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Big East position rankings: Safety

We continue our team position rankings with safeties. This is another tough position to evaluate with so many quality returning starters. How will they shake out?

1. Syracuse. Shamarko Thomas and Phillip Thomas return as the most experienced safety duo in the league. They started together as true freshmen, so this will be their third year together. They also happen to be the top two tacklers who return to the team. Shamarko missed the spring because of injury but should be healthy for the season. Phillip should emerge as a leader on the team.

2. USF. Jon Lejiste and Jerrell Young make up another veteran unit that should be among the best in the league. There is experience behind them, too. Mark Joyce had a good spring and provides quality depth.

3. Louisville. If there is one part of the secondary that should be pretty solid, it should be the safeties. Hakeem Smith is one of the best in the league, and Shenard Holton had a nice season, too. They lead the team in tackles. Cornerback is the problem area.

4. Pittsburgh. Jarred Holley is one of the best in the league, and the Panthers are going to need him to anchor a secondary that has some question marks. They take a big hit in losing Dom DeCicco. Jason Hendricks and Andrew Taglianetti should be fine, and Todd Thomas will be playing that hybrid role. Cornerback is a bigger question.

5. Connecticut. Jerome Junior and Harris Agbor return after having made big strides in the second half of the year. But they have to be better. They were arguably the weakest part of the defense last year.

6. West Virginia. Terence Garvin has plenty of experience and led the team in tackles last season, but losing first-team All-Big East selection Robert Sands is a pretty big hit. Same with Sidney Glover. They need more depth than others since they play with three safeties on the field.

7. Rutgers. Moving David Rowe to free safety should help this unit, but there are some questions going into the season. Khaseem Greene has been moved from safety to linebacker. And the Scarlet Knights lose one of their best players in Joe Lefeged. Darrell Givens and Lorenzo Waters were big-time recruits who need to step up.

8. Cincinnati. The Bearcats were one of the worst secondaries in the nation and return Drew Frey and Wesley Richardson. Junior college transfer Malcolm Murray could push Richardson for the starting job. There is definitely depth here, but they have to show big-time strides this season before moving up.

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