My 2019 SU Football preview / The Players: DB, kickers and returners | Syracusefan.com

My 2019 SU Football preview / The Players: DB, kickers and returners

SWC75

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Defensive Backs
Seniors: Scoop Bradshaw 5-11 178; Antwan Cordy 5-8 179; Evan Foster 6-0 215; Christopher Fredrick 5-11 198; DuWayne Johnson 6-3 183; Carl Jones 6-1 189;
Juniors: Devon Clarke 6-2 200: Kyle Strickland 6-0 186; Allen Stritzinger 6-0 194
Sophomores: Andre Cisco 6-0 203; Eric Coley 6-2 192; Ifeatu Melifonwu 6-3 203; Kevin Nusdeo 6-1 197; Trill Williams 6-2 200
Freshmen: A. J. Calabro 5-10 193; Adrian Cole 5-10 169; Aman Greenwood 5-10 180; Cam Jonas 6-1 210; Corneilius Nunn 6-0 170, John Sweetwood 6-0 180, Garrett Williams 5-11 175; Jake Wright 6-1 198

The two areas in which our recruiting has impressed me the most are wide receiver and defensive back. They are positons that require similar skills: size, speed, the ability to catch the ball and an awareness of what’s going on around them. They are probably the positons where players can most easily switch from offense to defense. D-backs can also ‘grow’ into linebackers and we may see some of that this season. last year Kielan Whitner switched to line backer and has a fine season, making over 100 tackles. I’ve already discussed the impressive young receiving talent this team has. The defensive backs are equally impressive and we have great numbers of them: 22, about as many horses as there are in the Kentucky derby and nearly as fast. That’s an average of more than five players for four positons. That’s why there is talk of a 4-2-5 look. We’ll certainly see a lot of ‘nickel’ backs this year in passing situations.

We’ve got a group of seniors who have played a lot of football. At one time Antwan Cordy was considered our best defensive back, maybe the best player on the team. He was a good cover guy and a bone-rattling tackler. He did some kick-returning and was said to be one of the fastest players on the team, although as a safety, he didn’t get a lot of chances to show it off. Then he was injured and out for the season in consecutive opening games in 2016 and 2017. Going through the injuries, the surgeries and the endless rehabs without playing the game seemed last year to have taken a lot out of him and he didn’t seem like the same player. But he got additional eligibility from the NCAA for his injuries so he’s back to try it again. If he’s got his mojo back, he could be a big asset. His problem is that Andre Cisco’s got his old job.

Evan Foster is our biggest D-back at 215 pounds. Nunes: “improved by leaps and bounds and teamed with Cisco to become a feared group at the back of the defense. His 86 tackles were a big number”. He’s hoping to play on Sundays in the future. The corners are Chris Frederick and Scoop Bradshaw. Frederick will make a run at all-ACC status this year and could also interest the NFL. “Things may have started a bit rocky, the veteran did just that as a leader in the secondary who improved nearly every week. On the year, he had 56 tackles, three picks and four pass break-ups, along with a TFL.” Bradshaw actually suffered from Frederick’s excellence: opposing quarterbacks preferred to pass to his side of the field. He got burned sometimes but he also made some big plays. He’s trying to fight off Melifonwu for the starting job but should at least stay on the two-deep.

DuWayne Johnson, our tallest D-Back at 6-3, is a former 3 star recruit went to Virginia Tech, then to junior college and then here. He had trouble cracking the line-up last year but saw a lot of special teams service this year and could contribute a lot there this season. Carl Jones was a three star recruit when Scott Shafer brought him in in 2015 but has also had a hard time getting playing time, despite an amazing 4.29 time in the 40 yard dash. He’s been playing a lot on special teams, too. Nunes: “Now he’s going to be a bigger part of the CB rotation and put it to use a bit more frequently. Personally, very curious to see how often he’s tossed out there this season.”

Looking at the juniors, Devon Clarke has been plagued by a suspension and some injuries. He may finally get a chance to live up to his potential. He was a “consistent 3 star recruit” from Florida, (whose 3 stars are like 4 stars elsewhere). “At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, he definitely has the size to make an impact, even just here and there.” Allen Stritzinger was another three star recruit rated the #41 “athlete”, (meaning he could play on offense, defense or special teams) in his high school class and #49 as a safety. He played on the kick-off return team as a freshman but “Stritzinger’s done an impressive job transitioning to the defensive side of the ball, starting a game last year and now backing up Trill at nickel back. He picked off WVU last year, and while his time was limited, he always looked capable of making plays when out there with the defensive unit.” Kyle Strickland was a walk-on but “has been a core part of the special teams unit (kickoffs), and is poised to do so once again. Given SU’s success covering returns, he’s played an instrumental role.”

These guys would make a good defensive backfield with a decent two deep. But here comes the sophomores, an outstanding class of potential stars, one of whom already is one. Here’s what Andre Cisco did in his freshman season, (per Cuse.com): “Received All-America honors from the Walter Camp Football Foundation (second team), Sporting News (second team), Associated Press (third team), Athlon (fourth team), Phil Steele (fourth team) and College Football News (honorable mention) ... Only true freshman to be voted a Walter Camp All-American out of the 50 players selected for the two teams ... Tabbed a freshman All-American by the FWAA, ESPN, 247Sports.com, USA Today and The Athletic ... ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year ... ECAC Defensive Rookie of the Year ... All-ACC First Team ... Associated Press All-ACC First Team ... All-ECAC First Team ... Played in all 13 games, starting 11 ... Tied Boston College’s Hamp Cheevers for the national lead with seven interceptions ... First freshman since Wisconsin’s Jamar Fletcher in 1998 to lead the country in interceptions and the second true freshman to do it (George Shaw, Oregon - 1951) … Set a Syracuse true freshman record and tied Texas Tech’s Adrian Frye for the FBS freshman lead in passes defended with 18 ... Second in the ACC to Virginia’s Bryce Hall (1.9) and ninth nationally in passes defended per game at 1.4 ... Fourth on the team with 60 tackles (46 solo) … Tallied a team-high 11 pass breakups, the most for a Syracuse defensive back since 2003 (Steve Gregory, 12).” Duncan Renaldo would be proud.

But the gem of the recruiting class was supposed to be, (and I’ll use his whole name because I love it), Atrilleon Williams, “Trill” for short. I think his parents had future contract negotiations in mind when they named him. He was rated a 4 star recruit, even though he went to Syracuse instead of one of the powerhouses, (your rating tends to go up or down depending on which school you choose). He made the two-deep as soon as he showed up last year. He’s big and fast at 6-2 200 and “can also make things happen with the ball in his hands… Trill will be the starter at nickel corner this year after impressing in spot action last year. He collected 31 tackles, plus 2.5 TFLs and two interceptions and with linebacker even more uncertain this season, we’ll probably see even more of the 4-2-5 formation that keeps him on the field. That’s great, as we’ll take any excuse to get the playmaker more snaps.”

Ifeatu Melifonwu, (Eh-FAH-too Mel-eh-FON-wu), “is the younger brother of the Oakland Raiders freakishly athletic defensive back, Obi Melifonfu”. He’s pretty freakishly talented, too. In high school, “As a senior captain, rushed for 1,876 yards and 25 touchdowns, while intercepting two passes on defense … Ran for 237 yards and two scores in Grafton’s state semifinal win against Taconic … Tied the school single-game record with six rushing touchdowns versus Quabbin … Also played basketball, lacrosse and ran track.” Quabbin? Nunes: “He allowed less than 50% completions and zero touchdowns, while breaking up four passes. It shouldn’t surprise that he grabbed one of the starting corner roles in the preseason depth chart.”

Syracuse’s defensive tackles coach is Vinson Reynolds. His stepson is Eric Coley, who moved here from Michigan when Reynolds got the job. He played football for Fayetteville-Manlius, where they’d never seen anything like him. “As a senior, rushed for 1,295 yards on 129 carries (10.0 avg.) and 17 touchdowns … Averaged 215.8 yards rushing per game … Posted five 100-yard rushing games and three 200-yard rushing efforts, including 405 yards and five TDs in F-M’s 59-39 victory over Henninger … In his first game at the Dome versus Gates-Chili, ran for 218 yards and scored three touchdowns (2 rushing, 1 receiving) to earn Express Mart Kick-Off Classic MVP honors … Defensively, registered 70 tackles, including eight for a loss, five sacks and one fumble recovery.” The local news had clip after clip of him running right through teams and scoring almost at will. He looked like he’d be a huge star at Syracuse but the staff put him at defensive safety. He seemed like an ideal kick returner but has yet to return a kick. He’s also struck behind Cisco, Foster, Clarke and Cordy at safety. Still, I think he has the natural ability to someday form a great defensive backfield with his fellow sophomores Cisco, Williams and Melifonwu.

Kevin Nusdeo was a “preferred walk-on”, (a guy who in bleaker times might have been given a scholarship), who played strictly special teams and will probably continue to do so.

Babers and his staff didn’t stop recruiting their beloved defensive backs last year. They brought in four true freshmen to join four who redshirted last year and give us spectacular depth. On top of that four players who have committed for next year are listed as safeties. You could almost make a team of our defensive backs and they might do pretty good.

The redshirts are A. J. Calabro, Cam Jonas, (not to be confused with senior Carl Jones), John Sweetwood and ex-linebacker Jake Wright. Calabro is another “preferred” walk-on who played on the scout team, (that mimics the opposition in practice), last year and will probably have a role on special teams this year. Jonas was “another 3 star freshman, rated the #29 safety in his class”. Nunes: “The big (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) Florida product redshirted last year, but that may not stop him from getting involved this season — even if just with the special teams unit. He should be one of the toughest tacklers among the DBs, and is poised to make a jump soon, even if it winds up being a year from now.” Sweetwood was a walk-on who just played on the scout team. There may be too much completion for him to do more than that. Wright was also a walk-on. “Wright didn’t see the field last season, and we’ll see if he works his way into special teams in 2019. At 6-foot-1 and 198 pounds, he’s a bigger option than most of Syracuse’s defensive backs right now, so he could be smart coverage addition.”

The true freshmen are Adrian Cole, Alan Greenwood, Cornelius “Neil” Nunn and Garrett Williams. They will probably all redshirt this year. Cole isn’t very big for a modern defensive back at 5-10 169. He’s nonetheless a three star recruit out of Florida, where they mint fast football players. I like his attitude: “on Syracuse’s potential run at the College Football Playoffs next season: “We really feel like we can be in that situation next year,” Cole said. “All we had to do is beat Clemson, and we could’ve been there. We played Notre Dame, our quarterback ended up being hurt … But we’ve got better things in store.” He not only is aiming high but last year’s team is “us”. SU lists Greenwood as 5-10 180. Nunes lists him as 6-4 180. I guess we’ll find out. He was a sort of “high three star” being rated that high by all the services, not just some and recruited by many Power Five conference teams. “Greenwood isn’t the flashiest of defensive backs, being known more for his tackling and making solid plays than any big play ability. That said, to be that kind of player and be this highly recruited means the staff sees him as a future rock of the defense.” Nunn was also highly recruited, (we flipped him from Miami, one source listed him as a 4 star prospect, Athlon listed him as our best recruit above the two linebackers, Jones and Kpogba), but as a 170 pound safety he’ll need some building up. His high school coach wasn’t shy in describing him: ““He’s one of the best players in the country. I’ve been doing this 17 years. He’s one of the best players in the country.” Williams is ”another two-way athlete in high school and track star at that level as well”. He was rated three stars by everybody.

I think there will be a lot of “coverage” sacks this year. And there will be alot of interceptions due to the pass rush. Edge rushers and athletic defensive backs make a marvelous combination. A huge reason why we went from 4-8 to 10-3 last year was that we went from a -12 turnover margin in 2017 to +13 in 2018. Will we regress to the mean or can those edge rushers and all those wonderful defensive backs keep us on that level?

Kickers
Seniors: Sterling Hofrichter 5-9 199
Juniors: Nolan Cooney 6-3 201
Sophomores: Andre Szmyt 6-1 194
Freshmen: Noah Nwosu 6-3 227

We had the best special teams in the country last year, bar none. That and the turnover margin were the biggest reason for the sudden turn-around in the won-lost record. If we hope to stay at this level we’ve got to, well, stay at this level.

The great hidden stat last year was field positon. We averaged starting our drives on the 35 yard line and our opponents averaged starting on the 27. That may seem like a small difference but we were #2 in the country in the first of those stats and #21 in the second. There are about 15 possessions per team per game so 35-27 is a difference of about 120 hidden yards per game. Hofrichter did all 101 kick-offs and 67 of the 68 punts, (DeVito pooched a kick). He averaged 60 yards per kick-off and 43 yards per punt. We were 22nd in kickoff return defense and 38th in punting. The later stat under-rates him as he’s shown great versatility with his punting: booming it when we need to get it out of a hole, placing it when we are kicking to their goal line and making the Australian rule kick, (rolling out and punting along the sidelines), in the face of a rush.

The place-kicking job was wide open last year. A walk-on named Andre Szmyt (Schmidt) seemed to hit every kick so they tried him. He proceeded to hit an astonishing 30 of 34 field goals, including 3 for 3 from 50+ yards with a high of 54 and making all 61 extra points. He was second in the nation in scoring with 151 points. (Clemson’s Travis Etienne passing him in the national championship game – his 15th game to Andre’s 14). “First Syracuse player to win the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top placekicker … Third freshman to capture the Groza, joining Arizona State’s Thomas Weber (2007) and Florida State’s Roberto Aguayo (2013) ... Unanimous All-American, earning first-team honors from the Associated Press, FWAA, AFCA, Walter Camp Football Foundation and Sporting News ... Ninth unanimous All-American in team history and first since Dwight Freeney in 2001.” The only issue is whether he can maintain that level of performance in a job prone to ups and downs. His predecessor, Cole Murphy holds the school career record for field goals with 59. He was 13 for 16 as a freshman, 16 for 22 as a sophomore, 10 for 18 as a junior and 20 for 27 as a senior. He’s not as good as Szmyt but it’s interesting that his best year in terms of percentage was his freshman year, when he perhaps had not had time to think about it before kicking the ball.

The most underrated players on every team are the long snapper and the placekick holder. It was another area where things went right for the ‘Cuse last year. Aaron Bolinsky (5-11 222) “Stepped into the role of starting snapper for punts and placement kicks after Matt Keller was injured on Sept. 29 at Clemson … Started the next seven games, working with All-ACC punter Sterling Hofrichter and All-America placekicker and 2018 Lou Groza Award winner Andre Szmyt.” Nolan Cooney is listed as the placekick holder on the depth chart. he was a “reliable ball spotter for All-America kicker and Lou Groza Award winner Andre Szmyt, who led the nation in field goals (30) and did not miss an extra point (61-61)”. It’s more traditional for a back-up quarterback to be the holder in case the play breaks down and you don’t want a Garo Yepremian-type result. Rex Culpepper is thus listed as the back-up holder.

Kick Returners
Seniors: Sean Riley 5-8 158
Juniors: Nykeim Johnson 5-8 172
Sophomores: none
Freshmen: none

Nobody’s listed strictly as a kick-returner on the roster. This is from the depth chart. Sean Riley was second in the nation in punt returns last year and led for several weeks. Johnson is a similar player. There are several other players who were experienced kick returners in high school. Some of them may succeed these two one day. Trill Williams averaged 19.7 yards per punt return in high school and I would love to see Eric Coley get his hands on the ball. We haven’t returned a kickoff for a touchdown in this decade.

Syracuse’s injury report:
As of now, (August 21st), DE Jake Pickard’s career is over. DT Bear Williams and TE Jesse Connor will not be ready for the opener against Liberty. The status of RB Abdul Adams and WR Ed Hendrix and Russell Thompson-Bishop for the liberty game is unclear. WR’s Trishton Jackson and Nykeim Johnson, FB/TE Chris Elmore and OG/C Sam Heckel are getting over injuries/surgery but are expected to play.

SU’s most important stats and the national ranking last season, (for comparison with the numbers in the schedule section for our opposition):
Offense: 40.2 points (11th) 464.8 yards (19th) 200.1 rushing (36th) 264.7 passing (31st) per game
Defense: 27.0 points (64th) 426.5 yards (88th) 162.5 rushing (63rd) 264.1 passing (116th) per game
Turnovers: +13 (5th) Starting Field Position: 35.0-27.4 = +7.6 (I couldn’t find a ranking for this)
 
Awesome stuff, per usual.

Some minor nits to pick:

Abdul Adams’ status is limited/unclear?
Since when?
I thought he’s been full-go for this camp?

Andre Szmyt (and the rest of the team) played 13 games, not 14.
(ETN did of course play 15)
Which makes the fact that ETN needed TWO extra games to outscore Andre all the more impressive a stat.
Szmyt Happens! ;)

I wouldn’t pencil Nunn in for a RS just yet.
Yes, he’s light for a S, but he’s a very talented DB - Swag Daddy says he may be the “best he’s ever recruited”.

In a perfect world, our amazing depth at DB (still hard to believe I’m typing this) would keep him on the bench, other than 4 games he’s allowed.

But - if he’s indeed good enough to force his way into PT like Cisco & Trill did, then that’s an even “happier problem” to have. :cool:
 
Awesome stuff, per usual.

Some minor nits to pick:

Abdul Adams’ status is limited/unclear?
Since when?
I thought he’s been full-go for this camp?

Andre Szmyt (and the rest of the team) played 13 games, not 14.
(ETN did of course play 15)
Which makes the fact that ETN needed TWO extra games to outscore Andre all the more impressive a stat.
Szmyt Happens! ;)

I wouldn’t pencil Nunn in for a RS just yet.
Yes, he’s light for a S, but he’s a very talented DB - Swag Daddy says he may be the “best he’s ever recruited”.

In a perfect world, our amazing depth at DB (still hard to believe I’m typing this) would keep him on the bench, other than 4 games he’s allowed.

But - if he’s indeed good enough to force his way into PT like Cisco & Trill did, then that’s an even “happier problem” to have. :cool:


On Adams, I'm just quoting the report: "Adams is nursing an arm injury, and it is unclear if he will play against Liberty in the season opener." I don't know anything beyond that.
 
On Adams, I'm just quoting the report: "Adams is nursing an arm injury, and it is unclear if he will play against Liberty in the season opener." I don't know anything beyond that.
We have enough depth at RB to not play Adams, even with a relatively minor injury.
 

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