The defensive line is going to be a bit different in 2018. Led by Malik Vann, there is a lot of new talent on the roster, supplementing established guys like Marquise Copeland and KEvin Mouhon. The player personnel isn’t the only exciting part. The Cincinnati Bearcats added a veteran presence on the sidelines, with Steve Stripling returning to the program to serve as the defensive line coach. Stripling held a similar role for the Bearcats from 2010 to 2012 and even stepped in as interim head coach during the 2012 Belk Bowl. Since then, he has been working with the Tennessee Volunteers.
Stripling’s prime objective at UC has got to be improving the pass rush. The Bearcats averaged 34 sacks per season in Stripling’s previous run with the team. They have averaged 14.7 in the last three years. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how this year’s defensive line is staffed.
The biggest loss is Mark Wilson. A role player on the defensive line, playing at defensive end primarily, Wilson played in 45 games during his four-year career at UC, finishing with 65 tackles, 11.5 TFL and 5.0 sacks along the way.
After Wilson, the rest of the players no longer listed on the roster are Norman Oglesby, Lyndon Johnson and Devin Williams. Johnson was the most productive player last year, finishing with 19 tackles and 2.0 sacks.
Before we get to the guys back on the defensive line, its worth noting that Bryan Wright is now listed as a linebacker on the roster. Wright has 6.5 tackles for loss in 14 games over the last two years. In addition, Joe Schroer, who transferred from Ohio State, was listed as a defensive end last year but is in the midst of a positional change to the offensive line.
As for players who are back to lend a hand on the defensive line, there are plenty. Chief among them is Marquise Copeland, who had what you’d call a “breakout season” in 2017. He led the team with 3.5 sacks and also added 8.0 tackles for loss and 63 tackles overall. He was an honorable mention all-conference pick and is poised to earn superior accolades this year.
Copeland isn’t the only senior for this group. Cortez Broughton is a former all-conference defensive tackle in need of a bounce back season. He had 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack last year. Kevin Mouhon and Kimoni Fitz, who combined for 10.5 tackles for loss a year ago, are both guys that can be relied on and, if everything breaks right, could become league-wide stars as seniors.
Curtis Brooks, Marcus Brown and Michael Pitts bring some playing experience to the table as well. Brooks had 16 tackles and Brown tallied nine last year, while Pitts played much more sparingly.
Then there’s Boston College transfer Ethan Tucky and Jabari Taylor, a fairly touted recruit who redshirted during his freshman year in 2017. Elijah Ponder, Angelo Howze and Nick Staderman make up the rest of the holdovers from 2017.
Improving the defensive line through recruiting was a big part of Luke Fickell and his staff’s strategy for the 2018 class. It definitely worked for them. There are six true freshmen coming in for this group, including some rather touted prospects. The most promising is Malik Vann, of course. The four-star recruit has a ton of potential and is going to be a building block for this defense for years.
After Vann, Myjai Sanders, Blake Bacevich, Daeshon Martin, Zane Wilson and Chase Brown are the other newcomers. Martin, Sanders and Bacevich were all three-star recruits. Don’t forget 6’9” German import Lorenz Metz, who is listed as an offensive lineman but played on the defensive side prior to UC.