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Sports

2022 Syracuse Football Preview: Defensive Backs

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Syracuse defensive back Duce Chestnut (20) wraps up a Liberty wide receiver in the open field. Chestnut is one of six returning defensive backs from 2021.

Syracuse football’s Defensive Backs were a bit of a mixed bag in 2021. The Orange only allowed 204.3 passing yards per game, good for 2nd in the ACC behind Boston College. On the flip side, SU only intercepted 4 passes last year. Georgia Tech was the only conference foe with fewer. However, the unit is very experienced. The Orange return six players from last year’s secondary who all bring a lot to the table. Let’s meet them.

DUCE CHESTNUT

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The true freshman burst onto the scene last year and made an immediate impact. Chestnut had three of SU’s four interceptions last year and was second among defensive backs in tackles. Now that he’s a year older and has gotten used to Dino Babers’ system, why can’t Chestnut develop into one of the best cornerbacks in the conference? Why not even up that to potential Thorpe Award candidate? Chestnut was very hyped up coming into the 315, if he elevates his interception game a little bit he can reach the potential so many fans think he can reach.

GARRETT WILLIAMS

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Williams is one of the most experienced defensive backs on the roster. He is entering his fourth year in the program and has a Freshman All-American selection and All-ACC selection to his name. Williams has led the ACC in pass breakups two straight seasons and was second in the ACC in passes defended per game last year. If there is a weakness to Williams’ game, it’s in interceptions. He only had two in 2020 and couldn’t muster one last season. Williams doesn’t get enough recognition among ACC standouts let alone SU standouts. If he can pick off more passes this year, he’ll get that recognition.

JASON SIMMONS

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Simmons was a little overshadowed behind some of the bigger names on defense, which is a shame because he did a little bit of everything last year. His 42 total tackles was tied for eighth on the entire roster, but he also recorded an interception, forced a fumble, and came up with 1.5 tackles for loss. His numbers aren’t mind-boggling, but Simmons can do all the little things that make a defense exponentially better.

ROB HANNA

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Hanna was thrust into action as a true freshman after Andre Cisco’s season-ending injury in 2020 and he did not disappoint. His 55 total tackles tied for fifth-best on the team, and he added an INT to that campaign too. Last year was a bit of a step back. Just 30 tackles in one more game played. With a deeper unit this season, Hanna will have to fight to keep his spot. The question is, will the pressure improve his numbers or hinder it to the point where he’s unplayable?

JUSTIN BARRON

Barron is the man on this unit with so much untapped potential. The rising third-year is coming off his first full season as a DB, and he showed flashes of brilliance. He was tied for third on the team in

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passes defended behind just Chestnut and Williams. Now that he has a full year of experience at the position under his belt, those numbers can rise in a heartbeat. Barron’s continued growth may be the X-factor of this defensive backs unit.

ERIC COLEY

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No one in this unit defines veteran like Coley. The Fayetteville-Manlius High School product is entering his sixth season with the Orange. It’s unfair to expect mind-boggling numbers from him (only 1 interceptions and 6 passes defended in his career), but Coley needs to be the calming voice of the group, almost like a coach on the field. Few players know the system like Coley does, and if he uses his knowledge to his full advantage, his counterparts’ Football IQ will grow a little bit.

This group could be the strongest on Babers’ squad. The experience is there. The talent is there. The untapped potential is there. If Chestnut, Williams, and company reach said untapped potential, the sky could be the limit for Syracuse Football’s Defensive Backs.