In less than a month, the UCLA Bruins will be heading to Nippert Stadium to mark the start of the 2019 football season for the Cincinnati Bearcats. In preparation of that game, we’ll be going through each position group on the roster, and breaking down said group. This time around, we’ll be talking about the linebackers.
Last season, Bearcat linebackers were a force to be reckoned with, simply put. For the majority of the year, Perry Young, Jarell White, and Bryan Wright were locked in as starters. While at times injuries plagued this group, those three still managed to combine for 158 total tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries, and an interception. The greatest part about all of this is the fact that all three of last year’s starters will be returning for this season. In fact, Cincinnati only lost one player who would have likely seen playing time, that being Ty Sponseller who transferred to Elon.
Starting at the weak side linebacker spot this season will be Perry Young, a senior out of Birmingham, Alabama. Young was absolutely stellar last season, up until an ACL injury sidelined him for the final five games. Nevertheless, he still managed to pick up a selection to the all-AAC first team defense. In just eight games, he totaled 45 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, one pass deflection, and one fumble recovery. Playing in his final season as a Bearcat, Perry Young definitely has some high expectations, but judging from his play in the past, there shouldn’t be any doubts on whether or not he’s able to exceed them.
For a second consecutive season, we’ll see Bryan Wright starting at middle linebacker. While Wright may not have seen any accolades come his way during this offseason, he played a crucial role on the Cincinnati defense last season. As a junior, he ended up being a major component in the Bearcat pass rush, picking up 5.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss to go along with that. Wright was also part of one of the biggest defensive plays of the year: a decisive fourth quarter safety against UCLA. While Wright is currently still recovering from a lingering concussion that occurred at camp recently, he should be more than ready when the season comes around.
Rounding out the starting linebackers is Jarell White, a local product out of LaSalle High School heading into his junior year. White will be lining up in the sniper position, which is essentially a hybrid between a linebacker and safety. This unique position created by defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman requires a player to be fast enough to cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield, and at the same time strong enough to disrupt the run game. White, originally a running back in high school, fits this role perfectly. His ability to stop the run can be seen from his seven tackles for loss, one of those being a crucial stop against Ohio that set up a game-sealing interception at the goal line for James Wiggins. He also was pretty solid in defending the aerial attack, finishing the year with two pass deflections and an interception that came against Miami (OH). Like Wright, White didn’t pick up any awards over the offseason, but I’d be damned if that doesn’t change next time around.
Arguably one of the most impressive things about this season’s linebackers is the depth. During this offseason, Cincinnati picked up the commitment of Darrian Beavers, a linebacker out of UConn who came out of local powerhouse Colerain High School. Beavers appeared in all twelve games for the Huskies, and led them in sacks with four, while also finishing with 23 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and two pass deflections. Beavers was granted immediate eligibility as well, which gives him a great opportunity to break into the rotation as a sniper in his first season as a Bearcat.
Backing up Bryan Wright will be Joel Dublanko, former highly rated prospect out of the famed IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. In his first two seasons for Cincinnati, Dublanko appeared in all 25 games, and while he has yet to make a major splash on the defensive end, he definitely did his part last year, finishing with 27 total tackles. Although Wright has the starting spot more or less locked up, Dublanko should be a phenomenal rotation player, who could see the starting spot come his way in 2020.
Lastly, we should be seeing Ty Van Fossen backing up Perry Young this season. While Van Fossen is only a sophomore who appeared in just one game last season, it’s clear the coaching staff has been pretty high on him from the start. Van Fossen was a three-star recruit out of St. Francis De Sales in Columbus, and picked up the Bearcats over Boston College and Rutgers, among others. Coincidentally, head coach Luke Fickell also attended St. Francis De Sales before heading to Ohio State.
The linebackers on this year’s roster are arguably the best group defensively. Each player brings a different skillset, which is necessary if the Bearcats want to continue the success they had on the defensive end last season. In 2018, Cincinnati had far and away the best defense in the conference, and one of the best nationally for that matter. If the Bearcats are to continue that dominance, the linebackers will need to step up and play a crucial role in doing so.