2007 Cincinnati Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 13, 2007

Preview 2007 Cincinnati Bearcat Defense

Cincinnati Bearcats

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Cincinnati Preview | 2007 Cincinnati Offense Preview
2007 Cincinnati Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Cincinnati Preview 

What you need to know: That Bearcat defense, which was so stingy a year ago, returns almost virtually intact.  The unit is small, but very quick from sideline to sideline, and prone to swarming anyone with the ball in his hands.  It all starts up front with a line that welcomes back four players with starting experience, including its figurehead, junior tackle Terrill Byrd.  Junior cornerback Mike Mickens is one of the best unknown cornerbacks in the country and the kind of defender that can shut down the opposition’s No. 1 receiver.  While the offense takes time to adjust to a new system, the defense is going to keep Cincy in plenty of games.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Haruki Nakamura, 66
Sacks: Trevor Anderson, 6
Interceptions: Mike Mickens, 3

Star of the defense: Junior DT Terrill Byrd
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore LB Andre Revels or junior Ryan Manalac
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Trevor Anderson
Best pro prospect: Mickens
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Byrd 2) CB Mike Mickens 3) Anderson
Strength of the defense: The defensive line, run defense
Weakness of the defense: The linebackers

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: It all starts up front for the Cincinnati D, which is absolutely loaded on the line.  Ten letterwinners and every member of last fall’s two-deep return to a unit that was 25th nationally against the run in 2006 and could be better in 2007.  The ringleader is junior tackle Terrill Byrd, an all-Big East first team pick who’s had two very solid seasons with the Bearcats.  Just 6-1 and 285 pounds, he’s strong and quick and often requires more than one blocker to keep him out the backfield. 

Byrd will be joined inside by junior Adam Hoppel, an interior plugger who’ll be looking to build on the three starts he earned in the second half of last season after Tony Carvitti was sidelined. 

Tag team partners, junior Trevor Anderson and senior Anthony Hoke, return to defensive end after combining for 11.5 sacks and starting all 13 games a year ago.  The 6-2, 260-pound Anderson is building toward a breakthrough season after two quality years in the Queen City.  A disruptive force on the outside, he used his tremendous speed in 2006 to rack up 13 tackles for loss and a team-high six sacks. 

The undersized veteran of the line, Hoke can be a liability in run defense, but compensates by collapsing pockets with a sudden burst and nice closing speed wrapping around the outside.  The program’s active leader with nine sacks should add another half-dozen to that total this fall.   

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Angelo Craig is a luxury for this defense, a seasoned player who accepts his role as a situational pass-rusher.  After playing two seasons at linebacker, the 6-5, 235-pounder flourished at end, collecting 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in a part-time role. 

The staff is also excited about Lamonte Nelms, a fleet-footed junior rush end and former high school sprinter who showed flashes of potential toward the end of last season. 

There’s not a whole lot of reliable depth at tackle which is why it’s imperative that junior Thomas Claggett recaptures the ability that made him look like the second coming of Byrd just two years ago.  He was a disappointment in 2006, but still has the potential to be a nuisance as an inside pass-rusher and run-stopper. 

Watch Out For… Anderson.  Even in the conference, he’s been a well-kept secret the last two years, but he might be on the verge of going national in 2007.  He’s simply a better athlete than every tackle he faces and has a non-stop motor which will be parlayed into double-digit sacks and a nice impression of former Bearcat end Trent Cole.                        
Strength: The starters.  Sometimes, if you’ve got a bunch of stiffs, you don’t want every starter back, but that’s not the case in Cincinnati.  With all-league candidates at end and tackle and a couple of veteran role players chipping in, the Bearcats will contend for the Big East’s most productive defensive line.    
Weakness: Depth at tackle.  Hoppel has experience, but he shouldn’t go unchallenged for the starting job next to Byrd.  Claggett or sophomore Ricardo Mathews needs to create an atmosphere of competition in camp while bolstering the rotation behind the starters.    
Outlook: As the line goes, so goes the Cincinnati defense.  With a push from the inside and the outside, this quartet will make the back seven much stronger and be a load for even quality offensive lines to contain.   
Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters: The Bearcats lose just one mainstay from last year’s linebackers, but it’s a key one, all-conference middle man Kevin McCullough.  In his place steps sophomore Andre Revels who has patiently bided his time on special teams preparing for this opportunity.  A thick, stocky defender he’s got terrific upper body strength and better football speed than a straight line 40 time might indicate.

 The outside linebackers are set with holdovers, junior Corey Smith and senior Leo Morgan.  At just 6-1 and 215 pounds, Smith is at his best when he’s able to play in space and doesn’t have to shed bigger blockers.  Despite being injured early in 2006, he finished the year with 60 tackles, nine tackles for loss and five quarterback hurries. 

A former junior college transfer, Morgan played well in his first year as a regular, finishing fourth on the team with 62 tackles while adding 5.5 tackles for loss.  The strongest of the linebackers, he’d benefit by being a step or two quicker, especially in pass coverage.          

Projected Top Reserves: Of the linebackers, senior Jon Carpenter is the best all-around athlete, a combination of strength, speed and endurance.  The brother of former Ohio State linebacker Bobby Carpenter, he’s an ideal and experienced reserve to have in the mix on the outside.

Like Carpenter, senior Anthony Williams has played a lot of football in Cincinnati, earning a letter and a bunch of starts over the last two seasons.  As Morgan’s understudy, he appeared in all but the Syracuse game in 2006, collecting 35 tackles, four tackles for loss and a couple of forced fumbles.

Former walk-on Ryan Manalac is a versatile and very fast defender who can fill in at all three linebacker positions and can easily win the job in the middle.  A two-game starter last year, he played in all 13 games, doing his best work on special teams.                   

Watch Out For… Revels.  Now that he’s healthy, Revels has the physical and emotional tools to be a tackling machine for the Bearcat defense.  It won’t be easy replacing McCullough or holding off Manalac, but the sophomore is just intense and dedicated enough to get it done in his debut as the starter.                   
Strength: Depth.  The margin between the first and second unit is nominal, giving Cincinnati a tremendous amount of depth to play with in 2007.  Carpenter, Williams and Manalac are all athletic upperclassmen that have started games in their Cat careers, a real luxury for defensive coordinator Joe Tresey.          
Weakness: Size.  While this group of linebackers will fly to the football, it’s not very big or tall, making it susceptible to offensive lines that quickly get to the next level and rangy tight ends that’ll pluck passes out of the air without much of a challenge.               
Outlook: Although they won’t produce any all-stars in 2007, the linebackers will be a steady, veteran group that makes plenty of tackles and is rarely caught out of position.  They’re collective grade goes up if they can make a few more big plays and tackles behind the line.
: 6


Projected Starters: Losing four letterwinners and two starters stings, however, the secondary does return a pair of cornerstones, junior cornerback Mike Mickens and senior free safety Haruki Nakamura.  Mickens has spent his first two seasons quietly evolving into one of the game’s better cover corners.  He’s got track speed, breaks sharply on the ball and even at 165 pounds is fearless in run support.  A two-time all-Big East selection, Mickens has already broken up 32 passes with half a career of eligibility still remaining. 

At just 5-10 and 185 pounds, Nakamura may be built like a corner, but he can stick like a linebacker and covers a lot of ground in pass defense.  Last year’s third-leading tackler had 66 stops and broke up six passes, giving Cincinnati a presence at safety. 

With Mickens on the other side, junior DeAngelo Smith will grow accustomed to being picked on this season.  Last year’s top backup corner and special teams standout was sensational in his only start versus Rutgers, a prelude, coaches cautiously hope, of things to come in 2007. 

After cutting his teeth on special teams and seeing spot duty in the defensive backfield, junior Cedric Tolbert is ready to take over at strong safety.  A better athlete than a slugger, he’s got the hips and the wheels of a corner, but needs to become more physical when the ball isn’t in the air.      

Projected Top Reserves: The coaching staff has very high hopes for strong safety Aaron Webster who played in 12 games as a true freshman, earning the team’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year Award for 2006.  At 6-3 and 205 pounds, he’s Cincinnati’s most physically imposing defensive back and a real threat to Tolbert’s starting job. 

Senior Evan Sparks is a former walk-on and one of the inspirational leaders on special teams.  He brings energy to the locker room, but will only see significant playing time if Nakamura is a scratch. 

The Bearcats’ top reserve cornerback is Brad Jones, a 6-2 sophomore that saw limited action in six games a year ago.  Although he was buffered by the upperclassmen in 2006, his role will increase dramatically this year, allowing him little margin for errors.          

Watch Out For… how well Smith handles being one of the loneliest and most critical players on the field this season.  Rather than testing Mickens, quarterbacks will go right after the first-year starter until he proves his mettle.  How he holds up against the opposition’s No. 2 receiver will dictate the fate of the pass defense in 2007.                   
Strength: Mickens.  When you negate or at least slow down the other team’s best playmaking receiver, it’s a huge win for the defense.  Mickens affords that luxury to the Cincinnati D, week-in and week-out.      
Weakness: Intimidation.  The Bearcats have the parts for a fine secondary, but it’s not a group that’ll deter receivers from catching passes over the middle.  When Webster isn’t on the field, no one defensive back will be bigger than 195 pounds, giving the appearance that Cincy’s playing with four corners.
Outlook: The secondary will give up yards this season, however, Mickens’ presence and a nasty pass rush ensure this will be one of the Big East’s better pass efficiency defenses.  If Smith goes from potential liability to an asset, it’ll be the league’s best. 
Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters: With the losses kicker Kevin Lovell, punter Brian Steel and long snapper Patrick Farsing, Cincinnati could have problems this year in games decided by special teams.  Lovell was a steady performer, hitting 18-of-23 field goals in 2006, but the Bearcats believe they can do better than Steel.  Junior Kevin Huber auditioned for the punting job by uncorking a pair of 50-yard punts in the International Bowl.  He gets good hang time on his punts and is a solid all-around athlete, but needs to perform for an entire season rather than just in the spring and for a couple of kicks at the very end. 

Junior Brandon Yingling was supposed to be the heir apparent to Lovell at kicker, but got beat out by redshirt freshman Jacob Rogers in the spring.  Although Rogers has played just one season of organized football, he’s an intriguing 6-3 and 200-pound athlete that can really drive the football from his days as a prep soccer star.  While certainly raw at this stage, he warrants a close look during the summer.                  

Receivers Derrick Stewart and Dominick Goodman are back to handle punt and kickoff returns, respectively.   

Projected Top Reserves: Yingling will challenge Huber at punter, while trying to recapture the kicking job.  He’s got the leg strength to get the job done and be a plus on kickoffs, but until the season begins, his accuracy and ability to handle the pressure of a real game will be gigantic unknowns. 
Watch Out For… the new reality show in Cincinnati.  There’ll be more than just jobs on the line in August as Brian Kelly admits he’ll be handing out a scholie to a kicker and a punter before the season begins.  Kicking for cash, as the head coach has called it, adds an interesting twist to a competition that already figured to be heated.       
Strength: Leg strength.  Collectively, the punters and kickers can kick their way out of Fort Knox, leaving the finesse and mental aspects of the jobs left to be conquered in 2007.
Weakness: Big game experience.  Or any game experience, for that matter.  A huge part of special teams success is managing stress and pressure-packed situations which neither Huber nor Yingling has had to endure up until this point of their careers.    
Outlook: Ahhh, the little things in sports that can be the difference between winning and losing.  While Huber has the potential to be an upgrade from last year, the uncertainty at kicker will cost the Bearcats at least one game this year, especially if the spread offense misfires early on in the red zone.
Rating: 4.5


Related Stories
2007 Cincinnati Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 13, 2007
2007 Cincinnati Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 13, 2007
2007 Cincinnati Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 31, 2007

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