As we countdown to kickoff in August, we’re going to be doing a unit-by-unit preview each week over the summer. This week, we’re taking a look at the secondary, who will look to build upon an auspicious 2018 season.
Syracuse is still waiting on safety/nickelback Antwan Cordy, who could return for a sixth season after being granted two medical hardship waivers.
Cordy was SU’s primary nickelback during the 2018 season after playing at safety for most of his career. During his career, he’s started 24 games and recorded 114 tackles.
Cordy has been participating in summer conditioning, though he did miss the final three games of the season due to personal reasons, and also didn’t appear on the spring practice roster.
Other than Cordy, Syracuse lost backup safety Tyrone Perkins, who exhausted his eligibility. He was primarily used as a special teams player.
During the spring game, Syracuse listed Christopher Fredrick and Carl Jones as its starting cornerbacks, though Jones was listed atop the depth chart because Scoop Bradshaw was injured throughout the spring.
Frederick, a three-year starter at cornerback, is locked into the starting role. He finished fifth on the team in tackles with 56 and finished second on the squad with three interceptions.
Bradshaw was dinged up in 2018, but still managed to start 10 games and appear in all 13. He finished with 27 tackles.
Sophomore Trill Williams was the first team nickelback throughout the spring, though he also made three starts at cornerback in 2018. As a true freshman, Williams had 31 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Williams starred in the spring game, intercepting quarterback Tommy DeVito on the game’s first drive for a pick-6.
Since Syracuse played 4-2-5 sets for its base defense for large stretches last year, Williams makes the ideal nickelback given his size (6’2”, 202 pounds), which enables him to play a more hybrid role with an unproven linebacker core in front of him.
Behind them are safeties Andre Cisco and Evan Foster.
Cisco was ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and a Sporting News Second Team All-American after a season when he tied for the NCAA lead in interceptions (7) and defended 18 passes, a Syracuse true freshman record, to go along with 60 tackles.
The All-ACC First-Team selection started 11 games at free safety and appeared in all 13 games, notching nine tackles in the Camping World Bowl. Not surprisingly, Cisco also made noise during the spring game, adding a 57-yard scoop and score.
Foster has now made 25 straight starts, and was first among SU defensive backs with 86 tackles. He also had four pass breakups, 5.5 TFL, two sacks and an interception.
WHO’S BACKING THEM UP
Syracuse has a deep stable of talented defensive backs behind its starters.
Sophomore Ifeatu Melifonwu was listed as a second-team cornerback, and showcased himself in Syracuse’s win over North Carolina last season.
With Frederick injured, he stepped in to record four tackles and also had four pass breakups.
Early enrollee Adrian Cole, senior DuWayne Johnson and Jones could also see time at cornerback. The Orange will also welcome freshmen defensive backs Aman Greenwood and Garrett Williams in the summer.
Allen Stritzinger was listed as Williams’ backup at nickel, and recorded six tackles during the spring game. Stritzinger also played a key role in the Camping World Bowl, intercepting a pass in the fourth quarter which led to a key Andre Szmyt field goal.
At safety, Devon Clarke, Cam Jonas and Eric Coley will back up Foster and Cisco. Coley finished the year as the team’s backup strong safety, while Jonas is working his way back from a knee injury.
One of Syracuse’s crown jewels of the 2019 class, four-star Miami native Cornelius Nunn will also get an opportunity to play early, as well.
For the second straight season, the Syracuse secondary will be leaned upon as a defensive strength given the turnover at linebacker. But Syracuse’s secondary, once considered a laughing stock of the ACC, is now one that should spark fear in opponents and inspire confidence among the team.
Consider that the secondary forced just four turnovers in 2017, a number that increased to 18 last year. Syracuse returns all of the key pieces from that unit, and with even more depth arriving in its freshman class.
Frederick, Bradshaw and Foster are multi-year starters and Cisco is on plenty of pre-season All-America lists, and Williams, Melifonwu, Stritzinger and Nunn could all push for playing time.
The main story line of the secondary is how the coaching staff rotates players behind the established starters, and if any of those reserves can break through into the starting lineup.