When a team wins 88% of its games there are plenty of heroes and often underappreciated talents.
For Cincinnati Jordan Stepp ranks at the top of the latter category. Top of the ladder in the latter category? You are right. Too much.
Redshirt sophomore Stepp has done great things in this his third year on campus. With two defensive tackles returning for their third and second years starting game snaps seemed scarce. And yet there Jordan is every Saturday injecting his smash mouth style.
His maturation as a football player enabled starters John Hughes and Derek Wolfe to snatch a breather mid-games.
"Rolling guys in shows in the fourth quarter," said DL Coach Steve Stripling. "For example, Wolfe played 58-60 snaps last game. Last year it was 85."
Individual performance leading to team success
To fully understand the impact Stepp's ascendance has had on senior NFL-hopeful Derek Wolfe look at the statistics. Last year Wolfe had just 25 tackles and three TFL's through the first eight games.
Tracking the same time period (first 8 games) in 2011 UC tackle Wolfe has 37 tackles and twelve TFL's.
"Having depth is a great thing," said Stepp. "It means everyone has full energy on all plays."
More than that Stepp has been bringing down ball carriers, making stops, and having a direct impact in game situations.
A year ago Jordan was toiling on the depth chart, unable to convince anyone he was ready. Regardless of his limited action and the coaching change Stepp still invested himself completely. He attacked the weight room all winter and emerged a better man.
"It is about development in the winter," said Stepp. "You don't want to put on bad weight. (Strength Coach) Dave Lawson has pictures up in the gym that show 'before' and 'after.' You can see the results."
He now plays at 287 pounds, certainly imposing for a 6'1" man. The added weight has done little to slow down the burst Stepp utilizes so effectively. He has taken the new body and applied it to his craft. The resulting body of work impresses.
"I felt by mid-year last year he could contribute," said Coach Stripling. "This year coming out of two-a-days he showed he could play."
Play he has. Stepp enters mid-November with 23 tackles, the most by a non-starter. For frame of reference, last year Obadiah Cheatham led the bench players with 26 tackles all season.
"It is one thing to be able to rotate individuals in but it is all about the quality," said Head Coach Butch Jones. "When you replace someone, are they going to come in and give you a championship rep and you can have no drop-offs. We are still not where we need to be in the program at a number of spots but the individuals that are giving us needed snaps are really performing up to a very, very high standard."
Is Jordan satisfied with the three-headed DT monster used by Coach Stripling?
Not in the slightest.
"They way I am is just very competitive," said Stepp. "I am coming after John's spot. All season. I am going to make him work harder. That is the way every second string guy should be thinking."
In the closing weeks of the regular season UC coaches will make sure this "smaller" defensive lineman gets plenty of playing time. Not like they had any choice.