Posted: 4:06 p.m. Thursday, July 25, 2013
By Matt Opper
Jeff Gentil: With the graduation of Walt Steward, Dan Giordano, and Brandon Mills, the defensive line lost a ton of experience. The first in the line to replace them are not necessarily UC household names. So, going into camp you could say the entire front line is wide open as to who will get the first crack at Purdue. Two newcomers will be in the mix from day one, junior college teammates Jerrell Jordan and Terrell Hartsfield. Jordan was an early enrollee but was injured on day one and missed all of spring practice. Hartsfield had some summer class work to complete but he is on campus and ready to roll. Mark Wilson is a lesser known commodity and could be a red-shirt candidate as all freshman linemen are. My question is this: do we see either Jordan or Hartsfield sneak into the starting lineup come August 31?
Matt Opper: Jordon and Hartsfield will be in the rotation from day one, and both will have the chance to start. UC is not in a great position up front. Production took a dive last year. A big part of that is Walt going down because the pass rush absolutely evaporated down the stretch. The D finished the year with 30 sacks which was good for 38th in the country, and 2nd in the Big East. But those stats are misleading, after Walt was lost UC defensive linemen had a grand total of 6 sacks from the Toledo game to the end of the year. The Bearcats played good defense in the back end despite the lack of a pass rush, but they can't be put in that position again. Art Kaufman needs to find production up front, regardless of where it comes from. I wouldn't be shocked to see one of the tight ends flipped to DE just to see what they can do and if they can help. Korey Cunningham seems like a good place to start on that front, but do you think he is physical enough to get a look?
JG: I think with the line so wide open, anything is possible. I know Cunningham was highly touted tight end, but with the dearth of players already at that position and his big frame I'd be very happy to see him switch to the defensive line. Now whether or not he's physical enough is to be determined. You'd like to think with his size he would have seen some time on the D-line in high school or some camp before, but if he wants to see the field sooner that may be the route he picks. Who knows, he may not have a say what position he plays. I think UC fans will forever be reminded of the (at the time) puzzling switch of Connor Barwin from a standout tight end to defensive end right before his senior season. With the lack of a lot of game experienced linemen, do you foresee Kaufman getting creative in his pass rushing with some stunting/blitzing or do you think he'll just "coach em up" and hope they get it?
MO: Philosophically neither Kaufman or Tuberville are proponents of blitzing. Both believe in getting pressure with the front four. I have gone back and watched every Tech game from last year that I could. I would roughly estimate that the Red Raiders rushed five or more players on maybe 15 or 20 per cent of all snaps. Under John Jancek the same math would yield at percentage closer to 40 or 45. The plan going in will be to blitz much, much less. If anything I would expect to see more games up front to create and exploit gaps in the blocking schemes of opponents. That isn't something that UC did a lot of under the previous regime, and if they did it would be to create gaps for blitzing linebackers and defensive backs. If the front four can't generate consistent pressure on the passer that could change, kaufman will have to start sending linebackers to generate pressure. That is a suboptimal outcome, and everyone knows it. That's why Jordan and Hartsfield will be under pressure to produce from day one.