Walter Stewart has always enjoyed playing in the trenches. So he welcomed the position switch from linebacker to defensive end at Cincinnati.
Stewart worked this offseason to help master his technique and get ready to rush the passer. He put on 15 pounds and is up to 249, which should help him against some of the bigger tackles he is going to face.
Playing on the weak side of the line will increase his opportunities to help the Cincinnati pass rush, which struggled at times last season.
“I’ll get a lot of one-on-ones lined up on the boundary,” Stewart said in a recent phone interview. “So my job is to get to the quarterback and apply pressure. I’m definitely more comfortable at this position, and I think I can help the defense there.”
Stewart came to Cincinnati as a defensive end, after racking up 102 tackles and 17 sacks as a senior in high school. But he was moved to linebacker, where he alternated between the weak side and strong side and also played defensive end last year.
The move became permanent in the spring. One of the hardest adjustments has been learning new technique.
“It may seem like a big scrum in the trenches, but there’s a lot of technique stuff,” Stewart said. “Last year, bouncing around I never got it down. This summer, I worked on my hand placement, getting off the ball, proper footwork. The hardest part to learn is coming out of your hits and that for me was pretty tough.”
What is the biggest technique difference between linebacker and defensive end?
“At linebacker, you want to keep a nice base, stay in a good position all the time, not take long steps or short, quick steps. You're more balanced all the time,” Stewart said. “On defensive line with all the cutting, you have to have certain steps, use your hips. Both have technical footwork, but on the defensive line, you have to be really precise on your cuts to execute the assignment.”
With an improved Stewart on the line, Cincinnati hopes to be better on defense. His addition should certainly help, especially with players like Derek Wolfe returning inside. Stewart also said he was impressed with tackle Jordan Stepp on the line as well.
“We've got all 11 back on defense, so we’re bringing all the experience back,” Stewart said. “This is our second year in the system. Everybody is a lot more comfortable and understands their role a lot better. We’re getting ready to come back and help the team win games on defense.”