In the same way the Cincinnati Bearcats have a bit of a drought at linebacker, they’ve got a glut on the defensive line, especially at defensive end. For a team that has ranked near the bottom of the American Athletic Conference in sacks in each of the last two seasons, having depth and experience could either be a good thing or a bad one. On one hand, there is plenty of returning talent, but its still the same talent that accumulated only 19 sacks a year ago. The hope is that under new leadership in defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, defensive line coach Al Washington and head coach Luke Fickell, this group will come together and begin pressing the buttons of opposing offensive lines.
Just because there are a lot of players coming back doesn’t mean there were no departing contributors. The three major ones for the defensive line are defensive tackles Alex Pace, Chris Burton and Sione Tongamoa.
Pace will be the most difficult player to replace of the three. He accumulated a total of 13.5 tackles for loss in his collegiate career, including a personal best of 6.0 a year ago. Of those negative stops, 1.5 came by way of sack while he had a personal record of 34 tackles as well. Pace pushed 300 pounds and was a structure in the middle of the line that made running on the Bearcats difficult.
Tongamoa finished his last season as a Bearcat with four career sacks. Unfortunately, he only played in 14 games total, including five in 2016. His production during that final season was a bit disappointing considering he had recorded three sacks the year before. Of course, no player can control his own playing time and health, so its not all on Tongamoa, but he certainly came up short when thinking about the promise he showed in 2015.
Burton was a spot player in the rotation and managed one sack while playing in nine games last fall. He had 4.5 tackles for loss, including 2.5 sacks, during his time with UC.
The roster is littered with returning players up front, as I mentioned earlier. The outside edges could be the most stacked position on the team, while there are some stars in the making on the interior. Marquise Copeland, Landon Brazile, Kimoni Fitz and Kevin Mouhon make up a potential quartet of doom to be shuffled through on the edges. All juniors, they’ve each shown flashes of exceptional potential, especially Mouhon, who led the team in tackles for loss last season (9.5). Copeland had a breakout season of his own, recording 59 tackles, including 4.5 for loss. Both Copeland and Mouhon are aggressive in getting to the ball and have active hands to bat balls down at the line as well.
As for Fitz and Brazile, there is plenty of room for each to improve, but the expectation is that both will reach their possibly exciting potential. Brazile can be more than a handful for opposing offensive lineman, standing at 6’5”, but a torn ACL and lackluster performance before that kept him from breaking out like he could have. Fitz was solid in comparison to the rest of the roster, managing 37 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Those four juniors will look to senior Mark Wilson for continued direction. Wilson isn’t an electric force on the edge, but he is a consistent one to be sure. He played in 12 games in each of the last two seasons, but took a step back production wise as a junior. He had 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks in 2015, but those numbers dropped to 2.5 and 1.0, respectively, in 2016.
All that returning talent and we still haven’t talked about the interior lineman. That’s where perhaps the best player in the group works, as Cortez Broughton is being heralded as a difference maker. The junior is quick and a force on the line and was a second-team All-American Athletic Conference member in 2016. He posted 42 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks to earn that honor and is poised to be even better this year as he’ll be surrounded by plenty of familiar faces, including senor defensive tackle Lyndon Johnson, who only played sparingly in 2016.
Aside from those already mentioned, sophomores like Caleb Ashworth, Norman Oglesby and Bryan Wright bring even more depth to the table. Ashworth was great in short bursts last season, securing 2.0 sacks despite only playing in six games.
Most of the new guys are not technically new, as more than a few redshirted last season. Devin Williams, Michael Pitts, Nick Staderman, Curtis Brooks and Elijah Ponder are all projected to play defensive end while Marcus Brown will play on the interior.
As far as actual newcomers, sophomore Joe Schroer is joined by freshman Ethan Tucky on as transfer additions while Angelo Howze is the only true freshman of the group.