Perhaps it was the fact that they constantly had to face Cincinnati’s pass-heavy offense on the practice field, but whatever the reason, the Bearcats’ cornerbacks and safeties did a fine job slowing down opposing attacks last season. UC ranked third in the American Athletic Conference in passing defense (216.5 YPG), despite a lack of many big-time interceptions (nine total) and fairly common-place totals in passes broken up (44) and passes defended (53).
Steve Clinkscale, last year’s defensive coordinator, was a major departure for all the defense, not just the guys that play in the defensive backfield. After Clinkscale headed to Kentucky (to be the Wildcats’ secondary coach no less), Tommy Tuberville put Robert Prunty and Jeff Koonz in charge as co-defensive coordinators, although Tuberville will likely play a major role as well.
Prunty was formerly the defensive ends coach and Koonz is a new addition to the staff, coming over after four years as a linebackers coach at Louisiana Tech. That leaves the secondary in the hands of Mike Gillhamer, another new addition to Tuberville’s staff, which has had quite a lot of turnover on the defensive side. After all, Clinckscale was the third defensive coordinator for Tuberville in as many years.
As far as actual players go, Leviticus Payne will be the biggest loss. A 5’10" cornerback, Payne was sixth on the team in total tackles (42) and also forced a fumble while defending three passes. He started in 12 games, missing only the matchup with Miami-Ohio in the third week of the campaign. In addition, safety Andre Jones (20 tackles, INT) played in eight games but will not be making any plays for the Bearcats this upcoming year.
Optimism should be felt by this group because its leader will be back and ready to challenge for all-conference honors. Safety Zach Edwards is one of the top returning players for the Bearcats overall, let alone the secondary. He ranked second on the team in total tackles (93) and easily led in interceptions (three) and passes defended (eight). Carter Jacobs (33 tackles) and Tyrell Gilbert (50 tackles, 6 passes defended) will give Tuberville a lot of depth at safety. Cornerback Linden Stephens (34 tackles, 2 INT) will keep one half of the field safe and will likely be tasked with defending the top receivers from UC’s opponents. Grant Coleman, who played in four games a year ago, is another corner with experience that will be called on.
Clearly, even without Payne, UC has a lot of experience and talent in the secondary, meaning there won’t be tons of playing time to go around for some of the new recruits. There are five entirely fresh faces on the squad and a few redshirt freshman that are ready to make their mark.
From the first group, juco-transfer Davin Pierce is the player most likely to come in and make an impact immediately. He is a three-star recruit out of Blinn College, the same junior college that Cam Newton attended before playing at Auburn. Marquis Smith, another three-star recruit, is a true freshman worth keeping an eye on.
As for the redshirts, Sheldon Doss (safety), Desmond Johnson (cornerback) and Christian Angulo (cornerback) will all be vying to work into the rotation.