After a season that most of us could only dream of a few years ago, the Cincinnati Bearcats ended last season with a loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff Semi-Final at the Cotton Bowl. The Bearcats had 9 players taken in the 2022 NFL Draft. After years of stacking talent, it’s time to see if Fickell’s mantra of “Iron Sharpens Iron” comes to fruition. Throughout Fickell’s tenure we’ve lost some strong defenders, but none to the caliber of Sauce Gardner, Coby Bryant, and company.
The defensive line features 3 returning players, all of which who contributed heavily to the 2021 campaign. Seniors Jabari Taylor and Malik Vann will start on the outside, with Jowon Briggs manning the Nose Tackle position. Look for Sophomore Dontay Corleone to get a lot of play at the Nose Tackle position with Justin Wodtly, Eric Phillips, and Ohio State Transfer Noah Potter to get some work at Defensive End. The base defense will feature the typical Blackcats 3 man front but look for DC Mike Tressel to put 4 down linemen to help combat the running game. Could we see Corleone and Briggs side by side against a run heavy offense?
The linebacker crew lost two NFL caliber players in Hometown Hero Darrian Beavers as well as Joel Dublanko but keeps the Sniper combination of Deshawn Pace and Ty VanFossen who combined for over 156 tackles, 4 interceptions, 7 passes defensed and 15.5 tackles for loss. Wilson Huber will lock down the middle linebacker position. A combination of human cannonball Ivan Pace Jr, a transfer from Miami (Oh) and Jaheim Thomas will lockdown the weakside linebacker position. Much like the defensive line, I look for opportunities to get 4 guys on the field at the same time, as they have 5 starting caliber players available. Guys like Jaheim Thomas or Ivan Pace could end up lining up as a pass rusher in obvious passing situations.
The most prolific cornerback due in Bearcats history (sorry DeAngelo Smith and Mike Mickens) has moved onto the NFL and have had great starts to their career in the preseason. Nickel Cornerback Arquon Bush will make the shift to one of the Field/Boundary Cornerback spots. A battle between the combination of Todd Bumphis, Sammy Anderson, and true freshman Sauce Gardner clone JQ Hardaway will battle for the other two starting cornerback position. It looks like our pass defense will take a step backward for this year, but Hardaway could build a strong foundation to be the next Bearcats top 5 pick.
Starting safety Ja’Von Hicks returns with 3 years of experience at the safety position, but Kansas City Chief Bryan Cook needs to be replaced. Redshirt Freshman Bryon Threats looks to man the other side of the field with Jacob Dingle and Ethan Wright moving over from running back and playing a more natural position in a back-up role. Threats has been making some big hard hitting plays in training camp and is an excellent compliment to the more finesse ball hawking Hicks.
The Blackcats defense has no reason to be as prolific as last year’s defense, but a gamut of players have been waiting for their turn to shine on the field. The defense will be different, but has the potential to be very interesting, harder hitting, and dominant. I look for the defense to improve in rush defense, but it would be foolish to think they’ll be as dominant as they were with Sauce, Cook, and Coby last year.