuries start to pile up, SU could struggle with depth at the position. If anything, this move will guarantee more reps for guys like Morris II and Shaw, who may not have seen the field otherwise.