In the fourth quarter of last year’s season opener for the Cincinnati Bearcats, Tyrell Gilbert caught an interception and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown, sealing a 28-7 win over Tennessee-Martin. It was a brief high point in an otherwise miserable season for the Bearcats. However, it was not a particularly bad year on an individual level for Gilbert. The interception against the Skyhawks was one of three Gilbert would collect during his sophomore campaign, when he was the best full-time safety on the team not named Zach Edwards.
Gilbert did a lot more than intercept passes. He was also a terror for opposing ball carriers, forcing two fumbles and finishing with 40 tackles despite being hampered by an injury late in the season, which meant he could only play 10 games. In his freshman campaign, which was a strong one, he played in 13 contests and accumulated more tackles (50), but had fewer interceptions (one) and did not force a single fumble.
However, Gilbert still has some areas to improve on. His coverage ability is not elite, as he had only two pass breakups last year. Against the passing game, he succeeds more by ranging around the field and jumping on mistakes rather than forcing the issue himself. In addition, now that he will be asked to take over as the top safety on the roster, he needs to be more effective in creating negative plays. He had just one tackle for loss as a freshman, but didn’t record a single one a year ago. To put that in perspective, Edwards and Mike Tyson, who are both gone, combined for nine tackles for loss last season. Gilbert will be the top candidate to start reproducing that type of effort in 2017.
Obviously, the former three-star recruit made large leaps forward in his second year with the Bearcats. It’s exciting to imagine what he will do under a rejuvenated and defensively focused coaching staff led by Luke Fickell.