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Syracuse football 2016 preview: Defensive backs
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August 9, 2016
12:25 pm
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College BattleGround
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This unit was not great at all in 2015... can they improve with a new scheme in 2016?

The Syracuse Orange football season is only weeks away. Just as in years' past, we'll preview a different SU position group each week to get ready for the new year of football. Last week it was the the team's experienced linebacker corps. This week:

Defensive Backs

Cornerbacks

Corey Winfield, (Redshirt) Junior

Winfield appears recovered from this offseason’s horrible stabbing incident, and could start in week one -- resuming a spot he held for the first eight weeks of 2015 before getting injured. Last season, he intercepted two passes (tied for team lead), broke up three passes and managed two sacks as well. While the blitzing may be removed from his repertoire in SU’s new scheme, the pieces are there for him to improve in coverage and help usher this unit into a new era.

Cordell Hudson, (Redshirt) Sophomore

Hudson gradually got more involved as the 2015 season (his first) wore on, and as a result, you started to see some of the promise of this fall. Starting over the final four games, he did show an ability to cover more experienced receivers, make some open=field tackles, and grab one of his two picks. Now he’ll likely start, putting those coverage skills to work right away and hopefully building on last year’s momentum too.

Wayne Morgan, (Redshirt) Senior

Morgan came to SU with high expectations. And while he’s yet to truly meet them, he still has a chance to help usher this Orange defense into a new era before he graduates. He saw his role decrease in 2015, but it could still bounce back if he can find ways to get in front of passes -- as he did from time to time last year. At 193 pounds, he has the size to cover the ACC’s pass-catchers. Morgan just needs to prove he can do so consistently.

Juwan Dowels, (Redshirt) Sophomore

Dowels was young last year, but made up for that inexperience rather quickly. Though he’s currently listed second on the depth chart behind Hudson, there’s a chance he breaks through to start. Or at least he’ll be a significant part of the rotation (as he was last year). Leading the team in pass break-ups and passes defended, it’s obvious he has the abilities the Tampa-2 requires. His size (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) may be a disadvantage, though it didn’t seem like it last year. He could be a breakout player for the Orange, even if it’s in a reserve role.

Christopher Fredricks, (Redshirt) Freshman

The Georgia product redshirted in 2015, but he’ll definitely see the field this fall and the Orange will take all the help they can get in the secondary. With similar size to Morgan, Fredricks has the stature to be plugged in quickly and perhaps pick up where he left off at Cedar Grove High School in Conley, Ga. There he was an apt tackler and defended receivers well -- skills he’ll need right away as SU cycles in a long list of corners.

Carl Jones, Freshman

Typically, you’re trying to redshirt a true freshman defensive back, but that may not be an option for Jones or the Orange in 2016. Jones is the type of athlete Dino Babers staff will continue to recruit more of: quick, great hands, played both sides in high school (and played basketball as well). Like the other younger DBs on the roster, he has an ability to get his hands on the football. There’s a chance you see him on the field a bit in year one.

Safties

Antwan Cordy, Junior

Last year, Cordy was arguably the best returning defender on the entire team, and now he’s an essential part of this team handling the Tampa-2 transition well. Though he led the team in tackles for loss (12) and INTs (two), and was second in tackles with 68, his skill set will shift on a dime now. We know he can cover receivers, but he’ll need to do so consistently (and for full games) this fall. The speedy safety can play above his size (5-foot-8, 175 pounds). He’ll be an interesting subject to see how much the DBs have progressed in a year.

Kielan Whitner, Sophomore

Whitner was hot and cold for SU last year, but that won’t be an option in 2016 as he’s potentially thrown into the starting role. At times, he covered well, and at others, receivers got behind him too easily (and/or he was committing costly penalties deep down the field). He’ll be challenged for starting snaps, but he showed promise as a true frosh. His position battle is among the most heated this summer.

Chauncey Scissum, (Redshirt) Junior

Like Winfield, Scissum was also a victim of the offseason’s stabbing incident, but similar to his teammate, he returns healthy and ready to potentially start. As a sophomore, he started seven games in 2015, and displayed solid tackling ability in spurts. He’s currently listed as a free safety, though there’s potential to challenge Whitner at the strong safety spot as well. Either way, you’ll see plenty of the junior this year.

Rodney Williams, (Redshirt) Sophomore

Williams looked great in spring last year, and even started the first five games, but injuries and some struggles reduced his role over the course of the year. He’s coverage-focused and has his moments, but has yet to really put it together for consistent stretches. Williams has a chance to challenge Whitner to start again, but this does appear to be a solid four-safety rotation all-around, no matter who gets the official "starting" nod when the season begins.

Daivon Ellison, Sophomore

Ellison was a special-teamer last year, but his role should increase this fall. He’s listed as a strong safety, but depending on need, could potentially get shifted over to cornerback duties if needed (and it might be). He’s on the smaller side like Cordy, so that’s not to discount his abilities at safety at all. In limited action, he was able to record pass break-ups and even force a fumble (on a kickoff) vs. Pitt.

Joe Stanard, Senior

To this point, the walk-on Stanard has failed to see the field, but with the team short on veteran defensive backs and in need of bodies to shuffle in, this could be the year for him. Even if just on special teams, it would seem likely that you see Stanard here and there as he takes his first collegiate snaps.

Scoop Bradshaw, Freshman

Bradshaw’s close friendship with incoming QB Rex Culpepper doesn’t make him a "package-deal" add-on... far from it. The three-star Florida safety found himself all over the field at Plant High School, though he’ll obviously be channeling his wide skill set into downfield coverage at SU. He stands a chance to see the field this year, but obviously the preference is to redshirt if possible.

Devon Clarke, Freshman

While it took awhile, Clarke did eventually become a member of the Syracuse recruiting class this offseason, and just in time too, as the team looks to inject a lot of new life into a struggling secondary. Clarke brings good size to the safety position at 6-foot-2 and 186 pounds. With a potential year to redshirt and continuing growing into a college safety, Clarke’s one to keep an eye out for come 2017.

Evan Foster, Freshman

Like Clarke, Foster’s bigger (6 feet, 208 pounds), and is well situated to be a major contributor to the future of this defense. Never say never for all of these true freshman -- Babers has indicated that the best players will start, regardless of class/experience. But with Foster, it’s likely we’re waiting until next year to see what the impressive arrival can do for the Orange.

TBD

As you know, there are two additional defensive backs (likely corners) are set to join the Orange as well, barring admission to the university all checks out. One-time North Carolina signee James Pierre is a pretty well-regarded addition and one that could potentially challenge for playing time as a true frosh. Michael Moore, a JUCO freshman from California’s Palomar College, would also figure to challenge for field time early as he brings two years of collegiate experience with him.

Hopefully the hold=ups end soon for both players and they’re able to join the team at camp.

***

This isn’t the most experienced bunch, but they’re not all that green either. Injuries led to a lot of young players getting time on the field in 2015, so there are a whole lot less wide eyes come the season opener than one would assume. Still, there’s much to be concerned about for a secondary whose outputs declined terribly over the last couple seasons. An emphasis on big plays over sound coverage left the Orange ranked 101st in pass defense despite allowing just 18 touchdowns through the air, and picking off 11 balls too. As long as this never happens again, however, I think we’ll take just about any outcome as SU transitions to a whole new scheme that should (eventually) alleviate much of the previous issues.

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