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Who’s Gone, Who’s Back and Who’s New: Defensive Line

A group that needs a lot of improvement lost its best player. How will things shake out for the defensive front?

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The defensive trenches were not an area that the Cincinnati Bearcats excelled in during the 2015 season. The unit should be a focus for a reworked defensive staff, especially considering Robert Prunty, one of UC’s new co-defensive coordinators, has been coaching the defensive ends since 2013. That will make him intimately familiar with the personnel of the defensive line, which remains largely in tact for 2016.

Who’s Gone

Prunty and the Bearcats in general will certainly miss the services of defensive end Silverberry Mouhon. The 6’4", 248-pound defensive lineman recorded 18.0 sacks during his four seasons with the Bearcats, including a team-high 4.5 in 2015. He never managed to replicate his incredible redshirt sophomore season when he had 9.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. Still, he was a second-team All-American Athletic Conference player in 2015. His departure means UC needs to find another leader (or leaders) up front.

Who’s Back

There are two ways of looking at UC’s defensive line. The glass-half full version celebrates the fact that besides Mouhon, the rest of the group returns all its starters and primary contributors. If you find the liquid in your cup to be below the halfway mark, you’ll point to the fact that if you take out Mouhon’s production, UC would have had only 8.5 sacks last season. Even with Mouhon, the Bearcats only had 13.

Defensive tackle is where the most proven talent lies. Seniors Alex Pace and Sione Tongamoa as well sophomore Cortez Broughton combined for 75 tackles, three sacks (all from Tongamoa) and 10 tackles for loss. Pace and Broughton were regular starters, making 12 and 11 starts, respectively. Tongamoa played in 12 games and made three starts. That trio, along with seniors Lyndon Johnson (9 tackles, 1.0 sack) and Hakeem Allonce, junior Chris Burton (20 tackles, 2.0 TFL) and sophomores Keith Minor (2 tackles) and Chris Ferguson (DNP in 2015) will be working with new defensive tackles coach Kenny Ingram, who spent the last two seasons as director of player development at Auburn. He also was a defensive line coach at Arkansas State and an assistant at Memphis. The defensive tackle group also will feature Norman Oglesby, a former three-star recruit, who played in three games in 2015 (and even recorded a sack) before redshirting.

At defensive end, Mark Wilson is the top returning player. The junior played in 12 games (five starts) in 2015 and racked up 20 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss, which was the most by anyone outside of Mouhon. Sophomores Marquise Copeland (15 tackles) and Kimoni Fitz (15 tackles, 2.0 TFL) both have solid experience, each playing in double-digit games last season. Fellow sophomore Landon Brazile played in six games and started against UConn.

Who’s New

Three-star defensive end recruits Caleb Ashworth and Bryan Wright will be redshirt freshman in 2016. Fellow defensive ends Curtis Brooks, Michael Pitts and Elijah Ponder are the true newcomers to the unit. Brooks had 82 tackles, 15.5 TFL and nine sacks as a senior at George Washington High School in Danville, Virginia. Pitts and Ponder are both three-star prospects. Its unlikely all three will play, especially with Ashworth and Wright pushing for time as well, but its clear the defensive end rotation will include some fresh faces.