So whom shall it be? Which UCF players will come to the forefront and be stalwarts along the front seven and create havoc for opposing signal callers?
There are a few obvious candidates, a key transfer, and the need for more players to step up. Here's a more in-depth look at UCF's 2021 pass rushing situation.
You will find Part I here.
Looking Towards the 2021 Season for the UCF Pass Rush
It will be a new season and a new defensive coaching staff. The Knights bring in Defensive Coordinator Travis Williams, who coached linebackers at Auburn. He will run multiple looks depending on what the opponent likes to do, but he’s also bringing reinforcements, too.
Adding Big Kat Bryant to the roster via a transfer, also from Auburn, adds a unique 6’5”, 255-pound athlete on the edge of the defense. There’s simply few if any defensive ends in the AAC like Bryant, and he’s arguably the most important addition to the Knights roster from this past season.
While Bryant is a big part of the 2021 pass rush, there’s also returning junior defensive linemen such as defensive end Landon Woodson. He recorded three sacks last fall, and his 6’6” frame is ideal for being an edge pass rusher. Fellow junior defensive end Tre’mon Morris-Brash added three-and-a-half sacks, and defensive tackle Cam Goode, also a junior, recorded three sacks.
Those young men now need more depth to help them out. What transpires moving forward largely depends on two key aspects of the UCF Football program and what’s next as a team.
Strength and Conditioning
After hearing several players rave about new Strength and Conditioning Coach Chris Dawson, there’s reason for optimism. That’s a good sign, and the players already appeared to be in great shape from seeing them on campus in June. What’s more important is how that translates to the gridiron during the 2021 season.
Even if it’s just one additional snap that a UCF defensive end, defensive tackle, or even a linebacker that can rush the passer, that’s huge for the defense. Pass rushers need to be conditioned to go full bore to disrupt and/or sack the quarterback. From everything that came across this sports writer’s desk, the strength and conditioning program is a large part of that equation and will pay dividends this fall. Come fall camp, much more will be known about the specific players, as well as their efforts this off season, under Coach Dawson’s direction.
Fall Camp Will Be Important
Speaking of fall camp, that’s when the rotation will start to be set. Defensive linemen and linebackers will earn their spots along the depth chart. One way to earn more playing time under Coach Williams and his defensive staff will be to rush the passer and stay within the scheme so that each player is more likely to produce the desired result of a quarterback sack or at least hurrying the quarterback.
Football is a team game, and players need to be accountable to one another by being sound with their assignments. There’s also the factor of what other teams know about UCF’s offense.
Opponents will Throw the Football Frequently
Teams know that UCF is going to light up the scoreboard with quarterback Dillon Gabriel. That’s another reason for UCF to get players to rush the passer. There will certainly be plenty of opportunities to hit the opposing signal caller.
Before the season even begins, opposing teams are going to need to throw the football to keep up with the Knights’ high-powered offense. Therefore, it’s going to need to be a group of pass rushers, and not just three or four UCF players, that consistently get after the quarterback. The Knights need at least a couple of more players to emerge that can consistently disrupt the opposing team’s quarterback in addition to the players mentioned above.
Maybe it will be in part because of linebacker or safety blitzes. That’s fine, but it has to be the exception and not the rule. A linebacker like Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste could be that player that comes off the edge, whether blitzing or as a defensive end.
He’s had a good offseason and perhaps he will be a part of blitz packages and/or place his hand in the dirt during passing situations. There could be a number of players that take on that role, and there could also be players, such as Jean-Baptiste, that play multiple positions because of different defensive packages.
Maybe it's linebacker Tatum Bethune, a player that registered two-and-a-half sacks during the 2020 season. Perhaps sophomore Josh Celiscar, who started two games for the Knights as a freshman, will bolster the pass rush and be a force. Bottom line, one thing still needs to happen regardless of the players in question.
Get “Home” With Four
UCF needs more of its four-man looks to reach the signal caller. All of the above discussion leads to that one main point. UCF needs to hit the quarterback, again and again, with four pass rushers. The best way for that to happen is rotating four, five and even six defensive ends and the same number of players at defensive tackle.
Will the Knights be able to effectively make that happen with the 2021 roster? That remains to be seen; starting with fall camp the productivity level of the pass rush will begin to play out. Keep an eye on the UCF pass rush from the beginning of the 2021 season all the way through the bowl game. That one particular area will help determine just how good the 2021 UCF Football team plays and what the final record indicates.