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Malik Clements: An Appreciation

Clements played multiple positions during his four seasons with the Bearcats and he just kept getting better and better during each of them.

Cincinnati v Miami Ohio Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Career Numbers

  • 187 total tackles
  • 9.0 tackles for loss
  • 2.0 sacks
  • 4 passes defended
  • 2 forced fumbles
  • 1 interception
  • 1 fumble recovery

It might not surprise you to learn that a linebacker led the Cincinnati Bearcats in tackles in 2018. That linebacker was Malik Clements who racked up 68 total stops in his senior year. What may come as more of a surprise is that Clements wasn’t always a linebacker. In fact, for most of his career prior to the 2018 season, he was a safety.

It made absolute sense that Clements would play safety at UC since he played there and at wide receiver while building a three-star prospect resume in high school. That led the Bearcats to bring him in for the 2015 season. He was given opportunities right away, playing in 12 games as a freshman. His tackling ability was fairly advanced from the jump, as he tallied 23 total stops as a reserve.

When the calendar turned to 2016, Clements became an even more important member of the secondary rotation. Lining up at safety, he built on his previous season’s production and wound up with 36 total tackles. However, only 15 were solo efforts and, after two seasons with the Bearcats, he had only managed to accrue a half tackle for loss. In addition, he hadn’t made a ton of plays on the ball in pass defense. Playing in the secondary doesn’t always afford many opportunities for tackles for loss, and not being a consistent starter obviously took chances away to knock passes down, but it still appeared that Clements had room to improve

In his junior season, Clements did just that, making a giant leap forward across the board. He set a career-high with 60 tackles, including 26 solo efforts and one for loss. His biggest play of the season, however, wasn’t a tackle at all. Instead, it was an interception returned for a touchdown that carried the Bearcats to a thrilling win over the rival Miami (Ohio) RedHawks. As great as that play was and as much as Clements had improved, he only started in six games during 2017, but did appear in all 12, marking his third-straight season doing so.

Something changed over the summer in 2018. Fresh off their first year as head coach and defensive coordinator of the Bearcats, respectively, Luke Fickell and Marcus Freeman decided to make some changes. More than a few players were asked to play new positions and Clements was one of them. Rather than continue playing at safety, he moved down to play linebacker. It was a move that worked very well. As mentioned before, Clements led the Bearcats with 68 tackles and, for the first time in his career, he had more solo stops (36) than assisted ones (32). In addition, he completed his career-long quest to be better at creating pressure, as he produced 7.5 tackles for loss, including two sacks. For someone who only got one year to learn a completely new position, Clements picked it up very quickly.

NCAA Football: Military Bowl-Cincinnati vs Virginia Tech Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Best of the Best

Nov. 14, 2015 vs. Tulsa

Clements set a season-high with five tackles, including half of one for loss, while also recovering a fumble.

Sept. 24, 2016 vs. Miami (Ohio)

This wasn’t his best game of the Battle for the Victory Bell rivalry, but a then career-high nine tackles was still a great showing.

Nov. 5, 2016 vs. BYU

Even though all nine of his tackles were of the assisted variety, Clements was constantly in on the action. He also added a pass defense for good measure.

Aug. 31, 2017 vs. Austin Peay

This was another case where Clements was seemingly in on every play. He finished with a career-best 18 tackles, although 16 were assisted.

Sept. 16, 2017 at Miami (Ohio)

Sept. 23, 2017 vs. Navy

An absolutely insane start to the 2017 season continued with a 10-tackle effort against the Midshipmen.

Sept. 22, 2018 vs. Ohio

During the Bearcats’ thrilling win against Ohio, Clements tallied eight tackles and a pass defense.

Oct. 6, 2018 vs. Tulane

Another eight tackles and a pass defense were upgraded with one stop for loss.

Nov. 17, 2018 at UCF

Clements was a problem for the Knights in the early going, with two tackles for a loss and a sack that forced a fumble which was recovered for a touchdown by the Bearcats. While the rest of the game wasn’t so great for the Bearcats, Clements’ key play was a highlight.

Dec. 31, 2018 vs. Virginia Tech

Clements gave his last collegiate game everything he had, finishing with 15 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, in UC’s Military Bowl victory.

A Final Goobye

Clements deserves a great deal of praise for how he continuously improved throughout his UC career. As he kept getting better and better, he got more chances to play and even new ways to do so, finishing his career as a linebacker. While he may not have been recognized with postseason awards for his efforts, Clements’ dedication to improving his play and that of the defense as a whole was something any Bearcat fan should appreciate.