Today I bring you the start of a new series called "shoes to fill," where I will take look at one key starting position that must be replaced at each school in the league.
First up: Cincinnati.
The Bearcats have plenty shoes to fill, both on offense and defense. But of all the key starters gone, who is going to be the toughest to replace?
OUT: J.K. Schaffer. Why did I choose Schaffer? I think Cincinnati has enough depth and talent at running back to at least try and match Isaiah Pead's productivity. Munchie Legaux has starting experience as he tries to win the starting quarterback job Zach Collaros leaves behind. I have more concerns about whether the defense will be as strong as it was a year ago, because it must replace its two best players -- tackle Derek Wolfe and Schaffer. You could easily make the case that Wolfe will be harder to replace, because Cincinnati doesn't have a 300-pound run clogger to fit right into the middle. But there is some experience and depth along the line. Middle linebacker is a different story. Schaffer had more than 100 tackles in three straight seasons, and was huge in run support and in pass defense. Because he has been starting for so long, there really isn't a player who has gotten significant reps to step right in and fill the void. Middle linebacker is a critical position, because you have to call the defense, and know where every single one of your teammates needs to be lined up. You need to be able to react really well, and be a sure-handed tackler. Really solid middle linebackers make really solid defenses.
IN: Solomon Tentman, Greg Blair or Nick Temple. This is one of the strongest competitions during spring camp. Tentman hardly played last season. Blair transferred in from junior college and got hurt. Temple played outside linebacker as a true freshman last season, and is now learning how to play inside. The trio combined for 39 total tackles last season -- 35 of them belonging to Temple. So as you can see, there is not a whole lot of experience here to replace the true leader of the defense. Whoever wins the job will have to get up to speed quickly to try and replace the incredible production of Schaffer, the one true constant on the defense the past three seasons.