Derek Wolfe is flat out the most important piece of the UC defense this coming season. It really isn't a discussion at this point. Butch Jones switching from a 3-4 to 4-3 in theory will free up Wolfe to have a big season. Not that he didn't perform well last year. He certainly did being one of the three ultra productive first time starters along with Drew Frey and JK Schaffer. His stat line from last year is pretty damn impressive, 41 Tackles, 8 Tackles for Loss and 5 Sacks. If you compare that to Terrill Byrd's first year production of 22 tackles, 6.5 TFL's and no sacks it is pretty damn good. There are some obvious differences between Wolfe and Byrd, starting with about 8 inches in height for Derek and ending with 30 or so more pounds. But as Wolfe is the best defensive lineman on the team, and will be for the next two years the obvious comparison is to the diminutive but long standing and ultra productive Byrd.
I am prone to expect a big year from Wolfe in 2010 for a couple of reasons. First and foremost he is a massive man child with the bulk to hold up against double teams but the agility and short area quickness to be very disruptive for offensive lines trying to block him. Second most players in the trenches have their best years in their second years of starting. It takes time for a player to become accustomed to the grind of every play on the offensive and defensive lines. Once a player becomes accustomed to the nature of play their inherent abilities come to bear a little more easily then the previous year when the physicality of the play can be overwhelming. The third reason is that the change in scheme will free him up to be more disruptive. the 3-4 by design, and as implemented by Bob Diaco, is about using the defensive line to absorb blockers and enable the linebackers to make plays in space free of annoying intrusions from the defensive line up to the second level of the defense. Defensive linemen aren't intended to make plays in a 3-4 scheme. Switching to a 4-3 puts more of the play making responsibilities on the defensive line. When you look at the roster and last years production the only returner who is featured prominently in that statistics is Derek Wolfe. Dan Giordano is a nice player, and he will play a prominent role in the coming season for the defensive line. But the success of that unit is going to be based on the success of Derek Wolfe, a guy with immense physical gifts and a promising future in this game beyond the University of Cincinnati. So the defense is in your hands Derek, no pressure