March 30, 2009

Spring Preview: Defensive Line

Brian Kelly made the strategic decision this winter to change Cincinnati's base defensive from a 4-3 to a 3-4. He feels this philosophical change gives the Bearcats more flexibility to defend the immensely popular spread offenses while also allowing UC to easily transition back to the 4-3 when necessary.

Part of the intrigue in changing to this defensive philosophy is the opposing offenses won't be sure which defenders will be dropping into coverage and which will be trying to pressure the passer. In addition, the Bearcats have had great success over the years in developing defenders that could fit the description of the versatile hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker the 3-4 alignment employs.

When Coach Kelly spoke about his defensive line personnel, he used the term "inside out" to describe the players that will likely man the nose position and the two defensive ends spots that will be playing either a four technique (lining up just inside the OT) or a five technique (lining up just outside the OT).

Ricardo Mathews is a veteran player that should give the Bearcats some versatility up front. At 6' 3" and 294 pounds, the senior-to-be might be able to play any of the three roles on the defensive line, and with appearances in 34 games, he has shown steady improvement compiling a career high 12 tackles last season.

Last year at this time, Alex Daniels was limping around campus due to an Achilles injury and hoping to get permission to join the Bearcat football squad after transferring from Minnesota. This spring couldn't be more different since the 6' 3.5"/259 pounder will be trying to earn a starting spot at defensive end. The Achilles injury probably hampered Daniels' performance last season, but the move to the 3-4 defense could really showcase Daniels' immense talents in 2009.

With the graduation of Terrill Byrd, the nose tackle position suddenly presents a lot more opportunities than in the past four seasons, and John Hughes would probably be a prime candidate to pick up some of that playing time. The 6' 2"/305 pounder gained some valuable experience last season as Byrd's primary back-up and recorded 20 tackles including 2.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. As he prepares to head into his redshirt sophomore season, Hughes should be also be approaching the prime of his college career.

Last season, true freshman Derek Wolfe saw limited playing time in seven games making only three tackles, but those modest numbers certainly don't reflect the kind of potential this young man possesses. At a lean 6' 5" and 302 pounds, this sophomore-to-be is an absolute brute and should be a nightmare for Big East offenses next season. He could play the nose or defensive end.

Rob Trigg (6' 2.75"/264) was one of the few players in his recruiting class to play as a true freshman, but after adding approximately twenty-five pounds in the last two seasons, he now looks better prepared to earn more playing time at the BCS level. Playing sparingly in the past, the Chaminade-Julienne product managed only 7 tackles in two years, but those stats don't tell the whole story. Trigg's teammates have been touting his potential since his freshman season so a big spring may be in the cards for this talented junior-to-be.

After redshirting last season, Brandon Mills and Dan Giordano also fit into this "inside out" group. Mills at 5' 10 and 266 pounds probably best fits as a candidate at the nose position while Giordano at 6' 3.5"/246 is more likely to compete at defensive end.

The hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end spot is considered to be more of "outside in" responsibility, but the Bearcats could easily play the personnel at this spot as a defensive end against some formations so it will be included with the defensive line segment of our spring preview.

Headlining this group is Curtis Young. Despite playing behind Connor Barwin last season, Young showed he could also be a force on defense recording 25 tackles with roughly half coming behind the line of scrimmage. Even at 6' 1"/269 pounds, Young has the versatility to project into this position and could very well pick-up exactly where Barwin left off last season as one of the premiere defenders in the conference.

Although Young is bigger and more experienced on the defensive line, Bearcat fans shouldn't forget about Craig Carey. The senior-to-be currently weights 248 pounds and is hungry to earn more playing time. No player on the squad consistently exhibits a better attitude than Carey, and after posting good numbers during his junior day, the Elder grad is hoping to use the spring to blossom into this new role.

Although only a redshirt freshman, Walter Stewart would seem to be a perfect fit for this position as he continues his physical and mental maturation. Stewart played linebacker in high school, and the sky is the limit for this athletic big man. Stewart came to UC less than a year ago weighing about 195 pounds. He is now pushing the 230 mark. From players to coaches, everyone in the program is excited about Stewart's future.

Walk-on Steve Hancock (6' 3.25"/233) will also try to push his way into the rotation.

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