How inexperienced is Cincinnati's defense, really?


Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Cincinnati lost 10 senior starters on defense from last year.

If you've read this blog in the offseason or picked up any preview mags, you can recite that sentence in your sleep by now. If you watch Monday's telecast of the Cincinnati-Rutgers game, you'll surely be bombarded with it some more.

The fact is undeniable. But what does it mean for this year's defense? Are the Bearcats truly that inexperienced on that side of the ball and thus ripe for the picking by Rutgers? Maybe not.

Yes, there is only one starter back from last year's defense: safety Aaron Webster. But this is a unit that's pretty seasoned overall. According to the preseason two-deep, the Cincinnati defense features six senior starters in 2009. That's more starting seniors on defense than Connecticut, Pittsburgh or West Virginia.

And while the Bearcats don't boast a lot of starts, they do have a lot of game experience. Check it out:

Defensive line: Derek Wolfe, seven career games; Ricardo Matthews, 36 career games; John Hughes, 13 career games.

Linebacker: Curtis Young, 26 career games; J.K. Schaffer, 12 career games; Andre Revels, 33 career games, three starts; Craig Carey, 11 career games.

Defensive back: Brad Jones, 30 career games; Webster, 33 career games, nine starts. Drew Frey, four games, one start.

That's not even counting some experienced backups who will see the field a lot. In fact, the only real newbie starter on the entire side of the ball might be at cornerback if Dominique Battle or Camerron Cheatham wins that job.

"A lot of people don't realize that we're not coming in with 10 new, true freshmen," Webster said. "We're coming in with 10 guys who have three or four years of playing experience. The only thing that's different is we don't have starting experience. But that's just a title. At the end of the day, we've all played football in college. I don't feel really there will be that much of a difference."

Last year's Orange Bowl team entered the year with 11 seniors ticketed to start. But only six of them had been full-time starters before. Others had little experience, like Connor Barwin, who played offense his first three years, or Brandon Underwood, who transferred after being used sparingly at Ohio State.

"Everywhere we're replacing players, we're putting mature players in their place," head coach Brian Kelly said. "Now some of them haven't played a whole lot, but a lot of those guys last year hadn't played a lot either. If we had true freshman all over the place, that would concern me. But we're putting veteran guys on the field."

There's still the matter of everyone adjusting to new roles, meshing together and proving themselves capable of being a frontline starter. There's also a slightly new scheme and a new defensive coordinator in Bob Diaco. So it is true that Cincinnati has many adjustments to make on defense.

Just remember all the facts when you hear that the team lost 10 senior defensive starters.

"We don't really pay any attention to that talk," Young said. "We're going to be a great defense. Just wait for the season to start."