Syracuse got a taste of life without top safety Durell Eskridge in December's Texas Bowl, and coach Scott Shafer found some young players ready to step up at the position. With Eskridge still recovering from offseason finger and hip surgeries, Shafer said those reserves will get another extended opportunity to win jobs when the Orange kick off spring practice next week.
Eskridge, a third-team All-ACC safety who led the Orange in tackles in 2013, is likely to sit out most of the spring, Shafer said. But as Syracuse looks to identify depth in the secondary, that might not be a bad thing.
“We’re going to be real smart with [Eskridge] this spring and see what these other guys can do,” Shafer said.
That starts with Darius Kelly and Ritchy Desir, who split time filling in for Eskridge in Syracuse’s 21-17 Texas Bowl win over Minnesota. Desir finished 2013 with 47 tackles and an interception, while Kelly had 44 tackles last season.
Perhaps the most intriguing option, however, might be Chauncey Scissum, a redshirt freshman Shafer said made the most of his season on the sidelines in 2013.
“He’s a kid that’s kind of like (receiver Corey) Winfield on offense, a kid we were really excited about but we felt it was in our best interests to put a redshirt on him,” Shafer said. “He’s gotten bigger and faster and stronger.”
Shafer said he expects some strong competition at the position with Eskridge sidelined, but he also thinks the downtime can benefit his established veteran.
“He’ll probably wear a coach’s hat more than anything else this spring and spend a lot of time in the film room and help coach those guys that are playing safety,” Shafer said. “I think there’s a lot to be said when a kid’s injured, if you handle it right, they get an opportunity to see it from the other side of the fence and put the coach’s hat on a little bit and learn a lot about themselves when they’re teaching their teammates. I’ve seen that a lot over the years, and that’s how we’re going to approach it with Durell this spring.”