As a former defensive coordinator, it was easy to assume that Luke Fickell would make defense a priority in his first season as head coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats. That defensive focus spilled over into the recruiting world as well. After looking at how the 2017 class fits in on the offensive end, its time we take a look at the defensive side of things.
For a team lacking many impact defensive lineman, the Bearcats did not add a whole lot to this portion of the roster. Three-star recruit Ben Hutch from Nashville, Tennessee was the biggest name to sign on National Signing Day. A 315-pound bruiser, Hutch was ranked the No. 55 defensive tackle in the 2017 class and the No. 24 recruit out of Tennessee. Jabari Taylor will join Hutch as a defensive tackle for the Bearcats. Also a three-star recruit, Taylor was ranked the No. 117 prospect at the position for the 2017 class.
Cortez Broughton (2.5 sacks) is the best defensive tackle on the team right now, with Norman Oglesby another player who will fill into the rotation. In addition, Lyndon Johnson (three tackles) and Marcus Brown line up as interior linemen.
There were no additions in the recruiting class that project as a defensive end right now, but that’s not necessarily a terrible thing considering the depth at the position, including Marquise Copeland, Mark Wilson and Landon Brazile.
Its also possible some of the linebackers that have been recruited could be converted into edge rushers as their careers unfold. All three linebackers that are part of the 2017 class are listed as outside backers, meaning they could very well slot in at defensive end and linebacker, much in the same way that Kevin Mouhon has. Jarell White was the major get for the position group, as the local three-star prospect signed with UC in large part because of Fickell’s hiring. He is ranked as the No. 32 outside linebacker in the class and could be in for playing time right away with some of the losses taken at the position. Right now, there are only seven linebackers on the roster, although Mouhon and a healthy Bryce Jenkinson are shoe-ins for starting roles.
In addition to White, three-star recruits Kyle Bolden and Lorenzo McCaskill have as good a shot as most newcomers at competing for playing time.
The secondary is where the majority of defensive recruits will play, with six safeties and cornerbacks signing on the dotted line for UC. At corner, UC has its starters largely settled on with Alex Thomas and Linden Stephens both coming back after being the primary cover guys last season. With Grant Coleman and Christian Angulo behind that, there may not be immediate playing time for any new corners, but a lack of depth will at least open up roster spots.
Marquese Taylor, Coby Bryant, Darrick Forrest and Rashaad Stewart were the four corners to sign with the Bearcats. I’d expect Taylor to be the most likely to be promoted early, as he is the highest rated of the four.
Other than Torrance Gibson, there was no bigger splash made on signing day for the Bearcats than the addition of R.J. Potts. The only four-star recruit for UC’s 2017 class, Potts played multiple positions in high school but is tagged as a safety. He was ranked the No. 4 recruit in the state of Indiana and the No. 26 prospect at his position. If you are looking for someone to replace Zach Edwards, you couldn’t do much better. Fellow safety Noah Hamlin may not come with as much shine (ranked 113th), but he is still a three-star recruit who will be part of UC’s plans going forward.
As far as players competing at the spot, the Bearcats will have Tyrell Gilbert in as a starter after his season was cut short due to injury. Malik Clements played fairly well in his place and Carter Jacobs and Davin Pierce are both seniors, but I still feel like Potts will find his way into the rotation.
Andrew Gantz missed most of 2016 after earning second-team All-AAC honors in 2015, but he will be back in 2017. His fill-in this past season, Josh Pasley, will also return, so placekicking duties are taken care of in the immediate future. However, since both Gantz and Pasley are seniors, two-star recruit Cole Smith may not have to wait long to take over.
Getting Potts was a major recruiting statement by the Fickell administration. Add in the signing of White and the Bearcats did a great job restocking on defense without even looking at the rest of the class. However, UC added a lot more than just two exciting players, getting depth in the secondary and a few big bodies for the trenches.