2013 Cincinnati Preview - Defense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 23, 2013


CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Cincinnati Bearcat Defense


Cincinnati Bearcats

Preview 2013 - Defense


- 2013 Cincinnati Preview | 2013 Cincinnati Offense
- 2013 Cincinnati Defense | 2013 Cincinnati Depth Chart
 
What you need to know: Under recent coordinators, Bob Diaco and John Jancek, Cincinnati had a habit of making the most of the talent on hand. The Bearcats excelled at signing snubbed recruits and transforming them into all-stars with NFL potential. First-year coordinator Art Kaufman, who was on Tommy Tuberville’s Texas Tech staff last year, will attempt to emulate a similar model. Cincy welcomes back a handful of starters from another overachieving unit, but only one, sixth-year LB Greg Blair, who earned All-Big East honors in 2012. The line doesn’t look special, and other than CB Deven Drane, the secondary is pretty commonplace as well. The Bearcats are holding out hope that a spate of transfers, such as LB Jeff Luc from Florida State, DT Marques Aiken from Marshall and JUCO imports, can help fill in the gaps where they currently exist. Cincinnati has beaten the odds before, but the new staff still has some heavy lifting to do.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Greg Blair, 138
Sacks: Adrian Witty, 3
Interceptions: Arryn Chenault, 3

Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior NT Jordan Stepp
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Silverberry Mouhon
Best pro prospect: Blair
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Blair, 2) Junior LB Jeff Luc, 3) Senior CB Deven Drane
Strength of the defense: The linebackers, takeaways, red-zone stops
Weakness of the defense: The D-line, proven depth, turnover in the secondary

Defensive Line

After losing some key parts, such as all-star DE Dan Giordano, to graduation, Cincinnati has some building to do up front. Senior NT Jordan Stepp is readying for more of a leadership role now that he has eight starts from a year ago under his belt. The scrappy 6-1, 268-pounder is undersized, and occasionally bullied out of the play, yet managed to hustle his way to 32 tackles, four stops for loss and 1.5 sacks in his first year succeeding John Hughes.

At defensive tackle, senior Mitch Meador has taken a lead for the starting job. The 6-4, 281-pounder has lettered in each of the last two seasons, even starting the Toledo game, but his impact has barely discernible. He’ll attempt to use his experience with the program and his upper body strength to help clog running lanes.

One of the end positions will be going to up-and-coming sophomore Silverberry Mouhon. At 6-4 and 242 pounds, he’s built like a rangy outside linebacker, with the quick first step needed to pressure the pocket. He played well in the spring, displaying the north-south explosiveness that the new staff is seeking from its pass rushers. Mouton came off the bench last season to make 19 tackles and a sack.

The other starting end job will either go to 6-5, 253-pound junior Brad Harrah and 6-3, 245-pound junior Jerrell Jordan, a newcomer from Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Community College. Harrah has virtually no experience, despite entering his third year on campus. Jordan earned his scholarship with the Bearcats last year by frequenting the backfield of opposing junior-colleges.

Senior Adam Dempsey has elevated into the role of top tackle off the bench. A 6-2, 271-pound journeyman, with just one career letter and 11 tackles a year ago, he impressed the staff with his motor and toughness in the spring. Junior Camaron Beard has the potential to become a starter at tackle, a role he handled in 11 games a year ago, but a poor offseason currently has him buried on the depth chart. It’ll be interesting to see in the summer if the 6-5, 275-pounder heard the new staff’s message in the spring.

Watch Out For .... an influx of more talent and competition. The Bearcats are adding more bodies in the summer, including three-star DE Terrell Hartsfield, Jordan’s linemate at Copiah-Lincoln and Marshall transfer Marques Aiken. The 6-5, 277-pound Aiken couldn’t be arriving at a more opportune time, bringing two years of starting experience and a solid junior year to Cincy.
Strength: Motors. The defensive linemen plan to bring it, down-in and down-out, this fall. And the coaching staff wouldn’t have it any other way. This group is comprised largely of blue-collar types that are still ticked about being overlooked coming out of high school. The Bearcats won’t wow anyone with elite size or athleticism, but they’ll battle until the whistle blows.
Weakness: Proven pass rushers. Cincinnati did a decent job of getting to the quarterback in 2012, but no returning D-lineman contributed more than two sacks. Young Mouhon, in particular, will face a heap of pressure as the one end most likely to collapse the pocket from the edge in 2013.
Outlook: Past coaching staffs did a very nice job of maximizing the talent up front on defense. This year, though, presents a unique challenge to the new men in charge. The talent on hand is sketchy and disparate, forcing the coaches to fuse the holdovers with the newcomers. The Bearcats will need breakout performances from at least a few pivotal players, such as Mouhon, Aiken and the JUCO transfers.
Rating: 6

Linebackers

Greg Blair was one of the Big East’s top linebackers in 2012, an unexpected first-team all-star. Just how good can he be now that he’s gotten in shape and dropped a significant amount of weight? The 6-2, 252-pound former transfer from Lackawanna (Penn.) Community College apparently plans to make the most out of the sixth year that was granted by the NCAA. In his debut as a starter in the middle, he compiled a league-high 138 tackles, nine stops for loss, 2.5 sacks, two picks and six pass breakups. Blair diagnoses and anticipates extremely well, and will lay the lumber upon reaching his target. He has American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year potential, especially if he maintains his weight.

The Bearcats are pretty pumped about the starter at weakside as well. After sitting out 2012, Florida State transfer Jeff Luc is poised to begin showing why he was the country’s 28th-ranked overall recruit of 2010. Things didn’t work out in Tallahassee, which has only further inspired the physical 6-1, 248-pounder. Cincinnati has landed a motivated defender, with the crushing hits and closing speed to be an instant focal point on his new team.

Capping off the starting unit from strongside will be 5-10, 219-pound junior Nick Temple, a regular in eight games of each of his first two years. Last fall, he was in on 43 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss, 2.5 sacks and four passes defended, showcasing good range and intensity. Temple must continue growing with his instincts and his angles in order to offset his less-than-ideal height and weight for the position.

Behind Temple is 6-3, 227-pound Corey Mason, a less explosive playmaker who brings much better size to strongside. He was in on five tackles last year. Blair’s backup will be 6-2, 228-pound junior Solomon Tentman, the most experienced member of the second unit. In eight games, including a start versus Connecticut, he chipped in 20 tackles. The No. 2 weakside linebacker is sophomore Clemente Casseus, who earned a letter in his debut by playing in a dozen games and making a dozen stops.

Watch Out For .... Luc to quickly become a fan favorite. Bearcat backers are accustomed to unheralded defenders who bloom into all-league performers. Luc, though, is a very different kind of cat. He already has the talent, high ceiling and press clippings. And he’s just itching to prove that he still has next-level potential.
Strength: Thumpers. Blair and Luc don’t just defend the run—they punish the man with the ball. Both Bearcats are big and physical, and operate with the kind of leverage that just lifts the man with the ball off his cleats. Cincinnati’s linebackers are capable of intimidating, allowing them to get into the other team’s head days before kickoff.
Weakness: Pass defense. Relative to their ability to stuff the run, the linebackers are vulnerable as pass defenders. The starters only average around 6-0, which gives tight ends, in particular, a sizable edge over the top. From the second level, Cincinnati makes smoother transitions going north than they do drifting back toward the secondary.
Outlook: Of the three units on defense, the coaches are least worried about the linebackers. Not only is Blair the D’s best overall talent, but Luc is set to make a big splash in his debut in the Queen City. Plus, Temple is a playmaker, and the backups have earned some reps. If the line struggles, as is expected, Blair and Luc, in particular, will be around to clean up a bunch of messes this fall.
Rating: 7.5

Secondary

Despite losing three starters to graduation, Cincinnati feels there’s enough of a base of returning talent to cobble together a capable AAC pass defense. Spearheading the team’s cornerbacks will be 5-11, 186-pound senior Deven Drane, one of the league’s better cover guys. The third-year starter will be looking to impress pro scouts with his smooth and hips and his tight backpedal. Drane was largely avoided by quarterbacks in 2012, and wound up with just 43 tackles, seven passes defended and a couple of picks. Given more chances to break on balls, his numbers will shoot north.

The graduation of Camerron Cheatham has created a competition at the other corner spot between 5-11, 179-pound sophomore Trenier Orr and 5-9, 179-pound sophomore Leviticus Payne. Orr is not only the bigger defender, but he’s also the more experienced one, starting last year’s Syracuse game, and finishing the season with 18 tackles and four passes defended. Payne got his feet wet in 2012 by appearing in every game and making eight tackles.

Drane equivalent at safety is 6-0, 207-pound senior Arryn Chenault, the second-year starter. In his busiest season to date, he made 49 stops and intercepted three passes. Despite harboring prototypical safety size, he has polished ball skills to go along with the ability to provide support in pass defense to the corners.

The Bearcats appear as if they’ll be going young at the other safety spot, with 6-1, 198-pound Andre Jones elevating to the top of the depth chart. The former three-star local product has impressed the new staff so far with his athleticism and his ability to quickly pick up the nuances of the system.

When the Bearcats employ a fifth defensive back, the nickel, junior Adrian Witty will trot off the sidelines. The speedy former commit to Michigan showed excellent range and versatility in his limited outings. Quick enough to cover receivers, and tough enough to lower the boom, the tenacious 5-10, 182-pounder pitched in with 25 tackles, 4.5 stops for loss, three sacks and a forced fumble.

Watch Out For .... Drane to begin getting more of the attention that he deserves. He sort of got lost in the shuffle a year ago, especially among All-Big East voters, but No. 11 will be a lot harder to ignore in 2013. Provided folks don’t fixate on his numbers, which will suffer from intimidated quarterbacks, Drane will use 2013 as a springboard to more notoriety.
Strength: Sticky coverage. Yeah, maintaining last year’s stellar results will not be easy, but Cincinnati does have a track record of developing quality stoppers in the secondary. Oh, and Drane has a chance to cut off part of the field on quarterbacks. The Bearcats may not yield just 13 touchdown passes this fall, but it could be close.
Weakness: Proven depth. The graduations of Chris Williams, Drew Frey and Cheatham have left the Bearcats very young in the defensive backfield. A couple of the starters will be underclassmen, and the reserves have virtually no combined experience at this level.
Outlook: So often, Cincy has tended to overachieve in this area, but 2013 will offer unique and sizable challenges, such as new starters, youth off the bench and a quest for more leaders. To be fair, last season’s No. 24 ranking in pass efficiency D was built on the backs of a lot of middling passers. This fall will be a little more challenging, including opening with Purdue and Illinois and closing with Houston and Louisville.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Back for a third season as the placekicker is junior Tony Miliano, who has hit 17 field goals in each of the last two years. In 2012, he tightened up his accuracy, connecting 17-of-22 three-pointers and all but two extra points. He also addressed the blocked kicks that plagued him throughout his first year.

Cincinnati received some sudden and unforeseen news in the spring when two-time All-Big East P Pat O’Donnell announced that he’d be transferring to Miami. It was a big blow for the special teams and the D. Next in line at the position is junior John Lloyd, whose next attempt at this level will be his first.

The return game will be the domain of shifty junior Ralph David Abernathy IV on kickoffs and senior Anthony McClung on punts. Abernathy has been among the Big East’s most dangerous kickoff returners in each of the last two seasons. McClung averaged almost 10 yards an attempt in 2012, a healthy figure for the sure-handed veteran.

Watch Out For .... head coach Tommy Tuberville to bring in a few walk-on punters to compete with Lloyd. It’s a move the coach likes to try each year to spice up the competition. This year, though, it’s more of a necessity born out of O’Donnell decision to move closer back to home in Florida.
Strength: The return specialists. In Abernathy and McClung, the Bearcats have a pair of dangerous return men to help provide support for the offense. When the two playmakers get out into space, it becomes an instant boon to the team’s field position.
Weakness: Punter. From a unit strength to a potential weakness practically overnight, Cincinnati was placed in a precarious position by the unexpected decision of O’Donnell. Lloyd might provide an answer, but no one will know for sure until he performs in live action for the first time.
Outlook: With O’Donnell, Cincy would have challenged for the top special teams group in the American Athletic Conference. Without the punter? Still, pretty good. Miliano is a steady veteran, and the return specialists have pop. Now all the Bearcats need to do is tighten up in coverage after yielding a pair of touchdowns in 2012.
Rating: 7
 
- 2013 Cincinnati Preview | 2013 Cincinnati Offense
- 2013 Cincinnati Defense | 2013 Cincinnati Depth Chart