Pre-Spring Look: Defensive Line

How will the Bearcats look when spring practice starts along the defensive line? We take our spring look at those who are now gone and who will have a chance to take the next step in their college career.

There are some big shoes to fill and a change in the way the Bearcats will play defense all happening this spring. 


No starters return for the Bearcats but Bearcat Insider feels there is plenty of talent in the program with more coming in the fall.


Gone are Joe Tresey and his 4-3 defense.  In are Bob Diaco and the 3-4 defense.  Brian Kelly has made a change and the 3-4 looks to be the scheme of choice and a major reason fans will be looking at the defense hard this spring.




Connor Barwin was the talk of Cincinnati and the Big East after making the move from tight end to defensive end last spring.  The move worked out well for the Bearcats and also Barwin as he looks to become a high draft selection in this year NFL Draft.  Barwin will be missed but his shoes are not the only big ones that need to be filled this spring.


Terrill Byrd also leaves a lasting impression after his career as a Bearcat.  Because of the change in the Bearcats defense, it works out well for the team as they look to find the player capable of splitting offensive linemen and causing havoc.


Adam Hoppel has also finished his career and as the running mate to Byrd the pair leaves a major gap up the middle that will have to be filled.


Lamonte Nelms may not jump out at you when you think about those who have left the program but his overall athletic ability helped the program in so many ways.


Also gone is Tyler Clifford.


RETURNING (** = Returning Starter)


Craig Carey

Alex Daniels

Dan Giordano

John Hughes

Ricardo Mathews

Brandon Mills

Walter Stewart

Rob Trigg

Derek Wolfe

Curtis Young

Chris Johnson




So who are the key members of the returning defensive linemen?


Alex Daniels was slowed last season coming off an injury.  But he's back and ready to wreak havoc on those who get in his way.  A freak of an athlete, Daniels is a player who can fill the shoes of a Connor Barwin and also find a pot of gold NFL style if he has the type of year he's capable of having.  The spring is big for Daniels as he'll look to show leadership and the ability to play at the level many felt he was capable of playing at coming out of high school.  Keep in mind Daniels is a great athlete who was a high school linebacker and running back and one of the highest ranked prospects in the country coming out of high school.


John Hughes showed signs he's fully capable of being a major player for the Bearcats and this spring is one where he'll have a chance to shine.


Ricardo Mathews should also be ready to display an even higher level of play and a good spring is very important to him and the Bearcats.


Walter Stewart had a great fall season as a freshman on the scout team and big things are expected of him now that he'll be on the field fighting for playing time.


Rob Trigg has seen some time on the field and this spring will be one that will give him a chance to move up the depth chart.  With some game experience under his belt, Trigg needs to take the next steps if he hopes to stay there.


Derek Wolfe has all the tools you want a defensive lineman to have.  Size, strength and athletic ability make Wolfe a player Bearcat fans should be very excited about.


Curtis Young has also shown he's fully capable of making play and getting more reps should only make him better.




There is some talent here that will be looking to open the coach's eyes and make moves on the depth chart this spring.


Craig Carey is as gifted of an athlete as you'd want on your roster.  Not only should the former quarterback be making plays on special teams, he should also be getting plenty of reps this spring showing the Bearcats have depth along the defensive lines.


Dan Giordano was one of Brian Kelly's prize recruits and after redshirting this past season will take the field for his first spring.  Is the Illinois native ready to battle and earn a spot on the depth chart?  We'll soon learn with spring practice set to open in just over a week.


Brandon Mills will have his work cut out for him this spring as he looks to make a dent on the Bearcats depth chart.  But time is on his side as this is his first spring.  Anything the Bearcats can get out of the former Colerain product this spring is an added bonus.


Chris Johnson is a name not many Bearcat fans know much about.  A walk-on, Johnson has a good frame and was a player the Bearcats wanted in the program.  Now its up to him to make a name for himself and crack the depth chart.




The holes are many to fill but there is experience waiting to take their turn and earn a starting job.  Yes it will be hard to replace a Barwin, Byrd, Hoppel and Nelms, but some very athletic players will now get a chance to showcase what they've got to offer and with the change in the defensive scheme all will be on equal footing.




The Bearcats did a great job addressing their defensive front needs in the past recruiting class.  Jordan Stepp, Ricky Harris, Mike Hilty, Mitch Meador and Ryan Paxson all have huge upside.  Stepp and Harris have the skills to battle from the day they arrive for playing time and could pass up some names on the depth chart in the fall.




There are questions but things are looking good for the Bearcats as a solid group of players return.  The biggest question is not the players but how the players and new defensive scheme work together. 




Walt Stewart did a great job on the scout team last fall and looks to be a player capable of some big things.  Also look for Derek Wolfe to show even more of his talent as he has the tools to be a major star for the defense.




Rob Trigg needs to find his spot and cement his feet there before the next group of defensive line players hit campus. 

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