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Syracuse Football 2015 Position Preview: Defensive Backs

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Worried about this group? Yeah, you probably should be... (but maybe you should be hopeful too)

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse football season is almost here. In the lead-up to kickoff, we’re previewing every position group on this year's Syracuse squad, making sure you’ll fully prepared for September 4. Today, we take a look at the…

Syracuse Orange Defensive Backs

At first glance at last year's numbers, maybe the Syracuse secondary wasn't so bad, right? After all the Orange ranked 39th in overall pass defense, so that sounds pretty good. But that ignores everything else. SU managed just eight picks, allowed opponents to complete 65.2 percent of their passes, and average 7.3 yards per pass. Oh, and most opponents didn't have to throw late in the game either... because SU was already losing. Thankfully -- for all of us -- this is a new year.

Cornerbacks

Julian Whigham, Senior

Whigham is the elder statesman of a very, very young secondary. And as such, he'll certainly be the most scrutinized too. While he's listed as a starter right now, Scott Shafer has been vocal about him being tested going into the season. Whigham himself has directly addressed the demons of last season, burning his shoes at the start of camp and talking about an improved ability to focus on the football. In the past, he's been a big-play guy who's seen his fair share of victimization by top opposing receivers. If this group has a chance to improve this year, it'll start with a better Whigham leading the way.

Wayne Morgan, (Redshirt) Junior

Morgan was poised to be heavily involved in the Syracuse pass defense last year until a season-ending injury derailed his campaign in September. With a medical redshirt in his pocket now, he'll be able to jump back into the fray and build toward what could be two full seasons in the starting lineup. In his two-plus years at SU thus far, he's shown himself a physical presence who can actually tackle the occasional ball-carrier -- a trait that's always needed but sporadically executed upon by Orange defenders. He'll likely be in a dogfight to nail down the starting job (which may be a very good thing for all involved).

Cordell Hudson, (Redshirt) Freshman

Hudson's seeing his first actual game snaps this fall, but the time observing last season's troubling results could do him a world of good. One of several first-time players from South Florida, Hudson brings an exciting collection of speed and strength at the corner spot, which was honed against some elite high school talent. Due to aforementioned depth chart uncertainty, there's no telling where he slots in or how much he truly ends up challenging Whigham. But you can bet he'll see the field as this coaching staff appears ready to try out anything and everything to get positive game results.

Corey Winfield, (Redshirt) Sophomore

Since converting from wide receiver to cornerback last summer, Winfield has progressed very quickly in his new role. Playing mostly as a special teamer in 2014, he got a lot of valuable in-game experience and after a productive offseason, he finds himself in contention for the starting cornerback gig. He certainly has the size (6-foot-1, 181 pounds) to be successful at the position. Now we wait and see if his ability and technique is also up to speed as he'll be called upon early and often whether a starter or not.

Eric Jackson, Senior

Jackson is a walk-on, and normally that would mean a lot less exposure for him on the field. But given the depth issues in the secondary this season (he's one of just six cornerbacks on the roster), you might see him here and there -- especially if injuries strike this group yet again. Where that causes some concern is his size (5-foot-9, 170 pounds), especially as ACC play gets started. But again: hopefully it doesn't come to that except in small spurts or late in SU wins.

Juwan Dowels, (Redshirt) Freshman

Like Hudson, Dowels is another exciting Florida product from the class of 2014 and with luck we'll see him take some big steps forward as a redshirt freshman. As we've mentioned with a lot of the South Florida kids, his speed and experience playing against top talent are both huge assets, and ones that figure to come into play for an undermanned Orange squad right away. Though Dowels is third on the depth chart, you can bet he'll play on either side depending on need.

Strong Safeties

Antwan Cordy, Sophomore

In a forgettable 2014 season, one of the best results could have been the promising Cordy getting himself on the field. By the end, the South Florida product was a starter and against Pitt, he pulled in his first career interception. Now, as a sophomore, he's entrenched as the starting strong safety and could surprise as one of the team's top defenders. Size could be an issue for him back there, but SU is determined to get its top talent on the field, so here's where he slots in -- and should excel even if it takes some growing pains.

Kielan Whitner, Freshman

One of many freshmen or true freshmen who will see the field in 2015, Whitner has a ton of upside and makes a quick splash on the depth chart just a couple weeks into his time on campus. While the smaller Cordy could have some potential issues in terms of his size (he does stand at just 5-foot-8), the Georgia frosh Whitner brings plenty of that with him at 6 feet and nearly 200 pounds. He'll be a hard-hitting and aggressive addition to the young safeties unit and it shouldn't surprise you in the least to see him on the field a ton this fall.

Christopher Fredrick, Freshman

Fredrick is another Georgia product who will push for playing time based on size alone -- especially if the depth chart numbers (6 feet, 205 pounds are to be believed). Back in high school, Christopher was exactly the type of safety the Orange has grown accustomed to; getting himself into the backfield on a regular basis and freely disrupting ball-carriers and potential receivers alike. He's a disruptive addition, and one that could bring excitement off the bench if and when utilized.

Eric Anthony, Junior

Anthony is an experienced walk-on who is likely to see the field in a special teams capacity once again. But that's a not a bad thing for a guy who understands that unit and can provide help to an area where Syracuse has failed to really excel in recent seasons. Of course, his true position is strong safety, and there's the outside chance he'll see time there in the case of injury. Without that, however, he could still provide this team with a ton of help on kick and punt coverage units.

Joe Stanard, Junior

Another walk-on, Stanard has waited his turn for the past couple years and now may finally find his way onto the field as a junior. He'll largely be involved in special teams, sure. But similar to the notes on Anthony, that's no small role for a squad that's had some issues there in previous years. We'll see how the summer goes before we get a true indication of his involvement this fall.

Free Safeties

Chauncey Scissum, (Redshirt) Sophomore

While youth can be a drawback to some, it also possesses promise. And Scissum is one of several young Orange players that may surprise given opportunity this fall. Right off the bat, he has size (6-foot-2, 207 pounds) and speed that make him a force at Durell Eskridge's old spot, and even better, he's learned plenty from the former SU standout too. Even if named the starter come September, Scissum is likely to split time with the next man on the list -- an arrangement that should only serve to push and strengthen both players as they improve throughout their careers.

Rodney Williams, (Redshirt) Freshman

If Scissum fails to grab that starting free safety spot, it'll be because the rising Williams has straight-up taken it from him. The New Jersey frosh's two picks during Fan Fest garnered a lot of attention from those monitoring the young secondary, and he's been among several underclassmen to gain some real praise this offseason. Williams can hit, but also has a nose for the ball and seems to be focused on sound coverage most importantly. That's a welcome sight and a departure from previous strategies at this spot... which isn't a bad thing.

Daivon Ellison, Freshman

Under normal circumstances, Ellison would redshirt, and perhaps he still can this fall if the players in front of him manage to stay healthy. But we know how this goes, and chances are the freshman sees the field a bit even if just to get a taste of what's in store later on his career. Ellison is a bit undersized for this spot (5-foot-9, 175 pounds according to the depth chart). Let's hope those are the right numbers, otherwise it might be a steep learning curve in year one with SU.

***

The prevailing story line with this defense has been its youth across the board, and rightfully so. For those that failed to keep track above, that's six freshman (true or redshirt) on the depth chart, with most of them slotted for meaningful game snaps too. And that's before we get to the three sophomores -- at least two of whom (if not three) could start. Some of these players did, thankfully, get to see the football field in 2014. But if we're being honest with ourselves, this is an incredibly green unit outside of Whigham.

And again: that may not be the worst thing in the world. Last year's unit had a ton of issues and regularly got burned by the top talent it lined up against. And other recent years have also presented their issues as the emphasis has trended toward big plays over quality coverage. Kids like Scissum, Williams, Dowels, Hudson and Cordy (among others) don't appear to have that same penchant. If they can improve the coverage, that should increase the productivity of the secondary right off the bat and take some stress off a similarly young defensive line too. Or at least, that's what we hope...