Coming off their eight-win season in 2012, the Syracuse Orange have been forced to say goodbye to one of their most important defensive players: senior safety Shamarko Thomas. Thomas was a leader, a fearless player, a hard hitter, and a ferocious tackler for the Orange last season, and throughout his career. He had all the intangibles you could want in a football player and was the heart of the Syracuse defense. However, the Syracuse secondary will be even better without him in 2013.
Thomas was a fantastic strong safety for the Orange throughout his four years at Syracuse, but he was also undersized, too aggressive at times, and not always effective in pass coverage. The strong safety projected to replace him is junior Ritchy Desir, who is taller, more athletic, and will cover a lot more ground in the defensive backfield for the Orange. Syracuse has a similar player alongside Desir in sophomore free safety Durell Eskridge, who is 6’3’’ and showed flashes of great potential in a backup role last year. With Desir and Eskridge at safety, the Orange will be as big and athletic at the safety position as they’ve been in over a decade. They will be able to cover a lot of ground with their size and speed, and make plays that Thomas wasn’t capable of making for them.
The leadership and aggressiveness that will be missing without Thomas, Syracuse will be able to get from senior Jeremi Wilkes. Much like Thomas, Wilkes is undersized, but he has a wealth of experience and doesn’t shy away from making hits on bigger players. Wilkes will embrace a leadership during his senior season, especially with fellow Floridians Desir and Eskridge playing alongside him at safety.
The Syracuse secondary also looks strong in 2013 because the Orange will return all of their cornerbacks from a year ago. Seniors Keon Lyn and Ri’Shard Anderson and junior Brandon Reddish rotated at the two starting spots last year, and all three should be even better this year, as they compete with one another for playing time. Sophomores Julian Whigham and Jaston George will also have an opportunity to compete for playing time and contribute. The wildcard of the Syracuse secondary will be sophomore Wayne Morgan, a big-time recruit that could see time at cornerback, safety, or in Syracuse’s vaunted “Okie” package. With a full year in the program, Morgan could be in line for a breakout season and become a real difference maker in the Syracuse secondary, no matter what position he plays.
Players that love football and play the game with great passion the way Thomas did are rare. He will certainly be missed and the Syracuse defense won’t look the same without him in 2013. But everyone else from a young and talented secondary is back, so even without its senior leader from a year ago, the Syracuse secondary will be much improved in 2013 and should be one of the strengths of Orange defense.