PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 05: Tino Sunseri #12 of the Pittsburgh Panthers is hit while throwing by Walter Stewart #54 of the Cincinnati Bearcats on November 5, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
The off season following the Bearcats first bowl win in 5 years had far more upheaval in the coaching staff than UC fans have been accustomed to, most of it on the defensive side of the ball. First Tim Banks took the Illinois Defensive Coordinator job offered to him by Tim Beckman. That triggered some movement within the staff. The main thrusts being John Jancek taking over the play calling duties, Steve Strippling getting an elevated title (Run Game Coordinator), Roy Manning getting his first job* and Kerry Coombs being kept miles away from the decision making/play calling process, all wins in my book.
* Manning was initially named as outside linebacker coach, linebacker being the position he played at Michigan and in the NFL but has since been made Running Backs coach. A position which is more in line with Manning status as a first time coach.
The next move was Kerry Coombs departing in a huff** for Columbus where he will spend three years teaching some of the best athletes in the country how to play defensive back like its high school with the predictably terrible results and inevitable firing. In Coombs place Butch Jones went out and got Shannon Morrison who can't possibly be worse than Coombs on the field and provides another inroad for the burgeoning Memphis pipeline. I really like the Morrison hire it makes sense on the field and in the war room.
** Coombs badly wanted the defensive coordinator job and thought he deserved it despite the consistently diminishing returns of his unit and the fact that he had never called a play at the college level. The rumor is that Coombs began looking for a new job the moment he was passed over for Defensive Coordinator.
What I expect from the defense this year is more of the same. The Bearcats fully embraced an attacking disruptive style last year and I don't see any reason why that won't continue with a new man calling the plays. The main reason why I don't expect a big change is because the strength of the team is the same as it was last year.
Last year the best thing that the defense had going wasn't the strong spine of Derek Wolfe, John Hughes, J.K. Schaffer and Drew Frey. It was the versatility, UC could do some pretty exotic things in terms of look and alignment while keeping their base personnel on the field. The ability to do that came from one guy, Walter Stewart. With Walt on the field the look could shift from a 3-4, to a 4-3 on a play to play basis. Thats a huge tactical advantage for a defense, and its something that will stay in play this season as well. It has to. The versatility of Stewart and to a lesser extent Nick Temple and Chris Williams who both have the ability to play in space as covermen or as attacking defenders at the line of scrimmage.
The attacking style that the Bearcats embraced last year will almost certainly continue, because it is the only way that this particular group of players knows how to play with any success. Keep in mind that all of the major players on defense this year endured the season long death by papercut that was the 2010 season. A season in which the defense was rushing four dropping 7 and playing cover 2 down after down, week after week, loss after loss. After a year and two games, remember Tennessee, the staff went back to the drawing board and developed the style that was so prevalent last year. It is only logical to assume that the commitment to the attacking principal that the Bearcats had last year will remain in place. It has to, I don't think this team has the ability to play a different style at a high level.