Andrea Adelson at the ESPN Big East blog as been compiling conference position rankings over the past few days. Yesterday, she released the rankings of the defensive line. She ranked Cincinnati 7th. You read that correctly. A defensive line that has been playing together pretty much continuously since 2009, returns all of its starters, and finally has solid backups to rest those starters was picked 7th in the Big East, just ahead of Rutgers. Suffice it to say this didn't sit we with me.
Let's take a look at Cincinnati's defensive line by the numbers in 2010 as they project to the positions they will play in 2011. These stats were compiled by cfbstats.com:
DE- Walter Stewart (playing OLB): 60 Tackles, 8.0 TFL, 2.0 Sacks, 4 QB Hurries, 1 FF
DT- Derek Wolfe (down year from 2009): 48 Tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3.0 Sacks, 2 QB Hurries
DT- John Hughes: 47 Tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2 QB Hurries
DE- Dan Giordano: 36 Tackles, 8.0 TFL, 4.5 Sacks, 3 QB Hurries, 1 FF
DE- Brandon Mills: 58 Tackles, 12.5 TFL, 6.0 Sacks, 2 QB Hurries, 3 FF
DT- Jordan Stepp: 20 Tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 FF
DT- Roney Lozano: Did not record a stat
DE- Monte Taylor: 7 Tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 Sack
In the MIx
DE/DT- Camaron Beard: Redshirted
DE- Brad Harrah: Redshirted
Keep in mind, any one of the backups in 2011 can fill in for the starters at any point and not miss a beat. Same goes for the 'in the mix' players, who can take the roll of a backup at any time next season. That's the advantage depth gives you.
By the numbers, the 2010 D-Line looked pretty bad but they will be one of the Bearcats' strongest positions in 2011. The starters are solid as Walter Stewart returns to his natural position on the defensive line. He's added about 10 to 15 lbs to his frame and if his spring game was any indication of what he'll look like in 2011, expect a big year out of him. Wolfe is a senior and an NFL draft hopeful. He also had a down year in 2010 and will return to his 2009 form. To the backups, Brandon Mills could fill in anywhere on the line and that includes tackle. He's a sparkplug of a player with quick hands, quick feet, and lead the team in sacks last year. Stepp, the other promising back up, played extremely well last year spelling Wolfe/Hughes at tackle. Expect more reps out of him this year to keep the starters rested. Finally, Beard and Harrah are in the mix to see playing time. Both redshirted last year and Beard in particular has been getting rave reviews by just about everyone who sees him practice since he stepped onto campus last year. Overall, this will be the most talented, deep defensive line the Bearcats have had since 2008 (and you remember how devastating those guys were).
But let's get back to the rankings by ESPN's Big East blog. Immediately after I heard that Andrea wasn't putting the Bearcats as high as I expect them to be, a debate via twitter ensued ultimately ending in a bet between us. I bet her that Cincinnati's defensive line will finish in the top half of the Big East in the following categories: Tackles, TFL, Sacks, QB hurries, and Forced Fumbles. The wager? Well, Andrea has yet to let me know what she wants, but if I win, Down the Drive will be doing an exclusive Q&A debate with her on the ESPN Big East blog sometime at the end of the season.
To compile a ranking, after each week I will use cfbstats to add up the stats in each category for each Big East school into a handy dandy spreadsheet and post an update about where the Bearcats stand. So, root on the defensive line this year to put up gaudy numbers and keep a lookout for these updates in the fall.