Leading with the legs

SU's football team looks to lean on its running attack to help spark the offense.

With the 2010 season just days away, Syracuse University's new offensive playcaller Nathaniel Hackett is clear about the offensive plan of attack: SU is going to run the ball.

“We want to be a tough team. We want to come out and say, ‘Hey, you’re going to have to play football. The old-school, let’s get down to it, Syracuse Orange, running-back U,’” said Hackett, SU's quarterbacks coach. “The greatest quarterbacks had an awesome run game.

Photo: Matthew Ziegler
Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib advances the ball on foot during April's annual spring football game.

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"A lot of people have kind of gotten away from that, and I think it’s going to be fun to run the ball.”

The player poised to restore the running-back U legacy is senior Delone Carter, who was reinstated to the team in early August after an off-season scuffle jeopardized his SU football career.

Carter is a huge boon for an offense that ranked 94th nationally in 2009 and only returns two other starters. Carter was the leading scorer for the Orange last season, as he rushed for 1,021 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Despite the lack of returning starters, Syracuse is returning multiple players that have experience on the offensive side of the ball, including 13 letterwinners. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Ryan Nassib, sophomore receiver Alec Lemon and junior running back Antwon Bailey all saw time in 2009, and are expected to contribute even more in 2010.

“We’ve got a very strong running game. We have phenomenal backs that can make big plays,” Nassib said. “Game-planning our running attack, that’s only going to set up our passing attack. We’ve got great some receivers that can make big catches and run great routes, all I’ve got to do is just get them the ball.”

Nassib completed 36-of-68 passes (53 percent) for 422 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in limited playing time behind Greg Paulus in 2009. This year, Nassib enters the season as the clear-cut starter, but knows that he still has a lot of work to do.

“I think Ryan puts pressure on himself just like any other player. I don’t know if you ever get comfortable from a standpoint of trying to get better,” SU head coach Doug Marrone said. “I think there are things out there on the field that Ryan needs to improve on, and the great part about Ryan is that he’ll be the first one to tell you that.”

The biggest weapon the offense will be trying to replace is wide receiver Mike Williams -- now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- who led the Orange with 746 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Luckily, the Orange already have some experience at this, as Williams left the team during the second half of the 2009 season.

Junior Marcus Sales stepped in last season and racked up 324 yards and three touchdowns, well Lemon caught 29 balls for 295 yards and one TD.  Also, Marrone said he is expecting big things out of senior WR Aaron Weaver and junior WR Van Chew. He also said former walk-on Cody Morgan has looked good in practice and could contribute as well.

Weaver may be the best threat to replace Williams in 2010. The 6-foot 2-inch, 220-pound senior transferred to Syracuse after Hofstra eliminated its football program. In 2009, Weaver started nine games for the Pride and caught a team-leading 63 balls for 797 yards and four TD’s. 

The unit that returns the most experience in 2010 is the offensive line. Seniors Ryan Bartholomew and Adam Rosner both have starting experience, and look to anchor a line that Nassib feels confident to have in front of him.

“The offensive line has made tremendous strides over previous years," Nasib said. "We lost a lot of guys, but I think as a unit they’ve become a lot stronger. They got a little more edge to them and a little more swagger as an offensive line.

"They’re big, they’re mean and they’re ready to knock some heads off.”

Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib drops back to pass during the spring football game. (Photo: Matthew Ziegler)

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