We're just a couple days away from Syracuse's annual spring football game, which will complete 2015 spring practices. And as we prepare ourselves for another season, we'll spend some time previewing everything that matters on and off field for the Orange. Today's topic:
Starting Over (Again) in the Secondary
Who's no longer at Syracuse?
Several starters and major contributors. First-team safeties Durell Eskridge and Darius Kelly are gone, as is cornerback Brandon Reddish -- who actually improved as his career progressed at Syracuse. Ritchy Desir also leaves his multiple names and questionable punt return decisions behind him.
Eskridge is currently preparing for the NFL Draft, where he's trying to become a mid-to-late round pick. So yeah, we're definitely starting over... which could end up being addition by subtraction, should you choose to think of things in a positive way.
Who's on campus?
A lot of youth, and minimal experience. Julian Whigham is without a doubt the most tenured player in the secondary right now -- with Wayne Morgan coming in second. But thanks to injuries last year, a lot of the young guys do have some game experience as well. Antwan Cordy and Corey Winfield both played last year, and will both be in cornerback rotation, (likely) behind Morgan. Chauncey Scissum should step up into a starting safety role, while Rodney Williams and Eric Anthony contend for the other -- at least in spring. Plenty of other corners on campus right now too, including: Juwan Dowels, Cordell Hudson, Joe Stanard and Eric Jackson. Dowels and Hudson probably have the inside track on more playing time of that group for the time being.
Who's arriving this summer?
Here's some good news: reinforcements! Three more defensive backs join the fold come summer camp, including Marquise Blair, Daivon Ellison and Christopher Frederick. All could definitely be in the mix to help out with safety depth (minimal, at best right now), but Blair's a name to watch as he could really jump in and contribute right away on this defense.
Who are the likely starters coming out of spring?
Whigham is holding down one of the corner spots for sure, while the other is likely to go to Morgan, as the more tenured option. Cordy and Winfield probably man the back-up spots at both corners, while getting some solid playing time in the rotation. At safety, Scissum will be your free safety, with Rodney Williams likely to be plugged in at strong safety for now. Since it's a scrimmage and not a game on Saturday, you'll see other options shuffle in, however.
What's changing in comparison to last season?
Hopefully a lot. Last year, opposing teams completed over 65 percent of their passes against Syracuse -- one of the worst rates in the country. While Eskridge was a high-quality safety with some solid pro potential, the general big-play style employed by him and some of the other outgoing members of the secondary may have hurt the Orange's ability to simply stop the pass. So while this isn't to knock former Orange players, it is to say that we may witness some addition by subtraction (as alluded to earlier) this year, should these new starters be more coverage-focused.
We saw some good news out of Tuesday's practice, as we learned that QB Terrel Hunt has been assisting members of the secondary by pointing out tells and other issues that could lead to easy coverage leads for opposing QBs. Hopefully it's worked, and is something they can continue to build upon in the offseason. You'd have to think the pressure is on Fred Reed to get this group in order quickly -- despite the youth -- after several straight seasons of less-than-positive returns from this position group.
Who's the "player to watch" coming out of spring ball?
You could really pick anyone here, to be honest. Can Whigham transition well as the captain of the secondary, and elevate his play accordingly? Will Cordy or Winfield show signs of a star in the making? Or can Chauncey Scissum do his best Eskridge impression -- or maybe he should avoid doing so? All interesting story lines to keep an eye out for from the spring game going into summer.
Parts of the above may seem problematic -- and they are. But despite the inexperience, the youth we have in the secondary could end being a building block for the defense's new look. While the front-seven may have more proven talent at the moment, it could be the defensive backs (by taking pressure off that same front) that really make or break what this defense can do this fall.
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