While the Cincinnati Bearcats failed to improve in just about every area last season, the mercifully final season of the Tommy Tuberville era, they did make steps forward in creating pressure, accumulating nearly 50 percent more sacks in 2016 as they had in 2015.
Put the balloons away, though, that wasn’t supposed to make you want to celebrate. The Bearcats still ranked near the cellar of the American Athletic Conference in quarterback takedowns (19), beating out only UConn (17) and East Carolina (8), who had the fewest sacks in the entire country.
So will the positive trend, as mild as it was, continue in 2017? There are a few reasons to believe that it will.
First, there is a lot of returning talent on the defensive line, especially at the defensive end position. Most of your sacks are going to come from defensive ends and outside linebackers, so having lots of options there is great. The Bearcats are fortunate enough be in that position while having a few other players who can man the edge and rush the passer. Kevin Mouhon, as we discussed earlier this week, led the team in tackles for loss last season, but he only had one sack. The solution is simple, just turn more of those TFLs into sacks. OK, so its not that simple, but Mouhon has the ability to get past lineman and disrupt plays in the backfield. He can certainly begin getting more sacks. In addition, Kimoni Fitz, Landon Brazile, Cortez Broughton, Caleb Ashworth, Mark Wilson and Marquis Copeland are all players capable of turning into the next edition of the talented and, more importantly, productive Bearcat pass rusher. Plus Perry Young and Tyrell Gilbert will be playing all over the field and have a chance to make an impact as well.
Beside the player personnel lending itself to more sacks, assuming potential is reached, there is the fact that the coaching staff is new. While learning a new system will make for some growing pains, having a staff that features defensive minded folks like Luke Fickell and Marcus Freeman means the Bearcats will be employing new schemes and packages, which should bring a fresh look to the defense and one that is more difficult to figure out than the uninspired play calling one from last year.
While there are reasons to believe, there are also some major reasons to be pessimistic. The team’s leading pass rusher, Eric Wilson, is gone, as is Antonio Kinard, Alex Pace and Zach Edwards. Those four accounted for seven of the team’s 19 sacks. Losing talent like that will be difficult to overcome. In addition, there is a startling lack of standout players at linebacker and even though there is tons of potential up front, those same players were on the team last year when the Bearcats only had those 19 sacks.
With that written, I believe in the potential and think the Bearcats new defensive system will overcome the deterrents, but I still don’t think Cincinnati is going to be the sack capital of the world, just a larger sack village in American Athletic Conference country.