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In 2011 the best position group was the defensive line, by far. The 46 sacks and 112 TFL's produced are highs for the last five years. The sack mark is the highest in program history, the TFL total trails only the 2002 Bearcats which had a jaw dropping 144 TFL*. This defensive line has a lot to live up to, but then again they are bringing back the majority of last years rotation.
* That group was beyond loaded up front. Six(!) Bearcats had 12 or more TFL on the year. Antwan Peek (22), Tyjuan Hagler (19), Jamar Enzor (15), Derrick Adams (13), Andre Frazier (12), and a young Trent Cole (12)
All indications are that John Jancek is committed to the same attacking style that worked wonders last year. That raises an interesting possibility. That the Bearcats could have a player reach double digit sacks for just the 4th time since sack records have been kept.** If there is a likely candidate to reach the hallowed double digit mark it is Walter Stewart. The cases for and against are, as ever, after the jump.
** 1978 as far as I can tell.
The Case For True
For most of his career with the Bearcats Walt has been a positional nomad. He started out as a 190 pound defensive end during his red shirt year. As a red shirt Freshman the Bearcats changed from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and Walt moved from a DE to an OLB. In 2010 the defense changed back to a 4-3 and Walt moved to SAM linebacker. Last year brought another position change, back to where he started, at defensive end.
I thought the change would be seamless. After all DE was Walts "natural" position. It didn't quite work out that way. There was a learning curve so his production wasn't great in the begining of the year. But once Big East play rolled along Walt was on fire. He had 6 sacks, 8 TFL, 6 pass break ups, 5 hurries and 3 forced fumbles in the final two months of the season. If Walt can keep that run of form up for 12 or 13 games a double digit sack season would be in play.
The other reason is that the Joker package*** that debuted last year isn't going anywhere. Walt created pure chaos in that look all season long and I think it will be, if anything, a bigger part of the defense in 2012. Walt is the best player returning on the defensive line. As such opposing offenses will work to take him out of the game. Jancek's counter to that will be to move Walt around to places where the offense won't expect him to be. Beyond that Walt can move to where the match up's are best. That's a recipe for a big season.
*** The coaches call the position Walt plays in this grouping the Cheetah, but Joker is cooler, so I will always call this the Joker Package
The Case For False
Walt had a good year last year. But he was also the beneficiary of playing next to the best defensive tackle combination in the Big East, if not the entire country. John Hughes and Derek Wolfe commanded so much attention that Walt was often left in one on one's with offensive tackles and he still only produced 6 sacks and 11 TFL's. What it likely to happen now that the focus of every offensive line coach and coordinator will be on limiting his impact on the game. He could have a good season while falling short of his numbers from 2011.
So what say you? True or false? Cast your vote and make a comment.