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. After looking over the defensive secondary and the linebackers, we’re now going to be taking a look into the defensive line.
Teams are built in the trenches. On both sides of the ball, strength comes from the players upfront. Last year, Marcus Freeman surrounded his defense around the play of his three seniors upfront, Cortez Broughton, Marquise Copeland, and Kimoni Fitz. This year, however, will be much different as not only will there be three new guys in the starting role, but a new defensive line coach, which is never an easy transition.
Coming from an Army team that went 11-2 last year, defensive line coach Chad Wilt has a lot on his hands. He has to see if his talented sophomores are ready to take on the challenge of big boy football, or will he rely on his juniors to bring experience to the table. Either way, new guys are going to be starting, which means all eyes will be on the new kids, especially Coach Wilt.
To start, the Bearcats are bringing back one starter: senior Michael Pitts. Playing the Jack position (a hybrid between the defensive end and linebacker), Pitts played in 10 games last season and was a wildcard on the defense. While he played with great tenacity and enthusiasm, he was ejected twice last year for targeting penalties. For a junior in his position, some mistakes might be expected, but this year, especially with his experience, he must limit the mental mistakes in order to anchor the line.
Although we know who will start at the Jack position, we still don’t know who will be positioned at the other end. Kevin Mouhon, a sixth year senior, came into camp as the starting end as he was formerly a high 3-star recruit and recorded 56 tackles before suffering an injury last year that kept him out the entire season, but as August has progressed, it has seemed that he has fallen down into the third string. Coming from a player with his talent and the younger brother of former Bearcat great Silverberry Mohhoun, it sure is disappointing to see his college career slowly go down after his injuries.
While Mouhon is falling behind, talented sophomores Malik Vann and Myjai Sanders are stepping up to the occasion. Another former high 3-star recruit, Vann was Fickell’s first big time local pickup and excited the Bearcats fanbase. Vann did get some reps in blowouts last year as a freshman, but has progressed rather quickly thanks to help of Coach Wilt. Sanders is another player who has really grown into his body as the Jacksonville native has worked to put on muscle mass during the offseason and compete for the starting position. While there still is a position battle being held, it looks like Vann is the starter for now, with Sanders close behind, and Mouhon staggering back with the third team.
The interior of the defensive line, however, will rely heavily on experience. While talent and speed may get defensive ends to the backfield, nose tackles have to get their steps down and be able to shoot their gaps while being doubled teamed, which takes years to master, even for NFL stars. The Bearcats are fortunate to be in a position where they will have juniors Elijah Ponder, Curtis Brooks, and Marcus Brown, to go along with the very talented sophomore Jabari Taylor. While none have gotten much playing time, the experience of studying under Marquise Copeland and Cortez Broughton certainly is a plus.
There are many new faces across the defensive line, but shortly after the season starts, the Bearcats fan base will once begin talking about the anchor that is the front four. Talented sophomores like Malik Vann and Jabari Taylor will help to make plays in the backfield while steady anchors like Elijah Ponder and Michael Pitts provide a much needed leadership role. This year is certainly more cloudy on the production of the front line, but have no doubt that the Bearcats defense will be one of the best in America for this upcoming season.