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Returning Player Refresher: Linden Stephens

Stephens is UC’s No. 1 cornerback.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

We only get one more year of Linden Stephens, who will return as the best cornerback on a Cincinnati Bearcats roster that he has been on for three years after a year at Fork Union Military Academy. During his time as a Bearcat, Stephens has been rock solid and as durable as anyone on the squad. He played 13 games as a freshman and has participated in 38 total, racking up 12 games a year ago as one of UC’s primary starting cornerbacks.

Stephens really developed as a one-on-one defender in his junior season. He set a career high with nine passes defended after accumulating eight combined in his freshman and sophomore campaigns. He was particularly active in UC’s showdown with USF, as he recorded two passes defended and also had five total tackles. Bringing ball carriers down is not a real strength of Stephens. He had 36 stops last season, including 12 of the assisted variety. However, those 36 tackles were a career-high.

Now knocking passes away and wrapping receivers up when they catch the ball is the every day activity of a cornerback but its the interceptions that we all want to hear about. Stephens didn’t disappoint entirely in this area last year, adding two picks to his career total, which now stands at five. That ranked fourth on the team. Of the three players ahead of him, only one is back fully. That would be Tyrell Gilbert, who had three. Meanwhile, Mike Tyson (five) is off to the NFL and Alex Thomas (four) is dealing with legal issues which have him suspended indefinitely. That means that it will be important for Stephens to be more of a ballhawk. UC’s defense was solid enough last season, but if it wasn’t for a boost in interceptions, things would have been a lot worse. The Bearcats finished with 17 interceptions, which tied for 11th-most in the country. Stephens can’t replicate that production all by himself, but he can certainly help.

In all, Stephens, a 6’0, 188-pound defender from Euclid, Ohio, is as solid a building block for the secondary as you could hope for. He will likely be out on the edge for the majority of defensive plays and will be a leader for the unit along with Gilbert.