The biggest pieces, literally, from the 2011 team that have to be replaced in 2012 are Derek Wolfe and John Hughes. The unique skill sets of both of these guys is really what made the defensive line so good in 2011. Both men commanded double teams on every snap. That commanding presence is what allowed the rest of the defense to attack so relentlessly with impunity.
That is not to say that the attacking style is the only thing that made Wolfe and Hughes so good. Taking those two and transplant them into the middle of a staid and conservative 4-3 Jimmy Johnson style defense and their production and their ability to shut down the running game wouldn't change at all. And we know this because through about 7 games in 2010 UC had a top 20 rush defense. The issue was that both guys had to play far too many snaps and they wore down, along with everyone else on the team, as the season continued.
Over the summer before last year the entire defensive staff did some serious self scouting and reached the conclusion that in order to mask deficiencies in the secondary, which sort of went away, but not really this defense had to commit to a more attack orientated side because that is what the personnel thrives on.
Think about it. Your three starting linebackers, Maalik Bomar, J.K. Schaffer and Nick Temple/Ben Pooler all weigh around 220 pounds and have more size than speed. Walter Stewart and Dan Diordano are on the smallish side for defensive ends, though not that small. This was not a unit that was built to sit back and absorb blockers, that's not the forte of any of those guys. They beat blockers by beating them to the spot, not by catching them, which happened a ton in 2010.
The genius of the approach was that Wolfe and Hughes were better with the new philosophy than what UC had done in 2010 and, to some extent, 2009. It freed them up from the constant double teams and allowed them to each get their one on one opportunities.
That is another reason why it is vital for John Jancek to call plays as aggressively as Tim Banks called them. Employing that attacking style does two things for the defense as a whole. One it creates confusion. The Bearcats aren't an exotic team in terms of blitzing. Not really. It looks more complicated than it is. On any blitz UC will be sending 5, dropping six. It's the basic fire zone with 3-3 coverage behind. The basic shell of the defense never changes. What does change from blitz to blitz is who's coming and who's dropping. And that's the beauty of it.
It's also the reason why it's imperative for UC to continue to use this defensive approach in 2012. Last year Wolfe and Hughes combined for 34 TFL's, 14.5 sacks and 8 hurries. The odds of next years starting tackle duo, most likely Camaron Beard and Jordan Stepp, matching that production is slight. But both of those guys are also great fits for what the defense did last year. Stepp played in every game and racked up 33 tackles which is, you know, a lot for a back up playing 20 snaps a game. But I don't care if they don't match those TFL and sack numbers. Because it isn't about one guy replacing half of that and another replacing the other half. Committing to that style of defense ensures that some combination of players will match that.
And that is one reason why the defensive tackle position isn't a huge concern for me. The pressure based system that UC employed last year is a perfect fit for the talent on hand because it really doesn't matter who gets the numbers to the defense so long as someone does. Wolfe and Hughes had outsized production because they have outsized talent, not to mention experience with almost 40 starts between them heading into the season. It isn't necessary for two guys to match that production for the defense to be effective. The approach will make it effective.