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2009 Cincinnati Preview - Defense
Cincinnati DE Curtis Young
Cincinnati DE Curtis Young
Posted Jun 23, 2009 2009 Preview - Cincinnati Bearcat Defense

Cincinnati Bearcats

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Cincinnati Preview | 2009 Cincinnati Offense
2009 Cincinnati Defense | 2009 Cincinnati Depth Chart
- 2008 Cincinnati Preview | 2007 Cincinnati Preview
| 2006 Cincinnati Preview

What you need to know: Change. It’s evident in every nook and cranny of the defense. A whopping 10 starters are gone from last year. Joe Tresey has been replaced by Bob Diaco at defensive coordinator. Oh, and Diaco’s first initiatives is to begin making the switch to a 3-4 alignment that uses a hybrid defensive end, who can shift to outside linebacker. Yeah, this won’t be the same unit that was such a nuisance over the last few years. In place of current pros, like Mike Mickens and Connor Barwin will be a new wave of stoppers, who’ve been itching for bigger spotlights. Up front, Curtis Young finally gets a chance at a starring role, while Derek Wolfe takes his first step toward becoming a household name in league circles. At linebacker, the unit is relying on position-switchers, like Marcus Waugh, Craig Carey, and Demetrius Jones, to pick up some slack. And in the rebuilt secondary, the pressure will be on Drew Frey to stay healthy and Marcus Barnett to adjust after catching 92 passes the last two years.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Aaron Webster, 60
Sacks: Curtis Young, 4
Interceptions: Aaron Webster, 1

Star of the defense: Senior DE Curtis Young
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Marcus Barnett
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Derek Wolfe
Best pro prospect: Young
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Young, 2) Senior FS Aaron Webster, 3) Senior DT Ricardo Mathews
Strength of the defense: The safeties, size of the front seven, run defense
Weakness of the defense: The pass rush, 10 new starters, the corners

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The Bearcats are basically starting from scratch on the defensive line after losing last year’s four regulars, including all-stars Connor Barwin and Terrill Byrd. There will still be a veteran presence, however, courtesy of the returns of seniors Ricardo Mathews and Curtis Young on the inside and outside, respectively. Mathews has played a lot of football for the program over the last three seasons, appearing in 34 games and earning a handful of starts. A year ago, he had a dozen stops, a level of production he’s ready to triple in this final season of eligibility.

Young will have an interesting role in a new hybrid position that combines the attributes of a defensive end and an outside linebacker. Like Mathews, he’s been a frequent contributor, who hasn’t quite been able to crack the starting lineup. Still, a year ago, he proved to be a valuable pass rusher coming off the bench, producing 25 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and four sacks. At 6-3 and 260 pounds, he has the athletic ability to flip between the line of scrimmage and linebacker as the defense sees fit in the new 3-4 look.

One of the program’s budding stars on defense is 6-5, 295-pound sophomore Derek Wolfe. A defensive end wrapped in the body of a tackle, he moves exceptionally well for his size and has had the staff buzzing throughout the offseason. With his size, strength, and footwork, he can be used on either side of the ball, but for now, he’ll be used up front, where he has the potential to blossom very early in his career.

At defensive tackle is another precocious sophomore, 6-3, 300-pound John Hughes. As a first-year player, he appeared in 13 games, making 20 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a pair of sacks. Last season’s performance was evidence that he’s physically and mentally prepared for a promotion, promising news for a line that’s looking for a young leader on the inside.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Alex Daniels has followed a long and winding path to become the Bearcats’ first option off the bench at defensive end. The 6-3, 260-pounder was a former running back at the University of Minnesota before transferring in 2007. A dynamite athlete at 6-3 and 260 pounds, he made his Cincy debut a year ago with 16 tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack. He’ll be even better now that a nagging Achilles injury has healed.

On the inside, Cincinnati is counting on 6-3, 260-pound junior Rob Trigg to give occasional breathers to the starters. A player who has been long on potential and short on production his first two seasons, he could be poised for a breakout. A three-tech type tackle, he has the moves of a defensive end, but needs to avoid getting tied up by larger opponents.

Watch Out For… Wolfe to begin blossoming into a really big deal for this defense. To the eye, he may not be your typical defensive end, but with his size and quickness, he’s going to be making plays somewhere. In the past, players, like Byrd were outstanding college performers, who didn’t exactly project well at the next level. Wolfe, on the other hand, has the early signs that he’ll be a success wherever he plays.
Strength: Muscle. Say what you will about the lack of experience up front, but this starting unit will be tough to run on and even tougher to move off their blocks. In Wolfe, Mathews, Hughes, and Young, the Bearcats average a robust 6-3 and 285 pounds, with the quickness to beat opposing blockers off the snap.
Weakness: The pass rush. The Bearcats will be trying to replace four of last year’s top five pass rushers, who combined for 26 sacks. That’s a lot of slack to pick for a wave of newcomers with very few starts. Besides Young, no one in this group has a proven track record of getting penetration and breaking the rhythm of a quarterback.
Outlook: All things considered, the situation could be far worse for the Bearcats. The experience may be thin, but the talent is rather impressive. Young and Mathews bring the veteran presence, leadership, and know-how. Wolfe, Hughes, and even redshirt freshman Walter Stewart have loads of untapped potential. Daniels is a combination of the two, who could be a very pleasant surprise if he can stay healthy for the entire year.
Rating: 7


Projected Starters: Consistent with the rest of the defense, the linebackers were virtually stripped clean from a year ago. Unlike the defensive line and defensive backfield, however, there were no NFL-caliber players here, so suitable replacements should be a little easier to find. In 6-0, 221-pound senior Andre Revels, the Bearcats have the equivalent of a starter, a three-time letterwinner and the favorite to wind up at inside linebacker. While he doesn’t have blazing speed, he’s used good instincts and even better angles to rack up 118 tackles over the last two seasons.

At weakside, the Bearcats are excited about the potential of 6-1, 220-pound sophomore J.K. Schaffer, one of the best all-around athletes of the group. At this stage of his career, most of his explosiveness is in his lower body, allowing him to stand up larger blockers and sky high in pass defense. As a special teams ace in his rookie year, he had a dozen tackles, while flattening out the learning curve.

Over at the other outside spot will be 6-4, 251-pound senior Craig Carey, the biggest of the starters and the type of player who can be a real asset, especially in run defense. A former quarterback and defensive end with the Bearcats, there’s hope that he’s finally found a home on the second line of defense. He won’t have the range of Revels or Schaffer, but his size makes him a natural for handling pulling guards getting out to the second level.

Projected Top Reserves: While Revels sat out the spring with an injury, 6-0, 260-pound senior Marcus Waugh became one of the ‘Cats’ most intriguing projects of the offseason. A converted fullback and regular on special teams, he is freakishly strong and pound-for-pound, the most powerful member of the team. Will that translate into production on defense? No one will really know until September.

Lining up behind Schaffer at weakside is 6-2, 220-pound junior Collin McCafferty, who has lettered as one of the program’s best special teams performers over the last two seasons, making 10 tackles in 2008. Like his competition on the outside, he’s a terrific all-around athlete, with the range to track down ballcarriers all over the field.

Watch Out For… junior Demetrius Jones. Yup, the same former can’t-miss quarterback prospect at Notre Dame will be looking for playing time on the defensive side of the ball. The staff is hoping to get his 6-4, 214-pound frame and obvious athletic ability off the sidelines before he runs out of eligibility.
Strength: The middle men. Between Revels and Waugh, the Bearcats should have a viable successor to Ryan Manalac and better-than-expected depth. Both players are seniors, with five combined letters and the physicality to stand tall as run defenders.  
Weakness: Lack of a true star. New year. Same problem. While Cincinnati has a decent collection of linebackers, it lacks that one lights-out player, who’s capable of taking over a game. Schaffer might have that potential in the future, but not in his debut season as a starter.               
Outlook: While Cincinnati has a bunch of try-hard types and overachievers, there’s no one who’s going to attract NFL scouts or votes for all-star recognition. The drop-off from a year ago won’t be noticeable, but then again, the 2008 Bearcats didn’t exactly set the bar in the clouds.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: The defense took hits everywhere, but the blows were especially painful in the secondary, where three NFL Draft choices must be replaced. Losing Mike Mickens, DeAngelo Smith, and Brandon Underwood could take a year or more to overcome. The lone returning starter is 6-3, 205-pound senior Aaron Webster, the team’s free safety. An imposing figure and all-around good athlete, he started 10 games a year ago, making 60 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. Considering the state of this unit, he’ll be asked to do even more than a year ago and take on a greater leadership role.

One piece of good news in the defensive backfield surrounds the return of 6-3, 210-pound redshirt freshman SS Drew Frey from a broken arm. Seemingly poised for a breakthrough season, he was lost after four games and shortly after cracking the starting lineup. He had last season restored by the NCAA, meaning he’s in a unique position to be classified as a freshman for a third straight season. A former cornerback, he has the size, speed, and football IQ to become a real gem once he shakes the injury bug.

The Bearcats have looked to an unlikely source to help solve its concerns at cornerback. Junior Marcus Barnett, a former all-star wide receiver, has changed zip codes and impressed the staff with how quickly he’s picked up the nuances of a new position. At 6-1 and 175 pounds, he has good size and the blazing speed to keep plays in front of him. If he can polish up his technique over the summer, he’s liable to make this experiment look like a stroke of genius.

Rounding out the secondary at the other corner spot is 6-2, 205-pound senior Brad Jones, a versatile defensive back, who has lettered at corner and safety the last two years. Last season, he appeared in a dozen games and had 11 tackles and two picks. While no slouch as a run defender, his biggest priority will be to prove he won’t get exposed in pass coverage.

Projected Top Reserves: Battling Barnett for one of those corner jobs is 6-0, 175-pound sophomore Dominique Battle, the program’s 2008 Newcomer of the Year. One of the few true freshmen to see the field last fall, he contributed 13 tackles, but most important, grew markedly throughout the season. He’ll challenge for more playing, while vying for the spot at nickel back.

Redshirt freshman Quincy Quetant is aiming to be the first safety off the bench and the heir apparent for a starting job in 2010. A very physical 6-0, 190-pounder, he used his first season on campus wisely, adding more weight and getting substantially stronger in the upper body.

Watch Out For… the emergence of Frey. The talent is clearly there, but the luck hasn’t over the last couple of seasons. That appears on the brink of changing in 2009. With a clear path to notoriety and production in his sights, Frey is ready to take his first definitive step toward becoming one of the league’s best safeties. It’ll take time, but he’s going to get there.
Strength: Measurables. Okay, so triangle numbers alone won’t shut down opposing passing attacks, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the athletes roaming around the Bearcat secondary. Almost every member of the two-deep is at last 6-0, and their ability to cover ground should mask some of the issues with inexperience.
Weakness: Proven cornerbacks. Herein lies the biggest concern for the secondary, maybe even the entire defense. The fall-off from Underwood and Mickens to Barnett and Jones is difficult to quantify. The former two were All-Big East first teamers trying to make NFL rosters. The latter two are not even cornerbacks by trade.
Outlook: While the raw materials are there for Cincinnati to make the transition in 2009, the days of shutting down opposing quarterbacks and picking off a million passes will be over for a while. In order to even approach last year’s solid numbers, everything would need to go right for the Bearcats, including Frey staying healthy and Barnett making a seamless transition to cornerback.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Cincinnati takes pride in its special, using plenty of starters here, and it shows. The first order of business will be to replace Kevin Huber, the nation’s premier punter a year ago. Junior Jake Rogers, last year’s placekicker and kickoff specialist, is expected to add a new responsibility to his resume. While he doesn’t have much experience at the position, he is 6-3 and 205 pounds, with the leg strength to put a drive into the ball. As the kicker, he went 16-of-23, improving on his accuracy from a year earlier. Consistent with his attributes, he’s drilled at least a 54-yarder in each of the last two seasons.

Senior Mardy Gilyard gives the Bearcats one of the most explosive kickoff returners in America. A year ago, he led the Big East at almost a 28-yard clip, taking two back for touchdowns. He’ll be joined at punt returner by redshirt freshman Danny Milligan and sophomore D.J. Woods, who averaged just under 10 yards last fall.

Watch Out For… the arrival of true freshman Patrick O’Donnell. Another strong-legged Cincinnati recruit, he was brought in to be Huber’s replacement at some point, possibly as early as this fall. He’s also a kicker, which could create competition for Rogers at both positions.
Strength: The return game. Now that Huber is with the Cincinnati Bengals, Gilyard takes over as the most valuable special teams performer in red and black. A threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball, he forces teams to adjust how they kick the ball off.
Weakness: Punting. Wow, talk about a turn of events. A year after leading the nation in net punting, Cincinnati isn’t quite sure who’ll handle the job this September. It’s Rogers for now, but if he doesn’t hold on real tight, O’Donnell is liable to pry it away in the summer.
Outlook: It won’t get talked about too much, but assistant Mike Elston does a really nice job with the special teams. The Beacats cover well, have dangerous return men, and should get enough out of Rogers as a kicker and a punter. While his leg strength is not a question, he does need to straighten out more of his kicks.
Rating: 8