There will be on constant in Cincinnati’s secondary in 2016. That constant is Zach Edwards, the Bearcats’ safety and leader of the defensive backfield. If you need a tackle made, an interception collected or a fumble forced, there is not better man for the job.
In 2016, Edwards earned All-American Athletic Conference honorable mention honors for his efforts on the field for the Bearcats. Those efforts included 94 tackles, three interceptions, 11 passes defended and eight pass breakups. He even threw in a forced fumble and 4.5 tackles for loss for good measure.
Let’s first take a look at Edwards’ tackling ability, which is unquestionably excellent. He ranked second on the team in total tackles behind linebacker Eric Wilson (106), but his 64 solo tackles were far and away the tops on the team. Being the last line of defense, a safety needs to be able to take players to the ground before they break away and put points on the board. Edwards does that as well as anyone. In fact, he might do it better than anyone. Wilson had 51 solo stops, but not a single other Bearcat even got to 40 let alone 60. Edwards really got a workout when UC faced off against Tulsa, as he piled up a season-high 12 tackles (nine solo) in a 49-38 victory in which both teams made assaults through the air that would make Mike Leach blush. That 12-tackle performance was one of nine games in which Edwards had at least five stops. While his 2015 collection of tackles was excellent, it is worth noting that he managed 121 tackles in 2014.
Tackling alone is not what makes an all-time great safety, which Edwards will be if he repeats his 2015, or better yet, his 2014 effort in 2016. As members of the secondary, keeping passes out of opposing hands is just as, if not more important than putting receivers down once they have the ball. Edwards did his part there, tying for fifth in the AAC in passes defended and sixth in passes broken up. Edwards’ three picks were below the impressive totals put up by all-conference players like Jamar Summers, William Jackson III, Tyler Matakevich and Reggis Ball (Jackson III and Matakevich are currently on NFL rosters), but he easily led the Bearcats, who had trouble as a whole when it came to capitalizing on opponents’ mistakes.
A final thing worth noting about Edwards is something that doesn’t really show up on the stat sheet and that is his durability. Despite making tons of stops and constantly playing near the action, Edwards played in all 13 games as a junior, starting in 12. It marked the third-straight season he has played in 13 games.
Going into camp, Edwards’ spot on the depth chart is already firmly decided, as he has a lock on a starting safety spot even with new leadership on the sidelines for the defense. You can pencil, nay, Sharpie him down for roughly 100 tackles, a handful of interceptions and nearly 10 pass breakups. Anything more, and Edwards won’t just be honorably mentioned by the AAC at year’s end.