Preview 2007 - Defense
2007 Cincinnati Preview
2007 Cincinnati Offense Preview
2007 Cincinnati Depth Chart
2006 CFN Cincinnati Preview
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.
Trevor Anderson, 6
Interceptions: Mike Mickens, 3
Star of the
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
Strength of the defense: The defensive line, run defense
Weakness of the defense: The linebackers
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.