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Syracuse Football 2014 Position Preview: Defensive Backs

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It can't get any worse than last year... can it?

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Oh boy... this secondary. You might recall some of the things that happened last year. You also may want to forget most of them -- including a concerted effort by our defensive backs to give away the Texas Bowl against Minnesota. But this is a new year, with a sort-of new group of players, and that can only mean good things. Or at least we hope so. Because it REALLY can't get any worse than 2013's injury-riddled adjustment to the ACC. As much as the other defensive position groups are stronger, this one's ability to progress could hold the key to just how well Syracuse can perform this season.

So who's going to help us put 2013's mishaps in the rearview mirror? Read on below...

Cornerbacks

Brandon Reddish, Senior: Reddish could (and should) serve as a senior leader for the team's young group of corners, especially considering how much playing time he's seen since his freshman season in 2011. Last year was an opportunity for him to really shine, but injuries ended up derailing what could've been a promising campaign and he was held to just seven starts. Now fully healthy again, he'll be looked at as a critical part of improving this pass defense. He'll need to be able to hold things down from his spot at corner if SU has any shot to pull some upsets against top-tier opponents.

Julian Whigham, Junior: Before last season, we felt Julian Whigham had a shot to make an impact as a reserve ballhawk at corner. Instead, he made a major impression immediately (due to injury), showed himself a very capable defender and his high-risk, high-reward style became a hallmark of this secondary. Unfortunately, that wasn't always a plus (SU was burned plenty right at the line of scrimmage), but it could help establish a tone for 2014. Now that Whigham is healthy again, and has a season of significant experience to pull from, he could be a real breakout threat and should lead the team in interceptions.

Juwan Dowels, Freshman: Dowels is on the smaller side (5'10", 166 pounds), but is very much cut from the same cloth as Whigham. From the Miami area, quick and with a nose for the football, he's the heir apparent to Julian already, and he's only just arrived on campus. He'll be backing up Brandon Reddish on the depth chart, but don't see being a reserve as his only role in this defense. Given the speed the Orange will be up against at receiver, multiple corners will be in play quite a bit, which opens the door for Dowels to get involved right away.

Wayne Morgan, Junior: Morgan is more seasoned than Dowels, and as a result, he's likely to get plugged in more in the early parts of the year. But who knows where his defensive role truly ends up (versus what he's done on special teams). Morgan is not one for turnovers, and instead has managed to keep receivers in front of him. That's a good thing, and a nice counter to the aforementioned play of Whigham and Dowels. SU just needs a little bit more in terms of stopping players from catching the ball at all, and you'll see his playing time jump.

Antwan Cordy, Freshman: Cordy's yet another Florida product in the secondary -- an area Syracuse has obviously taken great strides to improve with this recruiting class. He's smaller like Dowels (5'8", 169 pounds), but less inclined to create turnovers (still 15 interceptions in high school career, though). As an accomplished tackler, he's probably one of the more balanced corners Syracuse has, and that could play to his advantage. He may need to add some bulk, however (but not too much -- needs to keep his speed).

Cordell Hudson, Freshman: So. Many. Florida. Corners. But they're all quality players, which is why they've been brought it to fix this area of the defense. Hudson's a smart kid, and one who seems to get the position really well (if that makes sense). Coaches have said he has big hands and good ball skills... both of which are good traits to have when you're playing cornerback. Given the questions in the secondary, he's very likely to see the field this year.

Joe Nassib, (Redshirt) Senior: Joe walked onto the Syracuse roster, but that hasn't stopped him from showing up on special teams. This year, he's hanging around that sweet spot on the depth chart that may or may not result in some actual playing time at his position. Don't bet the farm on hearing his name called at corner, but given this position's history of injuries... well, let's not go there.

Eric Jackson, (Redshirt) Freshman: Jackson's another walk-on, but because he's still relatively young, he has a lower chance of playing than Nassib. Given his size (5'9") he's about the right weight at 165-170, but without speed to help balance it, that could be a liability long-term. Let's see where he ends up over the course of the next few seasons.

Alex Schoen, Sophomore: Yet another walk-on, Schoen will find some time as a special teamer, and not much else. That's no knock on him. Just a fact. But maybe he carves out a niche on kickoffs.

Joe Stanard, Sophomore: And our last walk-on (and corner). Stanard has some solid size at 189 pounds, but there's no place for him on the field just yet. Perhaps there never is, but he's on the depth chart, so he's theoretically good enough to see the field (in some capacity) if he absolutely has to this season.

Strong Safeties

Darius Kelly, Senior: Kelly appeared to get better as the season progressed last year (for the most part), which could be a harbinger of some positive things for 2014. He makes some great tackles and can get in the way of passes too -- but now can he do it consistently as a starter? The senior has earned his way to the top of the depth chart and like Reddish at corner, could hold the key to a turnaround for this unit. Kelly can get beat from time to time, but there's a hope that he's learned from last season and can eliminate those types of issues now.

Ritchy Desir, Senior: Desir's role is likely to be much larger as a punt returner, but nonetheless, he'll figure into SU's plans at safety as well. In the past, things have not looked all that rosy for Desir, but according to Cam Lynch, that might change this season. We'll all hold out hope, I'm sure. Prior returns have indicated a bit of a hesitance to make decisions, leading to big plays. Now, still not a starter, he'll have to put that all behind him if he wants to get himself much more involved and trusted within this group.

Eric Anthony, Sophomore: Sure he's a walk-on, but recent developments (we're getting there) may push him up the depth chart a bit by the fall -- though hopefully not. Anthony certainly has the right size you need for the position at 6'0" and 200 pounds, and despite a rumored change to free safety, it seems he's sticking with this position. We'll see if that lasts all season, or if he ends up seeing the field. Of the walk-on DBs, however, he could certainly be worth keeping an eye on.

Josh Mims, Junior: This is the Buffalo State transfer's first year suiting up fro Syracuse. And unfortunately he's a bit buried on the depth chart. You'd have to think he's been brought in for a reason though, which is why I'm not entirely sold on his low standing. He has speed and a nose for the ball, so expect him to at least carve out a spot on special teams.

Nasean Howard, Freshman: Suspended indefinitely right now. Let's see what comes of this. Otherwise, he could challenge Desir for playing time.

Free Safeties

Durell Eskridge, (Redshirt) Junior: Eskridge could have gone pro this past offseason, but opted for another year in Orange instead. Now he's primed to be the captain of the secondary and possibly the defense's best player (certainly debatable, however). He's a star-in-the-making due to a fantastic mix of size and speed, and an inherent ability to read opposing defenders' routes. Of course, he's not perfect, but he's absolutely gotten better as his career has progressed. This should be the year he's able to put it all together and outside of Sean Hickey, he's probably the most likely SU player to receive first-team All-ACC honors come the end of the season. Expect Eskridge to be all over the field, replicating and surpassing last year's interception and tackle-for-loss numbers.

Chauncey Scissum, (Redshirt) Freshman: Scissum has the right size for free safety, but no playing experience as of yet. That should concern fans a bit in case Eskridge misses any time (please, no!), though the hope is that he can get some burn in garbage time and become a capable sub when called upon. Like a lot of these other players in the secondary, Scissum is a future face of this defense. He'll just have to wait a little bit longer.

Rodney Williams, Freshman: Rodney's an athletic guy, playing both ways (at three different positions) in high school, while also participating in basketball. Now when will that athleticism see the field? Scissum has the inside track at being Eskridge's backup, meaning Williams could get a redshirt. That's not a bad thing at all, as it may help him develop into a better defender in the long run. If he does see time on defense, it might be because of injury.

Jaston George, (Redshirt) Junior: George is the only free safety to see the field beyond Eskridge, but that hasn't helped him at all on the depth chart. With his appearances diminishing over the past two seasons (12 games in 2012, eight in 2013), there's a chance that decline could continue, but knowing Scott Shafer, he'll let George try and prove himself. Whether it's on special teams or as a late sub, you'll see the undersized free safety on the field somewhere this fall.

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Also, just in case you missed, be sure to check out recent previews for Syracuse's quarterbacks, running backswide receivers (and tight ends), offensive linemen, defensive linemen and linebackers for the 2014 football season.