Cincinnati Preview 2006 - Defense
Cincinnati Bearcats
Posted Aug 1, 2006

Cincinnati Bearcats Preview 2006 - Bearcat Defense

What you need to know ... Did anyone end up starting more freshmen last season? The D didn't do a horrible job considering it got no consistent support from the offense and there was too much inexperience to do any one thing well. The potential is there for a big improvement with a veteran linebacking corps that should make plays all over the field, a decent line with some good building blocks, and a big-hitting secondary with a rising star in corner Mike Mickens.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Haruki Nakamura, 76
Sacks: Trevor Anderson, 4
Interceptions: Haruki Nakamura, Dominic Ross, 2

Star of the defense: Sophomore CB Mike Mickens
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DT Terrill Byrd
Unsung star on the rise: Senior CB John Bowie
Best pro prospect: Sophomore DE Trevor Anderson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Mickens, 2) LB Corey Smith, 3) FS Hakuri Nakamura
Strength of the defense: Linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Second defensive tackle next to Byrd, outside linebacker size

Defensive Line
Call the D line the team's X factor. True sophomores Terrill Byrd, Trevor Anderson and Thomas Claggett have to take the next step in their development and form the foundation for the future of the defense. Anthony Hoke is a nice end who has to be a more consistent pass rusher. There's decent depth to rotate at tackle.
The key to the unit: Better all-around play against the run. This line will hang out in the backfield, but they can't get pushed around like they did by the better running teams.

Defensive Line Rating:

Projected Starters
- DE Anthony Hoke, Jr. - 21 tackles, 2 sacks
Hoke has done a little of everything on defense from seeing time as an outside linebacker to being used as a pass rushing specialist. He's a talented veteran who should become a more dangerous threat in the backfield.

- DT Terrill Byrd, Soph. - 22 tackles, 6.5 TFL
One of the biggest players on the line at 285 pounds, Byrd took his lumps as a true freshman and ended up as one of the team's best young defenders. He grew into the anchor of the line taking on two and three blockers. The line will be in big trouble if he doesn't have a big season.

- DT Tony Carvitti, Sr. - 13 tackles, 1 sack
Carvitti is a part-time defensive end who'll move inside to add more interior quickness. He's only 6-0 and 235 pounds with his primary job to be to get to the quarterback. On certain running downs, he'll either move outside or rotate with Thomas Claggett.

- DE Trevor Anderson, Soph. - 31 tackles, 4 sacks, 8.5 TFL
The 6-2, 258-pound Anderson turned into a great pass rusher as a true freshman. He's a physical, athletic player who can handle himself well against the run. Now that he'll be a full-time starter, his numbers should get him All-Big East consideration.

Top Backups
- DT Thomas Claggett, Soph. - 18 tackles, 1 sack, 2.5 TFL
At 280 pounds, Claggett is a key player on the inside rotating with 235-pound Tony Carvitti. He saw plenty of action as a true freshman showing big-time upside as an interior pass rusher.
- DE Lamonte Nelms, Soph. - 7 tackles
At 235 pounds, he's a smallish end who needs to grow into a pass rusher. He was a high school sprinter with more than enough speed to be a top producer behind Trevor Anderson once he gets a little more work.

It'll be a shock if this isn't the team's strength with three of the team's top four tacklers returning and good backups who add more size to the mix. It was trial by fire for the speedy, undersized outside linebackers last season, but Corey Smith and Anthony Williams have the potential to wreak havoc now that they have a year of starting experience. Middle man Kevin McCullough isn't going to make any highlight reels, but he's a strong anchor to build around.
The key to the unit: The outside starters have to start making more big plays.
Linebacker Rating: 7

Projected Starters
- Corey Smith, Soph. - 64 tackles, 1 sack, 7 TFL
Smith won a starting outside job as a true freshman finishing as the team's third leading tackler and a dangerous playmaker in the backfield. While not often spectacular, he was a surprisingly steady forced up until he got knocked out late in the year with a knee injury. At 6-1 and 215 pounds, he's not big, but he runs like a corner.

- Kevin McCullough, Sr. - 60 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 10 TFL, 3 fumble recoveries, 1 interception
The JUCO walk-on went from being a backup defensive tackle to the team's top all-around linebacker despite suffering a knee injury. At 240 pounds, he's by far the biggest linebacker and is plenty tough in the middle against the run. He can get into the backfield and occasionally showed good pass rushing abilities when the opportunity was there.

- Anthony Williams, Jr. - 66 tackles, 2 sacks, 4.5 TFL, 3 broken up passes
Williams finished second on the team in tackles using his next-level speed and athleticism to grow into the starting job. His wheels allow him to make plays all over the field at both outside linebacker positions and makes up for his 6-1, 200-pound size.

Top Backups
- Ryan Manalac, Soph. - 22 tackles
Manalac turned into a surprising back up in the middle showing a great motor and good toughness. He'll make his biggest impact on special teams early on when he's not giving Kevin McCullough a breather.
- Jon Carpenter, Jr. - 15 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL
The former fullback looked strong enough early on to get two starts. He's not the athlete Corey Smith and Anthony Williams are, but at 230 pounds, he's a lot bigger.

Defensive Backs
The secondary is expected to be a lot better now that there's a little bit of experience. This was a big, big problem last season, but now sophomore corner Mike Mickens leads a crew that got stronger as the year went on. Haruki Nakamura and Dominic Ross are sure-tackling safeties who should finish among the team's leaders. Lightning fast John Bowie comes back from an injury and should shine. There's even a little bit of depth to rely on. 

The key to the unit: There must be more game-changing plays after only picking off seven passes.
Secondary Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- CB Mike Mickens, Soph. - 51 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 interception, 14 broken up passes
Mickens took over the starting position early on as a true freshman and was one of the team's best performers earning Second Team All-Big East honors. He finished second in the nation in broken up passes and proved to be a sure open field tackler. With great speed and good toughness, he'll be an all-star for the next few seasons.

- FS Haruki Nakamura, Jr. - 76 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, 4 broken up passes
Mike Mickens is the best player in the secondary, but Nakamura will once again be the biggest producer. The biggest concern about him way his tackling ability; that was answered positively in a big hurry. He led the team in tackles last season showing big pop and good speed against the pass. He's only 5-10 and 185 pounds, but he's tough.

- SS Dominic Ross, Sr. - 59 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2 interceptions, 4 broken up passes
The former linebacker took a while before he started to become steady, and then he ended up being a top playmaker finishing fifth on the team in tackles. While he's not going to set any speed records, the 6-0, 200-pound senior can hit.

- CB John Bowie, Sr. - 6 tackles
One of the team's fastest players appeared to be on the verge of becoming a top corner when he suffered an arm injury and only ended up playing in two games. He's back and should be a big-time producer with teams looking to stay away from Mike Mickens on the other side.

Top Backups
- CB Antoine Horton, Sr. - 37 tackles, 2 TFL, 4 broken up passes
Horton had the starting role going into the season, lost it, and then got it back again thanks to the injury to John Bowie. He's a very fast veteran who can play either corner spot or be a dangerous nickel back.
- SS Cedric Tolbert, Soph. - 15 tackles
Stepping in as a true freshman, Tolbert saw a little time in almost every game with only a minor knee injury keeping him down. He's a great all-around athlete who'll see time on special teams along with his strong safety duties behind Dominic Ross.
- FS JaJuan Hall, Sr. - 12 tackles, 1 interception
Mostly a backup so far, Hall is experienced enough to step in and start if needed. It took him a while to get healthy after recovering from a torn ACL, but he ended up seeing time in seven games.

Special Teams
There needs to be more pop in all aspects of the kicking game. Brian Steel and Kevin Huber will combine to take over the punting duties, while veteran placekicker Kevin Lovell will look to improve on a lousy 2005. The return game was the worst in the Big East, but there's hope for improvement with all the main players returning. The coverage units were miserable, as well.
The key to the unit: Experience has to translate into improvement in every phase.
Special Teams Rating: 5

Projected Starters
- PK Kevin Lovell, Sr. - 4-9 field goals, 18-18 extra points
Lovell is back for his third season, but he took a major step back last season hitting only four of nine field goal attempts. To be fair, three of the misses were from beyond 45 yards. Now he has to regain the form of his sophomore season when he connected on 11 of 15 kicks.
- P Brian Steel, Jr.
Steel will battle with Kevin Huber to replace Chet Ervin, who had an average season. The Bearcats only netted 30.92 yards per punt and will need someone to get more of a consistent blast, as well as better coverage.

Related Stories
Cincinnati Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
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Cincinnati Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
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Cincinnati Preview 2006 - Offense
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