- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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Cincinnati coach Butch Jones is not ready to rule out Walter Stewart for the rest of the season, but the prognosis does not look good for the star defensive end following an upper body injury he sustained in an Oct. 13 win over Fordham.
"Right now the day to return is yet to be determined," Jones said on Monday's Big East coaches' teleconference. "He's actually still going through getting a second opinion. I don't know when that will occur. I believe it's at end of this week. He doesn't want to give up, as you can imagine, he's a competitor, so we're going through that process right now in getting a second opinion on everything."
Stewart played through the injury but missed Saturday's loss at Toledo, the Bearcats' first of the season. Jones could only officially rule him out for this Friday's contest at Louisville.
Before this past weekend, Stewart ranked third in the conference in sacks (five), notching seven tackles for loss and forcing two fumbles as well. Jones had called him the best leader he had ever coached.
Brandon Mills is Stewart's replacement, and the fifth-year senior recovered a fumble, recorded a hurry and notched two tackles Saturday for a Cincinnati defense that did not give up a touchdown in the 29-23 loss to the Rockets.
"I think we missed him tremendously -- not just, obviously, on the field, but off the field he was the heart and soul of our football team," Jones said of Stewart. "I think that a lot of people out there don't realize, they don't understand the things that go on behind closed doors, the making of a team, team chemistry. He's our heart and soul but it's also a great opportunity for every other player in our football program to lead, to kind of pick up the slack a little bit.
"I can individually challenge Brandon Mills, and I said, 'Boy, the individual who's replacing Walter Stewart, there's a lot of onus and a lot pressure on you to perform.' And so I think there's also an opportunity for a lot of other individuals with the absence of Walt. But to Walt's credit, he's in every meeting, he's been around every day, he's still leading in his own way and he's of the utmost character and highest quality individual I've ever been around."