Bearcat Position Preview: 2007 Defensive Line

In our weekly position previews, we move to the defensive side of the ball and look at the Bearcat defensive line.

As the Bearcats head into the 2007 season, they return seven starters from a stout defense, but that defense lost some key contributors.  Middle linebacker Kevin McCullough and strong safety Dominic Ross have graduated after earning 1-st team All-Big East recognition, and cornerback John Bowie was drafted in the 4-th round by the Oakland Raiders.  An unexpected loss involved defensive end Trevor Anderson who decided to transfer after going through spring practice, but despite the loss of Anderson, the Bearcats do return three starters on the defensive line along with a number of youngsters that should supply some quality depth.

 

Leading the returnees on the defensive front is junior defensive tackle Terrill Byrd.  The Colerain product received 1st team All-Big East recognition in 2006 despite ranking 11-th on the Cincinnati defense in tackles.  Byrd is listed at 6' 1" (which is very generous) and 270 pounds, and he has started every game since stepping onto the Cincinnati campus.  His blend of power and quickness along with a low center of gravity makes Byrd a nightmare for opposing offensive coordinators.  The Byrdman should only get better in 2007.

 

Returning as the starting tackle opposite Byrd is junior Adam Hoppel.  The ex-state wrestling champ eventually claimed Tony Carvitti's job after Tony's knee injury last season, and Adam held onto the job after having a good spring.  Hoppel is only 6' 2" and 275 pounds, but with the experience he gained last season, Adam should continue to improve.

 

At one defensive end, incumbent Anthony Hoke returns for his senior season.  Anthony's 5.5 sacks last season were 2-nd on the squad to Trevor Anderson's 6.  Hoke is the smallest of the defensive linemen at 6' 1"/230 pounds, but the Warren G. Harding product can be very disruptive and difficult to block.  This should be his third season as a starter.

 

The other defensive end position is up for grabs after Anderson's surprise defection.  Two of the leading candidates are senior Angelo Craig (6' 5"/230) and junior Lamonte Nelms (6' 3"/235).  Both these players have literally grown into becoming defensive ends.  Craig came to Cincinnati as a linebacker after playing for Ted Ginn Sr. at Glenville High School.  Angelo creates offensive match-up problems in passing situations and was 3-rd on the team in sacks last year.  Nelms came to UC as a 210 pound safety but has continued to play closer and closer to the line of scrimmage after spending some time at linebacker.  It's very possible these two could end up sharing the spot with Nelms getting the bulk of play in running situations and Craig for passing downs. 

 

Although not on the current roster, Curtis Young could be rejoining the squad in early August if he takes care of some academic work.  Young would become an immediate contended for the vacant defensive end job if he returns.  Curtis played some defensive tackle and some defensive end last season before leaving the squad prior to the International Bowl.

 

Another defensive tackle that will see some playing time is senior Jon Newton (6' 3"/275).  The Roger Bacon grad needs only two more credits to graduate but chose to return for his fifth season.  Jon has been a starter on the defensive line in the past and will provide valuable depth if he doesn't win a starting job.  He says he's in the best shape of his life and ready to contribute.

 

Sophomore Ricardo Mathews (6' 3"/270) heads into summer practice as a back-up at defensive tackle after seeing very limited playing time last season and recording 2 tackles in 9 games.  Mathews has great potential and could even play defensive end if needed.

 

In a surprise but interesting move in the offseason, Marcus Waugh (5' 10"/250) has been moved to defensive tackle.  Waugh came to Cincinnati as a fullback, but the new offense doesn't utilize fullbacks so Waugh got tryouts at center and tight end last spring.  Waugh's low center of gravity along with his strength and speed makes him a slightly smaller version of Byrd.  If this move works, the Bearcats would likely have the shortest tandem of defensive tackles in college football, and it could give birth to an entirely new philosophy when recruiters go looking for defensive tackles.

 

Chris Harrison (6' 4"/275) redshirted last season as a true freshman, but the kid from Youngstown has all the tools to be an excellent defensive lineman.  He could work his way into the rotation this season at either defensive tackle or defensive end.

 

Redshirt sophomore Tyler Clifford (6' 4"/240) hasn't played a down in two seasons, but that could change this year.  Clifford has taken some time to get physically and mentally ready, but the high school coach's kid is smart and tough.  He will be in the mix to earn time as a back-up this season.  By the way, Tyler and his father, who coached him in high school, made the trip to see the Bearcats at the Fort Worth Bowl just prior to Tyler signing with the Bearcats.

 

Freshman Ralston Reeves (6' 3"/250) greyshirted last year which means he didn't enroll until winter quarter and will have all five years of eligibility remaining.  Ralston reported for summer practice last year but was slow to recover from knee surgery so it was decided that he would return to Detroit and get the knee healthy before enrolling for winter quarter.  He was able to go through spring practice and summer strength and conditioning as a result of the decision, and he could still redshirt in 2007.

 

Three true freshman come to the program with good credentials.  John Hughes (6' 3"/265) has been on campus since June and will apparently begin his Bearcat career as a defensive tackle.  He also played tight end in high school and played in the Big 33 all-star game.  Randy Martinez (6' 2"/245) never wavered from his commitment to the University of Cincinnati even after the coaching change.  Martinez was a top wrestler in New Jersey and like Hoppel will use those skills to help him contribute in the trenches.  The final freshman slated to line-up on the defensive front is Rob Trigg (6' 3"/260) from Chaminade-Julienne in Dayton.  Although Trigg is listed as a defensive end, he could end up at defensive tackle.  All three true freshmen have a chance to play this season but are more likely to redshirt at such a physically demanding position.    


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