CINCINNATI - OCTOBER 30: Antwon Bailey (29) of the Syracuse Orange runs with the ball during the Big East Conference game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Nippert Stadium on October 30 2010 in Cincinnati Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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If there's one thing that Syracuse University fans have learned about the identity of the SU football program, it's that third-year head coach Doug Marrone digs the, "buckle your chinstrap because we're going to smash you in the mouth" game plan. Last season, senior running back Delone Carter, who rushed for 1,260 yards and nine touchdowns, led the smash-mouth attack that helped the Orange collect their first postseason victory since 2001.
Carter, who was listed a 5-foot-7, 225-pounds at the SU Pro Day earlier this spring, was a solid mass of muscle and a beast with the football. His physical running style was a perfect fit for Marrone's up-the-gut mentality. But, Carter, who was picked in the fourth round of the NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts, is no longer with the Orange and his backup from last season, Antwon Bailey, is ready to fill his shoes.
"We’re a smash-mouth team," says Bailey. "We’re going to line up and hit you in the mouth. That’s not going to change with me taking the role of the starting running back."
Listed at just 5-7, 201 pounds, the senior tailback may not have the power of Carter, but No. 29 does have some skill sets that are better than Carter's.
Last season, Carter was more known to run over defenders than around or away from them -- this was evident during the Pinstripe Bowl against Kansas State when he hit a wide-open hole at the line of scrimmage, rumbled 60-yards, but was tracked down from behind and was tackled at the SU 26-yard line. Bailey may not be the bowling ball-type runner, but he's more elusive -- this aspect of Bailey's game was showcased during SU's spring game in mid-April when the senior helped convert a long fourth down late in the fourth quarter with a Barry Sanders-like run. Bailey, who finished last season second on the team in catches (35) and rushing yards (569), is also a better receiver out of the backfield than Carter.
(Versitility of Antwon Bailey package-Citrus TV Sports (via The26w26))
The question about Bailey is can his smaller frame handle the work load of a full season? Well, Bailey may not need to as sophomore tailback Prince-Tyson Gulley, who has been recovering from a stab wound that he received on campus in late July, should be ready to share the load.
As a true freshmen, Gulley (5-9, 181) played in 10 games last season, but mainly as a kick returner where he averaged 21.8 yards per return. If the stab wound doesn't effect No. 23, who is "an absolute burner with great burst, play-speed and acceleration," according to ESPN Scouts Inc, the Orange could have another solid 1-2 punch at tailback.
Behind Bailey and Gulley are sophomores Steve Rene (5-7, 174), Jerome Smith (5-11, 215), and true freshman Adonis Ameen-Moore (5-11, 244). Rene has been limited in training camp because of an infection in his right arm, while Syracuse Post-Standard writer Dave Rahme says Ameen-Moore is, "a pile mover."
In conclusion, the Orange should have a solid duo in Bailey and Culley. Both bring different aspects to the game and will complement each other well. However, if Bailey were to go down to an injury, then SU will be relying on a very young core of backs that are unproven. The key is to keep the play-making Bailey healthy by using Culley and plugging in Rene, Smith and Ameen-Moore when needed. If head coach Doug Marrone can do that then SU's strongest position could be its running backs and, historically, that's a good thing.