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Projecting the Depth Chart: The Secondary

The biggest addition to the secondary was corner backs coach Mike Mickens, but the departures were the real story of the offseason, meaning Mickens and safeties coach Jon Tenuta may have to get creative.

NCAA Football: Connecticut at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s Note: There may be some major changes all over the defensive roster, especially the secondary. As of July 17, Chris Murphy was listed as a safety on the Cincinnati Bearcats’ roster while Tyrell Gilbert was listed at corner back and Malik Clements was listed at linebacker. If these changes were made prior to the original post, I apologize for the error. Either way, its going to be interesting to see guys potentially take on new roles.

Earlier this week, we looked at all the players on the Cincinnati Bearcats’ roster who will compete for jobs in the secondary. Then we looked at two of the most critical players for the cause, catching up with Tyrell Gilbert and Malik Clements. With a new corner backs coach in Bearcat legend Mike Mickens, the edges are going to get a new coaching approach while Jon Tenuta takes his second go around with a talented group of safeties.

Now that we know who will be playing and coaching in the secondary, its time we begin to anticipate how playing time will be divvied up.

Definite Starters

Malik Clements, S

Although he only started in half of last year’s games, Clements is perhaps the best pure safety on the team, especially since other guys like Carter Jacobs and Grant Coleman are gone. But Clements won’t just be a starter by default. He was the best safety on the team in 2017 and ranked fifth on the squad in tackles. Plus, if it wasn’t for his interception against Miami-Ohio, UC would not have collected its 12th-straight Victory Bell.

Tyrell Gilbert, S

Its a pretty sure thing that Gilbert will be a starter this season; it just remains to be seen if Luke Fickell and his staff decide to shift him back to a full-time safety job or if they continue to use him as a hybrid linebacker. Either way, after starting eight times last season, he is in for more starts in 2018.

Semi-Definite Starters

Chris Murphy, S

No, the Bearcats are not going to shift to a three-safety lineup but there is certainly a world in which both Murphy and Gilbert can start. That’s why we’ve created a new category this year. If the Bearcats choose to keep employing Gilbert at linebacker, Murphy is the next in line to start. He made seven starts last season, accruing 27 tackles and three pass deflections in the process. If he isn’t a definite starter, its only because Gilbert returns to his safety spot.

Position Battles

Its also possible that Murphy could beat out Gilbert for the starting safety job, but that isn’t the most important positional battle for the Bearcats. The one to watch is the competition for the starting corner back posts. Junior Christian Angulo is the only player on the roster with a junior or higher level of experience and he has only played in eight career games. Transfer student TJ Johnson has a chance to step in and play right away, but sophomores Marquis Smith and Coby Bryant both played in every game last year, even if they didn’t get into the starting lineup at any point. After those four, the Bearcats are looking at a group of very green freshmen. How Mickens shapes this part of the roster will be fascinating to watch.

Final Projection

First Team

Marquis Smith, CB

TJ Johnson, CB

Malik Clements, S

Tyrell Gilbert, S

Smith is the most productive returning corner on the roster. He had 11 tackles in 12 games last season and probably did enough to earn himself a starting job.

Even though Coby Bryant played in 12 games last season, his work was sparing. Johnson was originally recruited to play at Penn State and was a top 100 recruit in the state of Ohio. He is built to be an answer at corner back and after a 4-8 season, I expect Fickell to try some new things on defense this year.

Clements is the easiest pick of the four. Gilbert is not necessarily going to beat out Murphy, but he has the superior track record and assuming the Bearcats are confident in the linebackers they have (and less confident in a secondary that lost a lot of players), it would make sense to put Gilbert back there.

Second Team

Coby Bryant, CB

Christian Angulo, CB

Chris Murphy, S

Darrick Forrest, S

Bryant could very well be a first team starter, depending on how Johnson fits in. Its time for Angulo to show the Bearcats something or else he may get lost in the shuffle as the year goes on. The Bearcats didn’t add freshmen Arquon Bush and Taj Ward to sit on the bench for a long time. Plus there’s redshirt freshmen Noah Hamlin and Josiah Robert to consider. With such little depth in experience at corner, the Bearcats should experiment to see who fits best.

At safety, I expect Clements, Gilbert and Murphy to form a solid trio and get the bulk of the playing time. Someone who may not get as much of a chance but who was more active last year than you might remember is Darrick Forrest, who played in 12 games and is only entering his sophomore season.