When Tommy Tuberville came to Cincinnati and brought along his defensive coordinator from Texas Tech, the since departed Art Kaufman. What he brought to the Bearcats was a belief. The same thing that every coach on the Jimmy Johnson tree possesses. A belief that to play defense effectively at this level a team has to be able to get pressure with the front four.
John Jancek and Tim Banks, the defensive coordinators during the final years of the Butch Jones era didn't feel as strongly about that. The Bearcats of his era got pressure by blitzing early and often. But they also had a ton of movement along the front. UC would disrupt offensive line's blocking schemes by attacking gaps from odd spots, it was a way to generate busts in the blocking schemes and thus generate negative plays. That scheme reached its peak in the 2011 season when the Bearcats came up with 46 sacks and an absurd 112 tackles for loss.
That is why there was real concern from UC fans in the off season about the defensive line. Some starters were returning, and those starters would be the beneficiaries of increased depth courtesy of a few JUCO defensive ends. But they had to bear the burden largely on their own. The early returns were not encouraging.
It took a while for the Bearcats to get the front four going, but after mid September the group was the force that Cincinnati fans have grown accustomed to. A big part of that transformation from question mark to legitimate strength was the play of Jordan Stepp at defensive tackle.
Looking back it is clear that Stepp would be a good fit for the defense of Kaufman. He is a bit undersized, but his quickness and low center of gravity make him an ideal one gap defensive tackle. His production this year was outstanding. 45 tackles, 8 TFL, 6 Sacks is just a damn good season for a defensive tackle. The only UC DT's to post better individual seasons are Derek Wolfe and Terrill Byrd. But more than that Stepp was impactful anytime he was on the field because he commanded a double team on every play.
His graduation will leave a massive hole in the Bearcats defensive line that has to be filled. Here's to hoping that Brandon Mitchell, Cam Beard and Alex Pace picked up a few things from Stepp.