During the 2018 season, a talented collection of defenders in the secondary helped the Cincinnati Bearcats rank third in the American Athletic Conference in passing yards allowed and now the unit will attempt to regroup and do even better. They’ll be doing so with a number of prominent returning contributors like cornerbacks Coby Bryant and Cam Jefferies along with safeties James Wiggins and Darrick Forrest, while working in new guys and saying goodbye to a few players. Let’s take a look at how this section of the roster looks entering 2019.
The largest loss for the secondary comes by way of cornerback Tyrell Gilbert. During his four seasons at UC, Gilbert played all over the place, lining up at safety, linebacker and finally corner. His transition to the edge was a seamless one as he started in seven games last fall and piled up plenty of impressive numbers. The Bearcats have returning talent at corner but losing Gilbert will not be easy to overcome.
While Gilbert left via graduation, two other cornerbacks are no longer listed on the roster, with Marquis Smith and Christian Angulo both gone. Smith was a consistent defender and appeared in 12 games last fall while Angulo never really got much of a chance and is now playing for Hampton.
As mentioned above, Bryant and Jefferies are both back to lead the corners. Bryant is entering his junior season after starting in 12 games as a sophomore in 2018. As one of the team’s top cover guys, he tallied 11 passes defended and nine pass breakups along with two interceptions. Jefferies was even more productive, with team-highs in passes defended (12) and pass breakups (11) while also providing some support up front with four tackles for loss. A nine-game starter, Jefferies will likely be given even more playing time in 2019.
Jefferies and Bryant may have the most experience, but they aren’t the only returning players at corner. Redshirt freshman Arquon Bush didn’t play very much in 2018 but he made quite the impression in the regular season finale against East Carolina when he brought in two interceptions. Sophomore Noah Hamlin appeared in 13 games and could be a more important part of the rotation while Taj Ward also had some sparse opportunities in 2018. In addition, Penn State transfer TJ Johnson, Josiah Robey and Jake Tewart were all on the roster a year ago.
The Bearcats are even more loaded at safety, primarily thanks to Wiggins. The 2018 second-team All-American Athletic Conference selection’s incredible ability to make critical plays at just the right time, including four interceptions and nine passes defended, made him a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks and he also ranked fourth in total tackles (54). Forrest was another full-time starter alongside Wiggins and he accounted for 49 stops, three passes defended, two pass breakups and an interception.
With Wiggins and Forrest dominating, there wasn’t as much playing time available to the other safeties on the roster. Sophomore Ja’Von Hicks played in 10 games and had 11 tackles and a pass breakup while junior Collin Widecan appeared in three games. Redshirt freshman Will Adams will also be back this year.
Clearly there are a few returning players who are still waiting for their chance to contribute, which might mean three-star newcomers Ahmad Gardner and Justin Harris will have to pay their dues before getting a lot of playing time at cornerback.
The Bearcats are deeper at safety this season thanks to four new additions. Bryan Cook (Howard) and Kyriq McDonald (Alabama) are both transfer students with previous experience while Jacob Dingle and Jaquan Sheppard are true freshmen with a three-star recruiting history.