Last season, the Orange finished ranked 97th out of 128 teams in the country in passing defense. A huge part of that was due to some meltdowns in the secondary at the back end of the season. But at times, the “Blue Tails” (a self-anointed nickname for the group based on the movie “Red Tails”) showed promise and helped SU win some games early in the season, specifically at the safety position.
2018 represents a new challenge. The position is facing major turnover. Dino Babers’ defenses in the past have prided themselves on turnovers, but the team only racked up four interceptions last year, just one of which came from a safety. There are a lot of new faces and not a lot of snaps played. Only one player on the preseason depth chart has stepped between the lines in a live game.
Star of the Group: Evan Foster
Foster is the only returning starter at safety. He’s the lone player at the position last season to force multiple turnovers, recording an interception and forcing a fumble. That’s not exactly encouraging stuff for the unit as a whole, but at least the best player is returning. Foster was also the only defensive player to score a touchdown thanks to his pick-six against Central Michigan. Regardless, Foster showed flashes of excellence in his first season as the starter. And he’ll need to build upon that in his junior campaign if he wants to help resurrect one of the worst pass defenses in all of college football last season.
Something to Prove: Andre Cisco
There is a lot of hype heading into this season surrounding the IMG Academy product. Cisco is the only freshman starter on the preseason depth chart and has seemingly squeezed out Antwan Cordy from the position. There’s been so much positive coming out of spring practices and summer workouts surrounding Cisco. He’s been impressive with physicality, according to SU defensive tackle Chris Slayton. Cisco told the Fizz in an interview last December about how he models his game after NFL defensive backs Landon Collins and Gareon Conley. If everything pans out with Cisco as just a freshman, the Orange may have a future NFL talent on its hands.
The star power seems to be there. Again, this unit is in the midst of a rebuilding phase after a lackluster 2017. There may be some early growing pains, but once Cisco and Foster have their chemistry down, this could end up being a strength of the Orange defense. Foster was one of the better defensive backs on the team last season and Cisco seems to be one of the top dogs early on. It will click eventually, it’s just a matter of when. I’m not saying this is the best safety duo in the ACC (because it has a ways to go to reach that), but it certainly won’t be the laughing stock of the conference when all is said and done.
After Foster and Cisco, there aren’t a lot of names you’ll know on the depth chart. Behind the starters, there are as many former running backs in the mix (Tyrone Perkins) as there are players who logged a defensive snap (Carl Jones). Yet neither of them are listed on the depth chart. Devon Clarke, Eric Coley and Cam Jonas are in line to back up Foster and Cisco and nobody in that trio has played a snap of college football. It also doesn’t help that Jonas is about a year removed from an ACL tear, so he hasn’t even seen game action since his junior year of high school. SU lost Jordan Martin to graduation and Rodney Williams, who transferred to Temple. Both played critical roles on the team last year. When the secondary looked good, at least one, if not both, of them was a reason why. If Foster or Cisco go down with an injury or Cisco can’t live up to the billing as a freshman standout, the Orange won’t have much to lean on.
This is the biggest boom or bust group on not just the defense, but the entire team. There will be bumps in the road out of the gate while Cisco gets up to speed with the college game. But that process should be a quick one with a pair of games that will test him in the first three weeks. Foster should build upon a solid sophomore season in his second full year as the starter. As long as him and Cisco stay healthy and don’t get burnt out too badly by the time the calendar flips to November, this could be a strength of the defense. But if either goes down, it will easily be the worst unit on that side of the ball.
Be sure to keep it locked here at orangefizz.net and on Twitter @OrangeFizz to keep up with all of our positional previews. Look out for Friday’s offensive line preview with Jonathon Hoppe on Friday. Check out our other positional previews with the 2018 season right around the corner:
OFFENSE: Quarterback (8/13) | Running Back (8/6) | Wide Receiver | Tight End (8/10) | Offensive Line (8/3)
DEFENSE: Defensive End (8/8) | Defensive Tackle (8/20) | Linebacker (8/22) | Cornerback (8/17) | Safety
SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter/Kicker (8/15) | Return Specialists (8/24)