Nelms Patiently Waits to be "Next Man In"

Brian Kelly and his staff believe in a simple philosophy. Every player needs to be ready to contribute at a moment's notice. The Bearcats call it "Next Man In," and Lamonte Nelms is patiently waiting his turn.


After Cincinnati's 2007 spring football practices, Brian Kelly had to feel very good about his two returning starters at defensive end, Anthony Hoke and Trevor Anderson.  Both had solid years in 2006, and Anderson seemed poised to join Terrill Byrd as an All-BIG EAST performer along the Bearcat defensive front.  The junior-to-be, who had started since his freshman year, led the club in sacks (6) and was second on the squad in tackles for loss (13) as a true sophomore.  Anderson's lethal combination of power and moves made him unblockable in Cincinnati's spring game, but the big defensive end from Detroit made an unexpected move in early summer that left the entire Cincinnati squad in disbelief when he suddenly decided to transfer to Michigan State.


It was only then that many Bearcat football fans heard the "Next Man In" team mantra, and senior Angelo Craig embraced the philosophy by becoming a starter for the first time in his UC career.  After redshirting as a true freshman, Craig had been a reserve outside linebacker for two seasons before serving as Anderson's back-up as a junior.  The lanky Glenville product had flourished as a pass rushing specialist recording 4 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in limited playing time last year, but some insiders questioned his ability to stop the run and become an every down player.


Angelo has dispelled any doubts with his play in 2007, and NFL scouts routinely visit Cincinnati practices with an eye on the fifth year senior.  With both Hoke and Craig ready to graduate this year, who could be the "next man in" at defensive end for the 2008 season?


A good bet for one of the spots would be current junior Lamonte Nelms.  Like Craig, Lamonte has had to grow into being a defensive lineman.  Coming out of Ravenna High School in 2004, Nelms was a 210 pound defensive back.  Natural physical maturation and hard work with Cincinnati strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo have helped transform the high school safety into an impressive looking defensive end. 


Coach Longo spoke about one of his stars in the weight room.  "His work ethic has gotten him to where he is today.  He added in the neighborhood of 25 pounds of muscle since last year.  You won't outwork him.  If the other two guys (Hoke and Craig) need a blow, you don't miss them when Lamonte comes into the game.  Lamonte is one of our upper tier strength guys."


Lamonte said he currently tips the scales at 245 pounds, but Longo believes Nelms will look the part of an every down D-end even more by the start of the 2008 season.  "I think he can probably add another 10 pounds of muscle by next year."


Nelms knows the experience he's gaining this year as Craig's understudy will only help him win a starting job next season.  "It's been a good opportunity for me this year.  Last year I did a lot of sitting and watching, but I love playing football.  I want to take every opportunity I can to get into the game and get more experience."


The still growing junior, who says he stands about 6' 3.5" right now, reflected on the position move that took him closer to the line of scrimmage.  "I didn't know what to do when I first became a defensive end.  I never had to use my hands like that before, but now I'm using them against the blockers, and it's been a good experience."


Lamonte witnessed the "next man in" philosophy first hand when Craig took over for Anderson, and he‘s also seen his teammate go from career back-up to possible NFL selection.  He's excited for his friend but also knows he can benefit even more from Angelo's success.  "I'm so happy that everything is working out for Angelo Craig.  He's a hard worker and doing everything he needs to do.  He's not only doing the right things on the field but off the field as well.  The more guys that come to see him; the more guys that can also see my abilities."


When asked about his biggest strength as a defensive end, Lamonte gave a somewhat surprising answer for a guy that used to play in the defensive backfield.  "I think I'm physical.  That's my biggest attribute.  Being able to be physical on every play and move the tight ends when I need to is what I do well."  Lamonte admits that the mental adjustment of moving from the last line of defense to the first line of defense was difficult at first.  "Yes, it was tough mentally.  It was hard for me to use my hands on very play because as a defensive back, I didn't always have to.  As a defensive back, I'd watch, think and react.  On the defensive line, there is no time for thinking.  I just need to react on every play.  As I'm getting more used to that, I'm doing better."


Lamonte has only nine tackles but 3.5 of them have been for negative plays on the offense by either sack or tackle for loss.  He also showed his defensive back hands by picking off a pass in the Miami of Ohio game.  He talked about that shining moment and the good-natured kidding from his teammates.  "Everyone kept getting on me about going back to my days as a safety.  They kept telling me to give it up." 


The northeastern Ohio kid said he is shocked by the intense sudden interest in the UC football program.  "I never thought this would happen, but I hoped it would happen if we kept working hard.  Brian Kelly is a good coach, and everyone is buying into what he's doing.  That's what we needed."


There will be some intense competition for the starting defensive end jobs next season, and Lamonte identified a youngster that could put himself squarely into the mix.  "I think Trigger (Rob Trigg) is developing.  When he first came in, I thought this kid is going to be really good.  He has all the attributes.  He just needs to mature.  That's how it was for me and Angelo.  It just takes some time to get used to the next level, but he's going to be a great player."


A couple other players that should compete to be the "next man in" for the remainder of this year and in coming seasons at defensive end are Torry Cornett and Ralston Reeves. Coach Longo said Reeves is gaining weight and working hard both in the weight room and on the practice field and positioning himself to make a push for playing time in the future.


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