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2008 Cincinnati Preview - Defense
Cincinnat DL Terrill Byrd
Cincinnat DL Terrill Byrd
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Apr 21, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Cincinnati Bearcat Defense

Cincinnati Bearcats

Preview 2008 - Defense


- 2008 CFN Cincinnati Preview | 2008 Cincinnati Offense
-
2008 Cincinnati Defense | 2008 Cincinnati Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Cincinnati Preview
| 2006 CFN Cincinnati Preview 

What you need to know: The Bearcats retain many of the key parts from last season’s stingy, ball-hawking defense, including three All-Big East performers. With DT Terrill Byrd back to clog the middle of the line and CB Mike Mickens cutting off half the field for opposing quarterbacks, Cincinnati will again be one of the toughest defenses to navigate in the league. If there’s a pressing concern for defensive coordinator Joe Tresey, it’s at safety, where Haruki Nakamura and Anthony Williams must be replaced. A lot will be expected from senior Cedric Tolbert, the most experienced of the holdover safeties.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Corey Smith, 80
Sacks: Terrill Byrd, 8
Interceptions: DeAngelo Smith, 8

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

Star of the defense: Senior DT Terrill Byrd
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior SS Cedric Tolbert
Unsung star on the rise: Senior DE Lamonte Nelms
Best pro prospect: Senior CB Mike Mickens
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Byrd 2) Mickens 3) Senior CB DeAngelo Smith
Strength of the defense: Run defense, the corners, takeaways
Weakness of the defense: The ends, the safeties

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Now more than ever, senior DT Terrill Byrd needs to be the catalyst of a defensive line hit hard by graduation. A perennial fixture on the All-Big East team, he’s a disruptive force who requires more than one blocker and makes everyone else on the defense a little better at his job. Only 6-0 and 271 pounds, Byrd used his quickness and leverage to amass 56 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, and eight sacks, all career-highs.

Next to Byrd for a second straight year is senior Adam Hoppel, an underrated player who had 38 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and four sacks in his first season as a starter. One of the defense’s strongest players at 6-2 and 270 pounds, he’s played especially well toward the end of the year, hoping to carry that momentum into a new campaign.

Over the last 12 months, the Bearcats have parted ways with three productive pass rushers, Trevor Anderson, Angelo Craig, and Anthony Hoke.  Hoping to pick up the slack is senior Lamonte Nelms, a super sub who’ll be moving into the starting lineup for the first time.  At 6-3 and 245 pounds, he parlayed excellent backside pursuit into 33 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks.  Nelms is recovering from double shoulder surgery, but should be ready to go before the opener.

In order to address the glaring need on the outside, the staff moved former tight end Connor Barwin to defensive end. Although there’ll be an obvious transition period, the 6-4, 240-pound senior is a gifted all-around athlete with the speed and upper body strength to contribute right away.  Barwin is coming off his best season as a Bearcat, catching 31 passes for 399 yards and two touchdowns.   

Projected Top Reserves: Like Barwin, junior Craig Carey is relocating from the offensive side of the ball to bolster the situation at defensive end.  The 6-4, 233-pound converted quarterback has a long way to go before he’s a consistent factor, meaning the starters need to produce and remain healthy.

A better option at defensive end is sophomore Rob Trigg, one of a small handful of players who didn’t redshirt last season.  Already one of the strongest ends at 6-3 and 254 pounds, he’s a certainty to be in the rotation and a threat to Barwin spot atop the depth chart.

For the second straight year, there won’t be much depth at defensive tackle.  Junior Ricardo Mathews played in 13 games and had 11 tackles a year ago, easily making him the veteran of the backups on the interior.  He’s 6-3 and 290 pounds, a wide-body in this group of undersized linemen. 

Watch Out For… a broad rotation to be utilized at defensive end.  With few sure things at the position, the Bearcats will try a bunch of different mix-and-match combinations in the hope that one of them will produce results.
Strength: The starting tackles. It’ll be tough to run the ball on the Bearcats once again because Byrd and Hoppel are back for their senior seasons.  Neither is a classic space-eater, but both are capable of knifing through blockers and disrupting the flow of a play before it can develop.
Weakness: The ends. The ‘Cats are counting on a former quarterback, a converted tight end, and an untested second-year sophomore to keep from seeing extra attention.  Uh-oh.  
Outlook: Byrd will occupy more than one blocker, while making sure that Cincinnati is back among the Big East’s better run defenses. The pass rush, however, is a work-in-progress that’ll adapt very slowly to losing last season’s two best edge rushers.
Rating: 7.5

Linebackers

Projected Starters: While all three starters return, Cincinnati has moved a couple of linebackers around in order to find the right combination. Senior Ryan Manalac is the one player staying put, remaining in the middle. A former walk-on with good instincts and tackling skills, he was third on the team with 76 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. At 6-0 and 232 pounds, he’s versatile and plays the position very fast from sideline-to-sideline.

Junior Andre Revels is in the process of moving to weakside on a full-time basis after some time in the middle. Thick and stocky at 6-0 and 226 pounds, he takes good angles and has better football speed than actual 40-time. In his first season of extensive action, Revels had 66 tackles, but needs to make a few more plays for losses. 

The most experienced of the linebackers is senior Corey Smith, who enters his fourth year as a starter. While only 6-1 and 213 pounds, he closes quickly and has the speed to be a factor in pass defense. A borderline All-Big East performer, he was second on the team last year with 80 tackles, adding six tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and a couple of interceptions.

Projected Top Reserves: Behind Smith at strongside is senior Torry Cornett, a career backup moving from defensive end.  Better suited to be playing linebacker at 6-3 and 228 pounds, he had 10 tackles in 13 games and brings an element of veteran leadership and hard hits to the second team. 

Revels’ caddy at weakside is senior Delbert Ferguson, a 6-1, 235-pounder who has earned a letter following each of the last two years.  A former running back with a decent package of speed and strength, he had 14 tackles in 10 games a season ago.

Watch Out For… more blitzing.  With the cornerbacks capable of handling man coverage and the pass rush getting a facelift, Cincinnati will look for alternative means to getting to the quarterback.                   
Strength: Experience. A green group last summer, the linebackers return three players who started the majority of games last season.  Even two-thirds of the backups are seniors, leaving redshirt freshman Alex Delisi as the lone underclassmen on the two-deep.          
Weakness: Lack of a true star. While the Bearcats have a good group of linebackers, they lack that one great player capable of taking over a game.  Smith has that potential, but at 213 pounds, he also has some limitations.               
Outlook: Manalac should lead the team in tackles, and Smith and Revels will do some things on the outside, but Cincinnati needs its linebackers to make a few more momentum-building plays this season. Although the opportunities to excel will be there, whether or not they deliver remains in question.
Rating: 7

Secondary

Projected Starters: First, the good news: The cornerbacks are fantastic. Seniors Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith are a pair of All-Big East cornerbacks capable of shutting down opposing passing games. Mickens, in particular, is a lockdown corner with the track speed and next level cover skills to vie for All-America honors. Far more physical than his 6-0, 170-pound frame might indicate, he had 53 tackles, six picks, and six breakups, despite being regularly ignored by quarterbacks.

When teams steered clear of Mickens’ side of the field, they got a rude awakening. Smith can also play. In his debut as a starter, he had 49 tackles, a nation-high eight interceptions, and a team-best eight pass breakups. At 6-0 and 191 pounds, he proved more than ready for the challenge, putting himself in a position to impress NFL scouts this season.

Now, the bad news: The safety position was robbed of last year’s three best players, including top tackler Haruki Nakamura. Filling his shoes at strong safety will be senior Cedric Tolbert, a 6-0, 199-pounder with enough experience and years on campus to not buckle at the sight of increased playing time. He had 46 tackles as one of the first ‘Cats off the bench, showing a knack for making stops in the open field.

After getting gradually more playing time the last two year, junior Brad Jones believes he’s ready to take the reigns at free safety. He’s been cross-trained as a cornerback, and at 6-1 and 206 pounds, has the size to take on a tight end in pass coverage and be an asset on running plays.

Projected Top Reserves: Redshirt freshman Drew Frey is coming off a breakthrough spring session that has him breathing down Jones’ neck at free safety. A former cornerback, he’s 6-4 and 212 pound, giving the defensive backfield a cover guy capable of lighting up unsuspecting receivers.

The Bearcats’ first cornerback off the bench will be 6-1, 177-pound senior Brandon Underwood, who spent the early part of his career playing for Ohio State. With the skills of a starter, the one-time blue-chip prospect has one season to provide depth to the Cincinnati secondary, while attempting to catch the attention of NFL scouts.    

Watch Out For… Junior S Aaron Webster. While he’s got some climbing to do on the depth chart, he’s also an intriguing player with the 6-2, 204-pound size to become an enforcer out of the secondary. The former Defensive Newcomer of the Year appeared in seven games last season, and can play either safety position. 
Strength: Ball skills. It wasn’t an accident that Cincinnati led the country with 26 picks a year ago.  Led by Mickens and Smith, the Bearcats are well-coached at breaking on the ball, getting their mitts on it, and doing damage once they pick it off.        
Weakness: The safeties. It’s not as if the safeties are ineffective, but the drop-off, especially from Nakamura, will be noticeable. Tolbert should fine after playing plenty last season, but Jones and Frey have something to prove after shifting from cornerback.
Outlook: Cincinnati is on course to have one of the stingiest secondaries in the country this season.  With Mickens, Smith, and Underwood patrolling the secondary, the Bearcats will once again finish the season with more interceptions than touchdown passes allowed.      
Rating: 8.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The Bearcats found a punter in 2007, but still have lingering question marks at placekicker. Senior Kevin Huber, a former walk-on, was a revelation in his first season as the punter, averaging a nation’s-best 46.9 yards and showing great directional skills. Cincinnati led the country in net punting, a direct correlation to the performance of its All-American missile-launcher.

The situation at kicker is far less certain. Sophomore Jacob Rogers returns, but after going just 11-of-19 on field goals and missing three extra points, he’s vulnerable to senior Brandon Yingling and the newcomers on campus.  At 6-3 and 200 pounds, Rogers has a huge leg, nailing a 55-yarder against Oregon State and standing out on kickoffs, but must improve his consistency to keep the job.

The departure of Haruki Nakamura and increased role of Jacob Ramsey at running back means senior DeAngelo Smith could be handling double-duty as the team’s punt and kick returner.  A shifty runner in the open field, he had 12 kickoffs return a year ago for 296 yards, including a 52-yarder against South Florida.

Watch Out For… Rogers’ progress in his second year as the kicker.  He’s got undeniable pop from his days on the soccer field and is still in his infancy as a football player.  The potential is there, but now it has to be realized.
Strength: Huber. From a non-scholarship player two years ago, he’s made amazing progress as the Bearcat punter. Huber has emerged as a secret weapon for the Cincinnati defense and one of the favorites for the Ray Guy Award.
Weakness: The kicking game. Rogers was just 1-of-6 from 40-49 yards in his debut, making the locals wince whenever he trotted on to the field.  Yingling has been around for a while, but there’s a reason why he’s never landed the top spot.    
Outlook: Huber is the crown jewel of a unit that needs more consistency out of Rogers and Smith to help ignite a pedestrian return game.  Smith has the speed and agility to make a positive impact whenever he has the ball in his hands.     
Rating: 7