My 2022 SU Football preview - Part 8: The D-Backs | Syracusefan.com

My 2022 SU Football preview - Part 8: The D-Backs

SWC75

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DEFENSIVE BACKS
Seniors: #34 Eric Coley 6-2 200, #20 Isaiah Johnson 6-3 204
Juniors: #14 Jason Simmons 6-0 193
Sophomores: #23 Justin Barron 6-4 220 (was 215), #1 Ja’Had Carter 6-2 198, #0 Darian “Duce” Chestnut 6-0 198, #10 Alijah Clark 6-1 180, #32 Gregory Delaine 6-0 172, #26 Aman Greenwood 5-10 189, #19 Rob Hanna 6-0 170, #8 Garrett Williams 6-0 189
Freshmen: #27 5-11 Malcolm Folk 6-1 201, T. J. Harkness 5-9 171, #39 Clay Masters 5-11 187, #15 Corneilius (Neil) Nunn 6-0 188, #21 Bralyn Oliver 6-2 194, #43 Cornell Perry 6-1 180, #22 Quan Peterson 6-1 178, #40 Tommy Porter 5-11 192, #37 Cam Reirden 6-0 180, #24 Jeremiah Wilson 5-10 171
Gone:
A. J. Calabro is best known for being named a game captain for our Rutgers game on 9/11/21: his father had been killed at the World Trade Center twenty years before. He was a walk-on who played in 10 games and had 6 tackles, all on special teams. I found no transfer information but note that he was here four years: a redshirt year, a freshman year and two sophomore years, (thanks, Covid), so I suspect he simply graduated or preferred to focus on his academic career. He had a “dual major in Economics and Environment, Sustainability and Policy” per Cuse.com.
John Sweetwood appears to be a similar story, minus the 9/11 reference. He majored in Information management and technology and, per his Linkedin account, he’s working for VaynerSports.
Chase Atkinson is a 3-star from South Carolina who, after not playing for two years, elected to play closer to home at Coastal Carolina.
Adrian Cole Again, a similar case to the one above it. He’s from Florida and signed with Florida International. Unlike Atkinson, Cole appeared in 15 games over three years and made 27 tackles, so we lost an experienced player.
Ben Labrosse was a Canadian a lot of people had high hopes for. He left the team after playing in the opening game last year. That was the 10th game he had played in and he had 14 tackles, including a TFL. It was a shocker because he started in that game. He also went home, to play for McGill University in Quebec. Be it ever so humble…



Eric Coley is the son of Vinson Reynolds, Babers former defensive line coach. Eric came to this area when his father did and tore things up playing for Fayetteville-Manlius High School, averaging 10 yards a carry. 247 had him as the #940/103 cornerback but Scout had him as “No. 1 in New York, No. 4 in the East, and No. 51 overall among athletes in the Class of 2017”. At SU he’s always played defense but hasn’t always played, battling injuries including one that cost him all but the opening game of the disastrous 2020 season. I had originally seen him as the fourth member of a stellar backfield with Trill Williams, Andre Cisco and Iffy Melifonwu, all of whom are in the NFL. He’s not on that level but he’s the most experienced D-back on this year’s team, having been here since 2017. “Has 84 tackles (46 solo), two tackles for loss, six passes defended and one interception in 31 career games (eight starts)”. (Cuse.com)
Nunes: “Just like last season, Coley is the longest-tenured player in the Syracuse secondary. The veteran should rack up the majority of snaps at the safety position and once again help lead an overall-young position group. This is his last chance to get back to 2019 form when he had 48 total tackles and an interception.” Coley: “You make the right decisions, you do everything right off the field, then things will go right on the field,” Coley said. “You just have a peace that everything’s gonna be okay at the end of the day as long as I do what I’m supposed to do.”

I couldn’t find an SU highlight reel on Eric but this shows why people got so excited around here when he was in high school:


Isaiah Johnson is a transfer from Dartmouth. He’s listed as a senior but Syracuse.com, in the article announcing the transfer, said that he has “has two seasons of eligibility remaining”. He is “is coming off a year in which he recorded 55 tackles, including 2.5 for loss, to go with six pass breakups, seven passes defended against and an interception.” Here is an excellent highlight film, suggesting strongly that he could do well at this level:

Isaiah Johnson #3 2021 Season highlights

He’s a big, strong, athletic corner with a 6-6 reach.

Jason Simmons transferred here from New Mexico State last year and “appeared in 11 games with 10 starts at safety ... Posted 41 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, an interception and a forced fumble”. (Cuse.com) That’s quite impressive for a transfer from an historically unsuccessful program.
I-A Winning Percentage 1869-2021
This gives hope that Juwan Price will be able to perform well at this level, (see running backs). Jason was rated rather low by 247: #2,423/186 safety but as a freshman at NMS he “played in 11 games with eight starts ... Finished the year tied for sixth on the team with 62 tackles (42 solo) ... Racked up 4.5 tackles for loss, tying for fifth most on the Aggies ... Broke up three passes, forced one fumble and had a fumble recovery.” (Cuse.com) Nunes: “He was a starter last year, he should start this year. Only thing possibly altering that would be one of the young guys making a huge jump, in which case he would still see a lot of the field and we’d be deeper for it.”
(8/16 update: Jason has his arm in a sling, per Stephen Bailey.)

Justin Barron came here as a wide receiver but switched to the defensive backfield as a freshman. He’s another big guy (6-4 220) who could function as an extra linebacker as well as a defensive back. He’s listed as a ‘rover’ whose job is to follow the play wherever it goes. “Has appeared in 23 games through two seasons at SU, with 46 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss and three pass breakups.” (Cuse.com). 247 had him at #1,324/95 as an ‘athlete’. Nunes: “Barron should be back in the starting rover role for the Syracuse Orange this season. The next area of skill Orange fans would like to see him improve in is helping in the takeaway battles, but his strong physical presence over the middle of the field makes him a tough matchup for smaller slot receivers.”

Ja’Had Carter made his presence felt but intercepting a pass vs. Georgia Tech and then lateralling to trill Williams, who ran for a touchdown in SU’s only win that season. He’s been a productive player ever since. “Immediate impact safety, who started 10 games as a true freshman in 2020 earning Freshman All-America honors…Enters 2022 with 18 career starts (19 games played), 102 tackles (77 solo), two interceptions, four pass breakups, a fumble recovery and forced fumble.” (Cuse.com) 247’s site says he was #2 in the country and the #1 ‘athlete’. If that were true we’d have heard a lot about it. Cuse.com says that 247 had him as their #48 athlete, which makes more sense. Anyway, he’s really good player. Nunes: “Carter made eight starts at the boundary safety position for the Syracuse Orange last year and would have likely started the other four had he not missed weeks 3-6 with an injury. Even in the limited time he accounted for 35 tackles and a pass breakup. If he stays healthy, he should be the starter again this year, and rotating again with Eric Coley (assuming he stays healthy as well...). That’s not a bad one-two punch at boundary safety for the Orange. He should add another veteran presence in his third year to a relatively young position group.”
(8/9 Update: “After an opening statement to address the upper-body injury that led Ja'Had Carter to be hospitalized -- Babers called it a precaution and noted that Carter had feeling in all of his limbs.” – CuseNation – On 8/10 he “watched practice from the sideline”. 8/16: He’s a “full go” per Stephen Bailey)

Darian “Duce” Chestnut was our #1 recruit last year and disappointed no one. 247 had him at #431/31 as a cornerback. In the opener, Ohio U. found out about him when he made 8 tackles, one for a loss and intercepted a pass. Cuse.com: “Breakout rookie corner who made an immediate impact and was one of the country’s top freshman in 2021 ... Named a Freshman All-American by a number of national publications and was the runner-up for ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year in voting ... Also selected to the All-ACC team as a rookie in 2021 ... Enters 2022 with 43 career tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, 11 passes defended and eight pass breakups.” Nunes: “It didn’t take long for Chestnut to announce his arrival but he did hit some rough spots in his first season. With a season of experience under his belt and some additional help in the secondary we should see an increase in consistency during this season. Chestnut and Garrett Williams form one of the best cornerback duos in the nation.”

Alijah Clark was even higher rated than the Duce was: #277/22. Unfortunately he went to…Rutgers! (Boooo…!) Fortunately, he has transferred to Syracuse (Yea…!) He didn’t get the opportunity to play as much at Rutgers as Duce did here: “Appeared in seven games, making six tackles and an interception” (Cuse.com) That may be why he’s here. But there’s plenty of competition here, too. Nunes: “This is a big addition to the Syracuse secondary. Clark is going to push to start at the rover spot and he can help the Orange better match up with opponents on passing downs.” The talent level in the Syracuse backfield continues to be extremely high.

Gregory Delaine is another solid recruit. 247 has him #966/88 as a cornerback: ESPN had him in their top 50. He’s one of those speedy Florida recruits. Cuse.com: “As a senior in 2021, had five interceptions, two returned for touchdowns and 75 tackles on defense ... On offense, hauled in six receiving touchdowns and posted 750 receiving yards.” Nunes: “While Garrett Williams and Duce Chestnut are sure-fire starters, the last few years have seen the secondary suffer some serious injuries. The Syracuse CB room is fairly young, and Gregory has the pedigree to earn time on special teams right out of the gate and be on standby for shots in passing situations. A redshirt is unlikely here.”

Aman Greenwood at 5-10 is one of our shorter D-backs. His nickname is “Smurph”. He “enters the 2022 season with 20 career games played, 28 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss and four pass breakups”. 247 had him as #1,158/98 as a safety. Nunes: “He’s going to be on the field in a variety of spots. Whether where he was listed at free safety, or the boundary safety role. He does have Rutgers transfer Alijah Clark coming in to add to the depth at the position but should still see field time consistently this year.”

Rob Hanna is part of an odd couple at 6-0 170 at rover with Justin Barron, who is four inches taller and 50 pounds heavier. Rob often seems to be where the ball is but he gets whacked around with that skinny body. Still, he’s played 19 games in two years, starting 11 of them. He “enters 2022 with 85 tackles (63 solo), 3.0 tackles for loss and 1.0 sacks”. He was highly rated by 247: #742/57 as a safety. Nunes: “Rob will look to reclaim some of the playing time he had in 2020 when Andre Cisco was lost for the last nine games. However, returning safety competition and a pair of transfers will make that difficult. He might be better suited moving off the other team’s best man and instead rotating in for more favorable matchups, at least for now.”

Garrett Williams: Just as Duce Chestnut was an immediate star last year, so was Garrett Williams in 2020, (and it’s hard to become a star on a 1-10 team). Williams had actually seen some action the previous year in the four games redshirts can play in now, but he played on the kicking teams. In his breakout year, he “led the ACC in passes defended (12) and was seventh nationally at the conclusion of the regular season (second among freshmen) … Tied for the ACC lead with 10 pass breakups … 5.8 tackles per game was the most among ACC cornerbacks and was third on Syracuse in tackles in 2020 (64).” His highlight game was against Clemson: “Picked off Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence for his first collegiate interception and returned it for a touchdown. It was the first time Lawrence surrendered a pick-six in his illustrious collegiate career. Also had eight tackles, two pass breakups and a tackle for loss against the Tigers.” Garrett ran past the whole Clemson team to score on that one:

Syracuse's Garrett Williams Houses First Career Interception | ACC Must See Moment

Last year the injury termites got to him and he missed a couple of games and was hobbled in others so he wasn’t able to have as spectacular a year, even though the team was better. Still, “In 25 career games played, he has 116 tackles, 8.0 TFLs, one sack, two interceptions and 22 passes defended.” He wasn’t highly rated by 247: #1766/171 as a cornerback. But they also had him as 5-10 ½, 171. He’s now 6-0 188 and Pro Football Focus has him #16 on their NFL draft board and the second highest rated cornerback so we’re lucky he decided to come back for another year. Nunes: “Expect more of the same from the lockdown CB pairing of Williams and Duce Chestnut. Garrett will look to get back into the INT column (he had two in 2020) while continuing to average a pass breakup per game. As long as the duo stays healthy, this is the least of Syracuse’s worries on D.”

Malcolm Folk Malcolm is a three-star out of Pennsylvania, rated #1,105/96 as a safety. He redshirted last year and didn’t play in any games. Nunes: “Folk will get another opportunity to crack the two-deep now that his position group is a bit thinner than last year. He’s one of the bigger-built DBs on the roster (6-1 204), so there’s the potential for him to also get some work inside the box.”

T. J. Harkness is a smallish (5-9 171) local kid (Corcoran) who walked on last year but didn’t appear in any games. 247 and Nunes whiffed on him. Here’s a guy who plays for the love of the sport, his school and his community.

Clay Masters Came here as a preferred walk on all the way from Oregon. (An Eric Dungey fan?) 247 lists him as a running back but gives no rating. Nunes says that 247 gave him two stars and said he was the 69th best player in Oregon. Last year my preview said 247 listed him as the 241st best running back in the country and that he was an all-league outfielder in baseball. He’s another smallish DB at 5-10 175. He redshirted and didn’t play last year. Nunes: “Syracuse likes to bring in multi-sport athletes in these PWO spots and Clay has experience at defensive back and wide receiver. He’ll likely spend another season on the scout team but could be a player pushing for snaps on special teams in the future.”

Corneilius (Neil) Nunn: Neil was a highly rated recruit (247 #481/39 as a safety from Miami) whose career took a while to get going due to since resolved legal trouble, (charges dropped), and injury. He’s appeared in 9 games has made 4 tackles. With his redshirt year and covid year, he’s still got three years left to realize his potential. Nunes: “Nunn has the ability to play safety and corner so he could push for time at one of the safety sports or as the rover in the 3-3-5. If he’s able to stay healthy he’s a player who can give a boost to the strong Syracuse secondary.”

Bralyn Oliver will be looking across the field at his old team in the opener. Sort of. He hit the transfer portal in pre-season camp, then announced he was going to go to Oregon State, the decommitted from them and announced he was going to Syracuse, so he may be just passing through, (but then, they all are, aren’t they?). December. 247 had him #551/43 as a safety coming out of high school. He was a high school teammate of Jaitus Geer, so he’ll have some familiar company here. Nunes: “Syracuse had some issues in the interior of the secondary last season and Oliver should find himself in the two-deep this Fall. He has the size, (6-2 195), to help the Orange secondary be better suited to cover bigger receivers in the middle of the field.”

Cornell Perry A three-star out of Michigan rated #1,254/92. Nunes: “He showed for spring practice by enrolling early. That’s always a good prospect for getting closer to the rotation. Safety’s pretty full right now, but in a year could open up. I think he’s probably a special teamer this year and the early enrollment is only helping him in the long.”

Quan Peterson A three star out of South Carolina (247: 1,297/120 as a cornerback). Nunes: “we’d expect Peterson to get snaps on special teams and get acclimated to Tony White’s defense. He’s got the type of size that the Orange like for their corners, (6-1 175).”

Tommy Porter came all the way from California to walk-on here (is he a Justin Lamson fan?). Nunes: “Porter is most likely staying on the scout team, but he does fit multiple potential roles if the need arises. (He was also an all-purpose RB in high school.) Porter tore his left ACL twice in high school, but that didn’t stop his drive and determination to keep improving. “I am bigger, stronger, faster and more determined than ever... My injuries have helped make me the hard working and dedicated athlete I am today.”

Cam Reirden came all the way from Massachusetts to walk on here. (A Luke McPhail fan?) He red-shirted here but didn’t play. Nunes: “Dino Babers doesn’t hesitate to use walk-on players in roles on special teams coverage. If Reirdon can show the ability to handle the role he could see some time this year but it’s unlikely he’ll push for time in a crowded defensive backfield this season.”

Jeremiah Wilson is a bit on the small side at 5-10 171 but he’s another one of those Florida speedsters northern teams love to recruit. 247 rates hm #1,162/110 as a cornerback. Nunes: “Like a lot of Syracuse corner commits, Wilson shows solid bursts of acceleration and speed to jump routes and create turnovers. While he doesn’t have the size of a Chestnut or Garrett Williams, that’s what the freshman year is for and the rest of the fundamentals seem to be present: solid tackling, good footwork on man coverage, and solid instincts. I don’t think Syracuse will want Wilson starting right away, but he checks all the boxes of high upside 3 star players Dino’s staff likes to grab and develop.”


The linebackers may be the most stellar unit in terms of the starting five but no unit on this team has the depth of the D-backs. There are presently 130 major college teams and 64 ‘power’ conference teams, (at least until the ‘rapture’). Each of them has at least starting cornerback positions and two starting safeties, (with our 3-3-5, we also have a ‘rover’). Basically, if you are one of the top 260 players at your position, you should be able to find a spot in FBS and if you one of the top 130 or so, you could play for a power conference team. And, as examples like Garrett Williams (#171) and Jason Simmons (#186), show, not being in those groups don’t mean that you can’t be there someday. Coley, Simmons, Barron, Carter, Chestnut, Greenwood, Hanna, Williams and Nunn give us 9 players who have experience playing here, at this level, 7 of them top 130 or better. Clark and Oliver, the transfers from Rutgers and Louisville, were more highly rated than any of them. Johnson was not rated but is an intriguing prospect. And the freshman recruits, Delaine, Folk, Perry, Peterson and Wilson were all rated in the top 130. That’s 17 guys for 5 spots, 10 on a two-deep. We needn’t envy anyone we play when it comes to defensive backs.
 

SWC75

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The depth chart, as expected, has Garrett Williams and Duce Chestnut at the corners – no brainer. Ja’Had Carter is the ‘BS’, which I assume is the strong safety, so he must be OK, (no BS would be a good nickname). Jason Simmons is his back-up. Barron and Hanna will continue to Mutt and Jeff it at rover while the two blue-chip transfers. Alijah Clark, (Rutgers) and Bralyn Oliver, (Louisville) are battling it out at free safety. Dartmouth transfer Isaiah Johnson will be backing up Duce. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do at this level. Jeremiah Wilson broke through at the other corner to back up Garret Williams.
 
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