Spring Football; Defensive Tackle Position Battle

Brandon Mitchell Is one of three defensive tackles returning with game experience - Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

In 2014 the Bearcats defense will be starting over at one of the most important positions on the field, defensive tackle. In 2013 UC got a great season from Jordan Stepp, and good support from Adam Dempsey, Marques Aiken and Mitch Meador, all of whom were seniors during last season. Robert Prunty is starting over in 2014.

Defensive tackle is one of the hardest positions to recruit in college football, and Butch Jones did not have a great deal of success consistently recruiting difference makers at the position. He inherited Derek Wolfe and John Hughes from Brian Kelly. Likewise Jordan Stepp became a force in 2013, but he was inherited from BK For the most part Butch was pretty consistent in under recruiting the position.

From three complete recruiting cycles Butch Jones recruited four defensive tackles, which isn't really enough to even start a defensive tackle rotation. Butch recognized pretty early on in his tenure that defensive tackles were at a premium, so he crafted a system that emphasised what he did have, lots of quicker defensive linemen, over what he didn't have, the brute strength to overrun offensive lines at the point of attack.

The change in tactics wasn't manifested until after his first disastrous season in 2010. Even during the start of the 2011 season Tim Bank's kept his approach the same. The thrashing the Bearcats received at the hands of Tennessee was a major catalyst for the shift in approach. From then on the Bearcats attacked the scheme of opposing offensive line's indirectly. The irony is that the Bearcats went away from directly attacking offensive lines at a time when they had two NFL caliber defensive tackles who could have functioned well directly engaging offensive linemen.

Hughes and Wolfe were great, but they were inherited and wouldn't be around forever. It wasn't a huge problem in 2010 or 2011 when he had those two. It became a huge issue in 2012 with the Bearcats having no option but to give major reps to a walk on (Adam Dempsey) and a transfer (John Williams from Central Michigan). That is not a knock on either guy, Williams was a steal on college football's informal transfer market, and Dempsey was a huge asset in each of the last two seasons and fully earned the scholarship he received prior to this past season. But having to rely on post graduate transfers and walk ons to be rotational center pieces is not optimal.

Before this season the Bearcats were again short of defensive tackles and got yet another post graduate transfer, Marques Aiken of Marshall. They also got big reps from Mitch Meador who was little used with the first team until this year. Those two made their share of big plays last season, but they (along with Stepp and Dempsey) are all gone forcing the Bearcats to start over at defensive tackle yet again.

Brandon Mitchell played in 8 games this season in reserve of the four departing seniors, Camaron Beard started under the old regime in 2012, but played in 10 games as reserve a year ago, Alex Pace played in the Purdue and Northwestern State blowouts, and that is the returning experience for the Bearcats for this coming season.

Tommy Tuberville hit the position hard in the class of 2014, no less than five members of the class of 2014 will get their start at defensive tackle. Of that bunch only JUCO Hakeem Allonce will be expected to contribute this season. One of the true freshman could come in and make an impact, but that would be icing on the cake, and isn't to be expected. None of the freshmen, nor Allonce will be on campus for spring football. Their absence puts all the attention this spring on Beard, Mitchell on Pace.

They will have 15 practices to answer the bell and show that they are ready to contribute this season. For Mitchell and Beard it is their time. Beard is a senior, Mitchell a junior, and in both cases it is time for them to produce. Beard played well in 2012 in spurts, but the consistency wasn't there. For Pace this might be a little sooner than ideal, but with no one ready to play behind him on the depth chart he has to start figuring it out. In an ideal world these three and Allonce would be the rotation, in some order. But the three guys on campus for spring football have to show that they are up for the role. If they aren't the defense could have big issues in 2014.

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