Then and Now: Part 6; The D-Backs | Syracusefan.com

Then and Now: Part 6; The D-Backs

SWC75

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Then:
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…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’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.

Now:
Williams again got bit by the injury bug and only played 7 games and was physically limited in most of those. Still, he had 36 tackles, 2 interceptions and a fumble recovery. That didn’t stop him from declaring for the pros so Garrett’s stellar career here is over.

Then:
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…Chestnut and Garrett Williams form one of the best cornerback duos in the nation.”

Now:
Duce remained reasonably healthy but opted to transfer to LSU and compete for national championships, (and, no doubt, receive a lucrative NIL deal). He had recruited several players to come to Syracuse and play with him. Welcome to the new era of college sports! He didn’t have a great sophomore year, despite getting 40 tackles and a pick in 12 games.

Then:
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) 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. 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.”

Now:
He was probably our best D-back this year, overcoming an ‘upper body’ injury in fall camp that hospitalized him and getting dinged a couple times during the season to record 36 tackles, 3 interceptions and a fumble recovery. Then he hit the portal and is now at Ohio State. Maybe his team will play Duce’s for the national championship.

Then:
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.”


Now:
Eric’s career ended with a whimper as he faded down the depth chart. He played in 11 games but only made 9 tackles. Those days when he dazzled at FM seem like a long time ago.

Then:
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.

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?). 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.”


Now:
These two were rated higher as recruits than Duce Chestnut, who was our highest rated recruit in years. We were able to get out of the transfer portal from two recruiting rivals. Clark was one of those guys who came here to play with Duce. Clark played a lot, getting 55 tackles in 12 games and could turn out to be a mainstay for future SU teams. Oliver couldn’t crack the two deep and had 5 tackles in 9 games. Maybe he will emerge in the future. You never know.

Then:
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.” 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.
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.”


Now:
These two guys did some excellent work filling in after the injuries we had. Johnson had 56 tackles, Simmons 38 and each had a pick. Johnson actually can come back for 2023: he played 3 years in the Ivy league and one here but can use the Covid year. Simmons was a junior. They could play huge roles as we rebuild this once impressive unit.

Then:
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. 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.”

Now:
Wilson was a back-up who made 21 tackles. I put him in this report firstly because he has a lot of potential and secondly because he entered the portal and then pulled back out of it when he saw all the players that were leaving. He sees an opportunity here and let’s hope he takes advantage of it.

Then:
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.

Now:
For all we’ve lost, there’s still plenty of talent there and the “next man up” should be pretty good.
 

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