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Syracuse Football Preview: Defensive Backs

Syracuse safety Justin Barron (white) rushes the quarterback against Pitt. Barron is often used both in coverage and around the line of scrimmage.
Syracuse safety Justin Barron (white) rushes the quarterback against Pitt. Barron is often used both in coverage and around the line of scrimmage.

As Syracuse football's season opener draws near, WAER Sports will release articles previewing position groups. A list of published articles can be found at the conclusion of this piece.

Syracuse football is just a few days away. Orange open up the season Saturday against in-state foe, Colgate. Although, this SU squad is missing many of last year’s big names, especially in the secondary. So, who can SU count on in the five of the infamous 3-3-5 defense?

Isaiah Johnson, Cornerback

With the departure of Deuce Chestnut, Johnson could play a significant role as SU’s first option for a lockdown corner. The red shirt sophomore has a height, length and speed combo that opens him up to playing all over the field. The Dartmouth transfer capped off his tenure for Big Green in 2021, breaking up nine passes and taking his lone interception 74 yards back for a touchdown.

Justin Barron, Safety

Some SU fans view Barron as the heart of the Syracuse secondary. Not just for his leadership, but for his play style as well. The Connecticut product certainly possesses high-level coverage skills. But, it's his hard-nose, first-to-the-ball approach to tackling that makes him so dangerous. The Junior’s 65 tackles put him at the top spot for defensive backs and third overall on Syracuse’s 2022 squad. Barron’s hybrid style should pair nicely with linebacker Marlowe Wax to form SU’s new hard-hitting duo.

Jaden Gould, Cornerback/Safety

Dino Babers hit the transfer portal hard this season pulling in solid talent at multiple positions including secondary. Gould comes to the 3-1-5 from the University of Nebraska, and his skillset is pretty unique. The former four star is a plug and play defender anywhere in the secondary. Fansided publisher Mike Macalister believes Rocky Long could have some interesting plans in store for the Sophomore.

“It wouldn't be a complete surprise to see him move all over,” Macalister said. “One series he could be lining up at slot corner and the next series could line up at safety to take advantage of his versatility.”

Alijah Clark, Safety

Last year, SU fans were treated to glimpses of the future from players like Oronde Gadsden II and LeQuint Allen Jr. In that same vein, Clark had a few stellar performances in 2022 that could be signs of more to come. Last season the sophomore tallied 576 defensive snaps and did not allow a single touchdown according to Pro Football Focus. The New Jersey native spent his first collegiate season at Rutgers before transferring and strengthening the New Jersey to Syracuse pipeline. A sizable part of the Orange’s potential defensive success rests on the shoulders of Clark’s development. With the expectation being he could take a massive jump in ability.

Rocky Long, Defensive Coordinator

The departure of Syracuse’s last defensive head man, Tony White, dampened the flame of SU’s rising program. With the bones of White’s 3-3-5 defense still intact, the Orange went out and hired former New Mexico and San Diego St coach Rocky Long. With a coaching career spanning over 50 years, Long is known as the “Godfather” of the 3-3-5.

With the scheme remaining the same it should be easier for the Orange to replicate some of their success from the previous season, but it’s up to Long and the players to make it all work.

2023 Syracuse Football Preview Articles
Coaching Staff
Special Teams
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Offensive Line