Given how young and relatively inexperienced the Syracuse football team’s defensive unit is heading into 2016, there are absolutely going to be opportunities for true freshmen to emerge as instant impact players. Obviously, nowhere is this more likely to happen than at defensive end. But perhaps even more important than the line is the secondary, and incoming freshman James Pierre has a unique chance to emerge.
Let’s just be honest here: Syracuse’s pass defense was pretty horrible last year. The Orange finished 100th in the country in passing yards allowed, with opponents throwing for 256.7 yards per game. Opposing QBs completed 64.6% of their passes and tossed 18 touchdowns in 12 games, with an average of 12.3 yards per reception.
The Orange certainly boast some intriguing returning players in the secondary, and with less blitzing expected this year in Brian Ward’s Tampa 2, the defensive backs won’t be quite as isolated in coverage, hopefully leading to fewer big plays. But while Syracuse does have some promising young players in the safety, there isn’t much by way of size.
This is, in part, where true freshmen like Pierre, Devon Clarke, and Evan Foster come into play at the safety position. All three boast superior size to the players returning for Syracuse. Among returners, only Kielan Whitner and Chauncey Scissum are at least 6-feet. Rodney Williams is 5-foot-10, while Antwan Cordy and Daivon Ellison are both 5-foot-8.
Cordy and Ellison can certainly deliver some big hits, but lack the ideal size to play safety in the Tampa 2. Both will no doubt play a lot – Cordy, after all, was one of the bright spots on defense last year – but with so little size in the secondary, there’s an opportunity for a player like Pierre to make his mark.
Obviously, Clarke and Foster will have a chance, as well, but I focus on Pierre for now simply because, by all accounts, he’s one of the most talented newcomers for Syracuse in the entire class of 2016. The 6-foot-2, 180 pound safety fell into Syracuse’s lap after he failed to get accepted by North Carolina. While he’s not on campus yet – thus putting him at a bit of a disadvantage in terms of getting up to speed – he’s the kind of long, rangy athlete who has a chance to become an elite safety for the Orange in the coming years.
Last season, Pierre made 48 tackles with four interceptions, according to MaxPreps. The Deerfield Beach star shows good speed, along with his size, and does a nice job tracking the ball in the air. He’s a playmaker in the secondary, and has a very realistic shot of cracking the 2-deep once he goes through fall camp. According to Syracuse.com’s Stephen Bailey, Pierre is expected to arrive on August 3.
I’d expect to see several true freshmen take the field for Syracuse, particularly on defense. Pierre has a chance to become a very special player for the Orange.