Its really a coin flip who is the most important defensive player for the Cincinnati Bearcats in 2016. On one side of the coin there’s Zach Edwards, the hard-hitting safety. On the other, is the leader of the linebacking unit, a man who racks up tackles like Joey Chestnut houses hot dogs. That man is Eric Wilson.
Wilson was a three-star recruit out of high school, but he didn’t come to Cincinnati right away. He began his college career at Nothwestern, where he redshirted as a freshman in 2012. However, the next summer, he decided to take is talents to the Queen City and transferred to UC. After sitting out the 2013 season per NCAA regulations, he played in 13 games in 2014, making a decent impact (30 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss).
Last season, Wilson was a breakout star for the Bearcats, earning second-team All-American Athletic Conference honors while anchoring UC’s defense. Sure, that unit wasn’t one of the league’s best, with the Bearcats ranking eighth in the league in total yards allowed (408.6 ypg), but Wilson was a diamond in that defensive rough.
The 6’2", 219-pound senior’s greatest strength is tackling. He made his presence felt on so many plays, bringing down runners by the work of his own hands just about as often as he came in to help lead a gang tackle or put the finishing touches on a ball-carrier who had been slowed by another Bearcat. He finished with the sixth-most tackles in the AAC (106), averaging a little more than eight stops per game. In four separate games, he managed to eclipse the double-digit mark in terms of tackles, including a season-high 18 in UC’s 37-33 win over Miami-Ohio last September. He had fewer than five tackles only three times.
Along with a nose for tacklers, Wilson has a solid understanding when it comes to defending the pass and when to take risks to try to create a turnover. He has recovered five fumbles in two years for the Bearcats and last season, he even recorded two passes defended. This is not to say he will start lining up opposite the AAC’s elite pass-catchers, but he can certainly cover ground and put the clamps on a tight end or a running back that slips out when the time comes.
If there is a shortcoming in Wilson’s game, it is one he shares with the rest of the 2015 unit. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, creating negative plays and getting pressure on the quarterback is an area that needs improving. Wilson had just 3.5 tackles for loss and no sacks in 2015. Considering he had more than 100 total tackles, it is not great that he couldn’t get behind the line of scrimmage to do damage a little more. Perhaps new co-defensive coordinators Robert Prunty and Jeff Koonz, as well as head coach Tommy Tuberville, will try to dial up a few more blitz packages to get Wilson (or anyone really) more chances to wreak havoc.
If UC is going to make up for last season’s letdown of a campaign, the defense has to be better. Wilson will be at the very center of that effort and his continued success will go a long way in pushing the unit to the heights it needs to reach.