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Tyrell Gilbert: An Appreciation

Multiple coaches, defenses and positional responsibilities couldn’t stop Gilbert.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at UCLA Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Final Numbers

  • 158 tackles
  • 4.0 tackles for loss
  • 1.0 sacks
  • 5 interceptions
  • 17 passes defended
  • 5 forced fumbles

The Cincinnati Bearcats have transformed the last four seasons. They’ve gone from basement dwellers to 11-win bowl champions. The defense has been reshaped the most dramatically. One player on that defense who has embodied transformation has been Tyrell Gilbert. During his time in Cincinnati, he has been asked to play safety, linebacker and corner back and he’s done each job successfully.

A member of the recruiting class for the 2014 season, Gilbert earned a three-star designation as a hometown prospect. The Cincinnati-native redshirted in that 2014 campaign, but he got to witness a nine-win season up close and personal. For his first few seasons of actually playing, it seemed like he would never contribute to an equally successful Bearcats team. Obviously that didn’t happen, but we’ll get to that later.

As a redshirt freshman in 2015, Gilbert played his traditional safety post and was pretty solid. A technically efficient tackler, he had 48 stops. He only had one tackle for loss in there, but he was always more effective when defending the pass anyway. He collected an interception and six passes defended and really established himself as a key member of the defense. It’s a role he never really let go, even if his spot on the field did change. More on that later.

Following a successful 2015 campaign when he played 12 games, Gilbert didn’t get a full set in 2016, primarily due to injuries. When he was healthy, he was as good as ever. In fact, he was even better. He had 40 tackles, but what was most striking was his ability to capitalize on opponent’s mistakes. While turnovers are volatile to an extent, Gilbert collected three interceptions, including one that he returned for a touchdown against Tennessee-Martin. In addition, he forced two fumbles, showing that he clearly had a talent for ball-hawking.

Gilbert returned to full health in 2017, the first year of the Luke Fickell era. A new coach equated to a new position for Gilbert, who played outside linebacker in Fickell’s new scheme. It was quite the change for a player who had already been a great safety. However, Gilbert didn’t fold in the new role, he thrived. His tackle total may not have skyrocketed (43), but he set a career-high with three stops for loss and a sack, not to mention another couple forced fumbles. In addition, even outside of the secondary, he still defended against the pass fairly well.

After a solid showing at linebacker, Gilbert went out and played well there again in 2018, right? Nope. Instead, he was asked to move over to corner back. Did that affect his production? Not at all. Gilbert played in 12 games and started seven of them, while setting a career-high with seven passes defended as well as eight pass breakups. He also added an interception as he helped the Bearcats sprint past that nine-win season he witnessed while redshirting in 2014.

NCAA Football: Tennessee-Martin at Cincinnati Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The Best of the Best

Oct. 16, 2015 at BYU

This was the signature game of Gilbert’s first year. He had eight tackles, including six solo efforts and one for loss, and also had a pass deflection.

Sept. 1, 2016 vs. Tennessee-Martin

Nine tackles and a pick-six made up for a lackluster performance from the offense in this season-opening win.

Sept. 10, 2016 at Purdue

It looked like Gilbert might intercept every pass that flied at the beginning of this season. He snagged another one against the Boilermakers and also had five solo tackles.

Oct. 22, 2016 vs. East Carolina

He didn’t actually interception every pass thrown in his area that year, but he had another pick in this game which paired nicely with seven total tackles.

Aug. 31, 2017 vs. Austin Peay

This was the game when Gilbert recorded his first career sack, not to mention a forced fumble.

Sept. 16, 2017 at Miami-Ohio

Rivalry games are always a great time to play well. Gilbert did in this one, tallying seven tackles and two passes defended.

Sept. 8, 2018 vs. Miami-Ohio

Three passes defended made it really difficult for the RedHawks to get the passing game going. The weather didn’t help either.

Oct. 20, 2018 at Temple

Even though the Bearcats lost this one in overtime, Gilbert had an interception and two passes defended.

A Final Goodbye

In college football, it is difficult enough to play one position in one defensive scheme for one coach. Gilbert played three different positions in multiple defensive game plans while the coaching carousel spun at Cincinnati. He succeeded at each post he was asked to play and his defensive work was one of the consistent through lines that helped the Bearcats rebuild the program. While he won’t be there to keep that progress going, Gilbert should be remembered for doing everything he possibly could to help the Bearcats win.