Preview 2008 - Defense
2008 CFN Cincinnati
2007 CFN Cincinnati Preview
2006 CFN Cincinnati Preview
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.
Corey Smith, 80
Terrill Byrd, 8
Interceptions: DeAngelo Smith, 8
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
of the defense:
Senior DT Terrill Byrd
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior SS
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,
Weakness of the defense: The ends, the safeties
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.