Countdown to Camp 2017

Countdown to Camp: Dontae Strickland and Moe Neal will battle for carries

Chase Guttman | Staff Photographer

Dontae Strickland enters his junior season as Syracuse's No. 1 option at running back. At least for now.

Syracuse football’s training camp begins July 30. Every day leading up and into camp, The Daily Orange’s football beat writers will take a look at some of the upcoming season’s most pressing storylines, players and position battles. Read more on the Countdown to Camp here.

Dino Babers’ offense leans heavily on the passing game. Look at Amba Etta-Tawo’s 94 receptions last season for evidence. Yet SU finished 13 out of 14 Atlantic Coast Conference teams in rushing last season and 44 percent of the team’s carries went to a quarterback group led by the injury-cursed Eric Dungey. Running backs need to touch the ball more in 2017. Babers knows that.

“You just can’t go back and throw the ball every single snap and be consistently good,” Babers said on the ACC spring coaches teleconference. “…We’re working hard on not only running the football but making sure we’re able to stop the run.”

Former starter Jordan Fredericks averaged five yards per touch last year, but transferred to Massachusetts after receiving only 28 carries. As of now, junior Dontae Strickland is at the front of the depth chart. Moe Neal sits a slot below him. Strickland will get the bulk of the limited handoffs to start, but every touch for Neal is a chance to gain ground.

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Jessica Sheldon | Staff Photographer

After spending his freshman season at the now-gone hybrid position, Strickland received 168 carries as the team’s primary running back last season. He tallied 566 yards and four touchdowns, while adding another 132 yards and two scores on 21 receptions. Four carries in the annual spring game equated to seven yards. Expect to hear his name a lot this year.

How they Compare:

Dontae Strickland #4: Junior, 5-11, 207

Moe Neal #21: Sophomore, 5-11, 182

Neal carried a smaller load last season, but he produced more when given the rock. His 357 yards on 68 carries were good for an average 5.3 yards per touch, a solid mark for a true freshman. And despite being briefly listed as a slot receiver this spring, Neal caught only two passes last season. As of now, all indications point to him doing most of his damage out of the backfield, but it’s a fair bet he will be good for more than two receptions this year.

It will be easy to look to other positions as the hinges of what Syracuse’s offense will or will not be in 2017. Eric Dungey’s health is an obvious one. The void left by Etta-Tawo’s departure and a reshuffled offensive line are two more. Still, as Babers admitted, it’s hard to put points on the board if the passing game is a team’s only game, and Strickland and Neal bear the responsibility of making sure that won’t be the case.

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