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Who’s Gone, Who’s Back and Who’s New: Defensive Line

This year’s group will be tasked with maintaining the success the Bearcats had up front in 2018.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 15 Alabama A&M at Cincinnati Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bearcats made a recruiting addition during the last few days that will help their defensive line in the future. That’s fitting because after reeducating ourselves about the secondary and the linebackers over the last few weeks, now its time to put the focus on the defensive line. The Bearcats enjoyed a great deal of production on this part of the roster last season and defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman and defensive line coach Chad Wilt are certainly not going to accept any regression. That means the players who are returning and the ones who are new to the program have to be at the top of their game from Aug. 29 onward.

Who’s Gone

For this year’s defensive line to succeed, they’ll need to learn from stars of the past, including Cortez Broughton, Marquise Copeland and Kimoni Fitz. All three had pretty phenomenal years as seniors. Broughton amassed 17.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks during an all-American Athletic Conference first team campaign. It was easily the best season of his UC career and played no small part in getting him drafted into the NFL. Copeland and Fitz didn’t get drafted but both are getting a shot at the next level and considering that they combined for 16.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks last season — not to mention that they both earned second-team all-AAC honors — that makes all the sense in the world.

In addition to the departure of Broughton, Copeland and Fitz, Zane Wilson is no longer on the roster after his freshman season in 2018.

Who’s Back

Starting with the JACK position, which is tasked with really putting an emphasis on rushing the passer, the top returning player is Michael Pitts, who had 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks last season. Although everyone on the line will be asked to create pressure, the Bearcats will really look to Pitts along with linebacker Bryan Wright to lead the charge.

Pitts may be the primary player at the JACK post, but he won’t have to do it alone. Ethan Tucky and Blake Bacevich are both getting a shot at the position this season. Tucky has already displayed some ability at creating pressure, with two sacks and four tackles for loss last season. Bacevich was just a freshman last season and played in two games so we’ll see how much more playing time he gets this season.

At defensive tackle there are eight returning players competing for playing time. Going off of previous experience, juniors Curtis Brooks and Marcus Brown have the inside track at starting jobs. Brooks had 23 tackles in 12 games last season and Brown added 11 stops and a tackle for loss in 13 appearances. Both should be graduating beyond the reserve roles they participated in last year. Joining them in such a capacity should be fellow junior Elijah Ponder who racked up nine tackles and a sack in eight games as a sophomore.

Sophomore Jabari Taylor should be in the mix for playing time at defensive tackle as well since he appeared in six games as a redshirt freshman. In addition, senior Joe Schroer, junior Nick Staderman and redshirt freshmen Daeshon Martin and Chase Brown will all have an opportunity to earn some more opportunities.

Two players really stand out at defensive end for the Bearcats and their respective histories with the program are pretty different. Malik Vann was a touted recruit for the 2018 class who got a cup of coffee of sorts as a freshman, playing in 12 games. He is poised to ascend to stardom in 2019. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Kevin Mouhon has made plenty of plays for the Bearcats but he did not appear in one game in 2018 so we’ll see if he can get back to business as a graduate student.

Vann and Mouhon may be the most recognizable names but that doesn’t mean sophomores Myjai Sanders and Angelo Howze and redshirt freshman Mychal Keys won’t be making a push to get on the field as well.

Who’s New

Most of the new guys on the roster are projected to play defensive end. Steven Hawthorne, Zach Hummel and Izaiah Ruffin are all three-star prospects for the edge of the line which has further depth from true freshman Ryan Mullaney, while Eric Phillips was a three-star defensive end during recruitment but is currently listed as a defensive tackle on the roster.