The Cincinnati Bearcats defense in the 2016 season was nothing to be proud of. During an abysmal 4-8 year, the defense ranked 72nd in the country, allowing 3.2 opposing touchdowns per game and 422.8 yards of opposing offense per game. For a comparison, Michigan's No. 1 ranked defense only allowed 22 touchdowns all year and gave up only 261.8 yards per game. So new head coach Luke Fickell will have a lot of work to do to get UC back on the right track.
In Fickell’s time as defensive coordinator at Ohio State, the Buckeyes were frequently ranked among the top 10 best defenses in the country, including finishing No. 6 in total defense this past season. Ohio State’s defense is known for fast defensive lineman, smart and elusive linebackers and crazy athletic defensive backs. Obviously, the Buckeyes are going to get a lot more looks from recruits than UC will, which is part of the reason they always rebuild well, but if Fickell can focus on grabbing talent from the Cincinnati tri-state area, the Bearcats have a real chance of grabbing national attention. It has only been a few weeks into the Fickell era in Cincinnati and we have seen a few highly sought after additions and have seen even more athletes in the area publicly say that UC is one of their top choices. Fickell has shown that if given the talent, he can create championship level defenses, which makes his recruiting ability that much more important.
The likely package the Bearcats defense will mostly be running a 4-3 formation and if it is anything like Fickell’s defenses in the past, it will be rather basic. In past years, Ohio State was using a press-quarters defense with the goal of that being to get a numbers advantage in both the run and pass game. Basically it is geared to get linebackers to the point of attack on run plays, which would then trigger the safeties to follow suit. In the event of a pass, once the linebackers start dropping into coverage, the safeties would drop back into a cover two look, and in either pass or run cornerbacks would be playing press man coverage. This is what Ohio State did so it might not be exactly what UC ends up going with, but it has worked for Fickell in the past so don't be surprised to see this look.
Another package that Fickell likes to play in third and long situations is called his "rushman" package. Basically, this package is putting the best four pass rushers, regardless of position, on the defensive line to create pressure on the quarterback. There is no true way to tell what Fickell plans on doing, but these packages are very likely to be seen at times in the future.
Fickell is a great defensive mind and I believe he can turn around UC’s program to at least jump into the top 40 defenses in the country at some point. It will certainly be a process because he will have to get all of his recruits in and developed but I have great confidence that he can do it.