Gunner Kiel really lionized the coverage coming out of yesterday's scrimmage which is expected in a way. There are a lot of good players on this team who deserve to have plaudits and attention thrown their way, but the only person anyone outside the program wants to talk about is Gunner. I am not entirely sure that this is an unwelcome development from Tuberville's perspective, because it obscures the development in other places. The most important position of those veiled in shadow are the defensive tackles.
By all accounts the first and second team offenses really struggled to run the ball on the Bearcats defense in the scrimmage. That is something that Tim Adams and Chad Brendel touched on in their review of yesterday's scrimmage. Some of the struggle certainly comes from the offensive line breaking in two new starters. But the new starters are guys who have played a lot of football. It's not a lack of experience that is at the center of the struggles for the offensive line, I am starting to think that the play of the defensive tackles is causing those issues. That is a welcome sign.
The question with this group was never a physical one, it was more mental. Day in, day out consistency has been a problem for this generation of DT's. Brandon Mitchell is really the case study for that. He came to the Bearcats from Withrow at roughly the same dimensions that he is now. He has always been freakishly big and strong with surprising quickness. But through two seasons he has played in just eight games with just five tackles and a TFL to his name. The early reviews are that Mitchell has finally put it all together and has finally harnessed his physical tools with focus and dedication.
If it was just Mitchell the Bearcats would be in great shape, but Camaron Beard seems to be making similar improvements after falling from the rotation a year ago. Alex Pace is ready to contribute in a reserve role. Same goes for Chris Burton who was high school tight end turned defensive end who outgrew the position. Cortez Broughton and Ja`Merez Bowen are both playing well enough that the coaches could consider sliding one into the rotation* while redshirting the other. The two JUCO kids Simone Tongamoa and Hakeem Allonce were running primarily with the 4's on sunday. It always takes JUCO kids a minute to get used to the speed of the game at this level, and it will take the two Cali imports a couple of weeks to get up to speed.
*My guess is Bowen who is listed at 280 but is reportedly much bigger than that
All of that is reason to be hopeful about the biggest question mark on this roster. As a group the defensive tackles don't have to be exceptional for this defense to be good. This isn't 2011 where Derek Wolfe and John Hughes had to control the line of scrimmage for the defense to have a chance to be good. When you look at the depth this group has everywhere else being above average would be enough for this defense to be pretty good. With each passing day it looks more and more likely that above average is a hurdle that this group can clear.