into the Bengals locker room today, and who did I see toweling off just a few
feet away from punter Kevin Huber's space? His old running buddy, long snapper
Mike Windt - who signed a free agent deal with the Bengals last week and is attending
the rookie camp this weekend.
Windt, it's been a rough couple of months. It usually is for college long
snappers looking to find their place in the NFL fraternity. The Bengals hadn't
needed one for many years, but last year, Brad St. Louis broke down and Clark
Harris took over his duties when St.
Louis got released. Harris was fine last year, but
that doesn't mean Windt doesn't have a chance to take that job playing for the
Windt, it's a two-man race to win the long snapper job. Why not him?
"It was a
long process; it was a long couple months of not knowing where you're going to
be," Windt said today after the Bengals morning practice. "I had a funny
feeling that I'd end up here. I have a good relationship with (special teams
coach Darrin) Simmons. He's taught me a lot already. I've only been here a day
and a half and he's already taught me so much. Out of all the special teams
coaches that talked to me, I just feel really comfortable with him. It's going
to be a competition, but I feel comfortable with where I'm at. I just need to
finish up on some detail things that Darrin will help me with."
all, Windt feels pretty lucky. He finished his eligibility at UC in time for
the NFL's uncapped year. Which means, in some areas - like, say, long snapping
- teams might be looking for a less expensive option. Windt could be that
want to get younger and cheaper," Windt said. "There are long snappers out
there making over $1 million a year. If a team thinks they can bring in
somebody and pay them less, that's the big thing with the process. It is a good
time to come out. I was a little bit lucky. It's better to come out this year
than during the lockout (presumably this could happen before the 2011 season),
like Jake Rogers. I don't know what's going to happen with that, but I'm happy
for the opportunity I've got right now."
plays a position most people don't notice, and most of the time, that's exactly
what he wants. Before today, I don't think I ever interviewed him, because I
never needed to ask him about what went wrong during a game. He was that good.
But he also finds himself in a different spot than most of the other rookies
coming out of college.
don't get the exposure everybody else gets," Windt said. "You have to be
perfect. If you have anything wrong with you, you're not going to go anywhere.
My whole concept when I started college was to be perfectly consistent. If you
can shoot a ball back there in 0.5 (seconds), it doesn't matter if you're not
consistent. If you're not accurate, you can't do anything with that. If it's
off by a little bit, it's going to throw off the entire process."
two factors working in Windt's favor this summer. He's back to working with his
old punter, Huber, and he's finally getting some on-hands coaching.
Simmons is with us every second of the practice," Huber said. "It just feels a
lot better. It's better having the individual contact. I'm happy with that situation.
It just makes you feel more comfortable when you're doing it. He teaches you
the correct way to do it as compared to teaching yourself in college.
Huber), there's trustworthiness. Through all the years, I know where Kevin
wants the ball, and he trusts me that I'm going to get it there. I have for
years. Chemistry between a punter and long snapper has to be positive. If you
don't, it's like a center and quarterback not getting along.
"But if I
can prove to them I'm perfectly consistent, I'll feel really good about myself.
I had a good practice today, I'll watch film with coach, evaluate it and have
another four good ones."
--Other sightings: Jacob Ramsey (who is still taking 18 credit hours of class) and Curtis Young have tryouts this weekend. Also, Kerry Coombs attended morning practice as well.
(UPDATED: 5:44 p.m.): Marvin Lewis' thoughts on Mike Windt:
got a lot of latent. We've signed him already to a free agent contract. He has
a great ability to snap the football - to long snap and short snap. He's been accomplished
doing it there at UC. From watching him out there today, he has a lot of ability.
He has great accuracy with it, great velocity with it and a great feel for it. He's
going to get a good opportunity to prove if he can do it for us here."
so many other receivers to count, so many other guys who will bring the hype
and the eyebrow-raising catches. These are the Bearcats featured on billboards,
the ones that catch the imagination of UC fans.
Hazelton is the transfer from USC who will be eligible this year and who many
expect to top this receiving corps. Armon Binns is the junior who had a
breakout year last season, making amazing touchdown catches (11 scores last
season) and using his 6-foot-4 frame to full advantage. Marcus Barnett is the
senior hungering for his final chance, three years after the best freshman
receiving performance in school history.
Woods is not in that group. Woods is a possession receiver who catches the
screens and intakes the passes on the five-yard routes. He's not flashy. He was
not a freshman All-American like Barnett, and he's not featured on billboards
like Binns. Your imagination doesn't soar with the possibilities of his
production like it might with Hazleton.
is just a solid receiver, a guy who racks up receiving yards when you're not
paying attention. But somehow, Woods, as a sophomore, kept his starting job
last season and recorded 51 catches for 640 yards and four scores (all ranked
No. 3 on the team). He likely will enter his junior year at the top of the
depth chart as well.
because he's consistent. And coach Butch Jones likes - no, make that loves -consistent
receivers. Woods showed up again during the spring game, catching six passes
for 88 yards and a touchdown while throwing a 60-yard pass of his own that
nearly netted another score.
played exceptionally well," Jones said. "He came up to me after the game and
said, 'Well coach, how did I play?' You know what? D.J. has been a model of
consistency all spring. I thought he had a good performance, and I thought we
blocked good on the perimeter for him as well."
really impressed me about Woods last Saturday was his ability to earn yards
after the catch. He caught a few bubble screens, and he made a couple
short-route receptions. The fact he averaged 14.7 yards on mostly short balls
is a testament to how valuable he could be for the Bearcats next year.
"He did a
great job of advancing the ball," Jones said. "We talk about that all the time."
Woods, it's a matter of practicing his craft every chance he gets.
bubble (screens) every single day," Woods said. "We have a period when they do
field goals, and we do nothing but bubbles. I feel comfortable in my technique
and looking upfield trying to find receivers making blocks, because I'm making
cuts off them."
technique, Woods said, is an important part of his game that he's continued to
thing I need to work on is blocking downfield. If I do that, my technique and
my game will be up to par," he said. "I'm never satisfied. I'll come out to
work every day, because somebody is going to try to take my spot."
somebody is Barnett - who switched between offense and defense last year, in
part because of the stranglehold Woods had on the position. Now that Barnett is
focusing strictly on offense, he'll look to take Woods' spot for himself. Woods
doesn't want that to happen.
the spots are solid; it's only spring time," Woods said. "I just need to work
on my technique and my willpower. I have Bones (Barnett) right now, and Bones
was a first-team freshman All American. He's always in my shadow, always
pushing me. But I'm always pushing him at the same time. I just need to have
the mentality that it's my spot."
(Not to swipe material from the legendary Wayne "Box" Miller, but I figure D.J. Woods deserves some "love" too since he's paid his dues "waiting in the wings". He doesn't seek media. He isn't outlandish. He just makes plays as he did in UC's spring wrap up--Bearcat Bowl IV).
Next to Armon Binns, junior D.J. Woods
is UC's top returning receiver with 51 catches last season (10 less
than Binns). With Binns injured for Bearcat Bowl IV, Woods proved he
was the highest-ranking veteran receiver by hauling in six catches
for 88 yards and a touchdown.
And, just to spice things up, Woods
hurled a 60-yard option pass that almost went for a touchdown to
"I told Zach (Collaros) he better
watch his spot, I might take it," joked Woods afterward. "It
was a great overall play. I saw Vidal, he was wide open and I knew
if I just threw it up there he'd get it. I put everything in it, he
made a great play on it."
It turned out to be the play of the
game and it was one of the plays called by a fan in the stands (off a
list of suggestions). As fun as it was, that particular fan has not
been offered a job on staff, but there's a chance that play could
reappear come fall.
"Ssssh," to the surrounding media
after the game. "You know we've had that with other players
running it. That play is three-for-three now in spring football
In Brian Kelly's inaugural year, Marcus
Barnett threw a 76-yard pass at South Florida that nearly went for a
score, so maybe Woods might get the call to heave the ball deep yet
again sometime to pass "Bones" in passing yards.
"I really hope so," said Woods.
"I really like making plays overall and I'd like to do it again."
Beyond the pass play, Woods had a
spectacular night and a great month of April overall. While the two
noteworthy transfers (Vidal Hazelton-USC and Kenbrell
Thompkins-Tennessee) got a lot of the headlines, Woods proceeded in
workman-like fashion to do his job and prove his worth. Lest you
forget, D.J. Woods was highly recruited out of Strongsville and was
considered a tremendous "get" when he signed.
Now, after playing in the shadows of
Dominick Goodman and Mardy Gilyard, could this be a year when #3
steps to the forefront and thrives in the offense of Butch Jones?
"D.J. played exceptionally well,"
said Jones. "You know, he came up to me after the game and
said,'Well coach, how'd I play?' D.J.'s been a model of consistency
all spring. I thought that he had a good performance and I thought
we blocked good on the perimeter for him on the bubbles as well."
Not only did D.J. impress Coach Jones,
he also earned the respect of Walter Stewart and the Bearcat defense.
(Although, Stewart and company are already hoping to shut down
Woods in a few months at Camp Higher Ground.)
"Man D.J., we've been trying to get
a hold of this dude all spring," said Stewart in the post-game
rain. "He's been doing this all spring. We've got to shut him
down at camp (in August)."
As Stewart mentioned, Bearcat Bowl IV
was not a "coming out party" or anything for D.J. Woods as he'd
been making plays all month long. When you add in the considerable
potential that Hazelton and Thompkins bring, plus get a healthy Armon
Binns back and a spunky "Bones" Barnett, UC's receivers are
While Woods is more conservative in his
public statements on his teammates, Vidal Hazelton is not. The guy
that played in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl, likes what UC can do in the
air at "The Nipp" and any venue they play in.
"I can confidently say yes," said
Hazelton when asked if UC has the best receiving corps in the college
ranks. "No doubt about it. No other comments. I think we're the
best receiving group in the nation."
Gilyard, Binns and Woods accounted for
26 scores through the air last season. Regardless of what three you
want to list as starters on the Bearcats, it's reasonable to think
those numbers could be surpassed in 2010.
Regardless of how it's distributed, you
can be certain that #3 will get his share of six-point grabs.
Yes and he won't be a secret anymore. DJ Woods showed more of why his former coach wanted him here at UC and after the spring game it will be hard to keep him under wraps. DJ is an athlete and in todays football if you have multiple capabilities, it makes the offense or defense that much better. UC has an established reputation for a wide open offense and Coach Butch Jones wants more. With DJ he gets that and combined with Zach Collaros, good luck Big East defenses!
I think today's game is more acceptable of school yard football because chaos can be organized and its been proven time and again on every level of football including the pros. It wasn't that long ago the St. Louis Rams greatest show on turf won a Super Bowl and more recently on defense the Pittsburgh Steelers and their exotic blitzes show what happens when you lift restrictions. I think fans may be surprised that Coach Jones has an opportunity to go deeper into the creative but I believe he will. He looks, walks, talks and acts like a football coach and I respect that. This is NOT dancing with the stars or T-Ball everybody makes the team. This is a grown man's sport, played in a Big Boys league.
With DJ and Zach and the other returning players; the new coaches and players who want to carry on the tradition, optimism hasn't left UC campus but lets hope the unrealistic expectations have. Going undefeated is possible but if they end up at 9-3, or 8-2 the season won't be a waste. Spring showed you potential, the regular season shows you results. One thing is for sure, this team expect to win and we expect the same. How much is up for debate...always.
Bengals had a chance to take him in the third round, but instead, they opted
for Jordan Shipley. The Titans and the Panthers could have had him, as well.
The Steelers passed, and so did the Broncos and Chargers.
Gilyard spent the first two days of the NFL Draft this past weekend waiting.
Waiting to receive a phone call from the team who would make him its next pick.
Waiting to begin his pro career. Waiting for the next step of his life.
first round passed, and predictably, he heard nothing. Friday went by - the
second and third rounds - and he heard nothing. On Saturday, though, he didn't
have to wait long.
first pick of the fourth round - the first pick of the day - the St. Louis Rams
drafted Gilyard. And to celebrate, the St.
Louis scribes asked him, what was he going to do?
about to go crabbing," he said.
sure. Wait, what?
"Crabbing is an old school way of catching
crabs," he explained. "I'm from the backwoods and we're country folk back
here, so we'll be in the backlands or the backwoods here in Florida not too far from where my parents
stay at. It's just old school - chicken necks, string and netting - just
kind of catching crabs. Go for what you know."
"We're actually throwing a big party for me
here in a couple hours, so I've got to be the man to bring back some
crabs. We actually (had a party) the last two days because nobody knew
where I was going to end up going."
thought a team would take him earlier in the Draft. And why not? He had a
stellar career at UC. He holds school records. He showcased memorial catches
and kickoff returns. He showed speed and great hands and a willingness to
connect with young fans.
had to wait a while during the Draft.
the 6-foot-3 guy," Rams GM Billy Devaney told reporters after making the pick
Saturday. "He's 5-11 and change. He's not a 4.4 guy. He's got real competitive
speed - especially in the returns, you see him running away from people - but
he doesn't have the elite 40 (yard dash) speed. And like we said earlier, it's
really deep at receiver. I think as much as anything, (the depth at the
position) probably hurt him some."
positive in Gilyard's favor, though, is his ability to excel on special teams.
one of the attractive things," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "Scouts and
coaches talked a lot about that. (Special teams coordinator) Tom McMahon is
doing back-flips upstairs. Any way you can change field position, it helps both
the defense and the offense. It's a weapon. I want to say (Gilyard had) 93
returns for almost 3,000 yards or something. That's a lot of production."
he'll get a chance to show off his skills in the NFL with the top pick in the
draft, QB Sam Bradford, and a young, almost unknown receiver corps. He'll have
his chance to make an impact.
going to try to come in and compete my hardest and let the rest of it sort
itself out," Gilyard said. "It was shocking to hear my name (called). They
called me before 10:00 a.m. and said, 'Hey we're going to take you. We're
not going to fool around or beat around the bush.' I was just stoked,
because now I can finally get ready to go to work. I've been waiting to go
to work for forever."
"I thought our kids came out under
the adverse conditions--I thought they handled it pretty well. You
know, it's kind of a watered-down version of the spring game. I
thought our kids handled the game situations. We'll go back and
we'll evaluate. This is just another evaluation session and we'll
see what guys we can win with in the fall."
On performance of D.J. Woods....
"D.J. played exceptionally well. You
know, he came up to me after the game and said,'Well coach, how'd I
play?' D.J.'s been a model of consistency all spring. I thought
that he had a good performance and I thought we blocked good on the
perimeter for him on the bubbles as well."
Will you let him throw the option
pass during the regular season?
"Ssssh. You know we've had that with
another players running it. That play is three-for-three now in
spring football games.
On Woods and his yards after catch
"You know, I thought he did a good
job of advancing the ball. We've talked about in our offense you've
got to be able to catch and advance the ball and I thought he did a
On Collaros' accuracy....
"Zach, like I said, I thought the
last week of spring practice he really clicked. He really got a
great grasp of the offense and he looked a lot more comfortable. He
looked a lot more comfortable in the pocket. His body position was
much better than the first scrimmage. I thought that Zach continued
What about the addition of Hazelton
"Well, you know they bring so much.
We're still waiting on the appeal with Kenbrell, but they're just
another added dimension to our offense with D.J. in the slot and
Marcus Barnett and obviously Armon Binns not participating in the
spring game as well. As much as it adds depth, it adds competition
each and every day and that's what we're looking for."
On the first-team defense....
"I still wasn't pleased exceptionally
well in terms of tackling. A lot of times, a lot of our mistakes
occurred with the second defense and we've got to get that corrected.
As you know, you're one step away. We'll go back and we'll look at
It's a little bit rainy, and there aren't a ton of fans in the stand. Which is understandable and, for UC, a little unfortunate.
Getting ready to get started pretty soon.
There will be two 10-minute periods for the first half, and in the second half, they'll go with a running clock.
Here's the way it'll be scored:
Defensive score: 1 point third down stop 2 points fourth down stop 2 points safety 2 points force special teams kick 2 points negative yard play 2 points kick field goal in red zone 3 points three and out 6 points turnover 6 points defensive touchdown
Offensive scores 1 point first down 2 points 20-yard play 3 points field goal 6 points touchdown 1 point extra point
It'll be first-team offense vs. second-team defense and first-team defense vs. second-team defense.
Second play of the game, Collaros to D.J. Woods, who goes around the end for a 26-yard gain. Two plays later, a screen to Woods, who goes for 13 yards. The offense isn't having many problems so far, and Darrin Williams goes in for the 11-yard rushing TD. Jake Rogers' extra point is good. Offense 10, Defense 0
Quentin Hines gets the first carry, and he's immediately dropped for a five-yard loss by Chris Williams. Chazz Anderson tries to hit Tomaz Hilton in the flat, but he's way off. A three and out for the defense. Offense 11, Defense 8
Without Pead in there today because of injury, Darrin Williams is showing he's not bad either. D.J. Woods has been tough on those screens. Collaros has to scramble and Rob Trigg is credited with the sack (though the defense is playing two-hand touch with the QB). Another nice gain from Collaros to Woods. On third and 1, Williams gets it and gains the first down. Collaros is moving this offense, mostly with short routes and screens. He hasn't missed a pass yet. On third and four, he hits Kenbrell Thompkins for the first down. Then, he just rifles in a 13-yard pass to Thompkins for the touchdown. Yes, Collaros does have an arm. Offense 24, Defense 12
Not a whole lot of running so far the offense. Content to let Collaros and Anderson to chuck it down the field.
End of first quarter Offense 25, Defense 12
Collaros scrambles, avoids the sack and finds Darrin Williams for a long gain. OK, some people in the stands are going to call an offensive play for Butch Jones. But doesn't the defense know which play is coming. Collaros in a shotgun snap, a little screen to Quentin Hines for a 1-yard gain. Did the fan pick a screen play? Really? Rueben Haley with the INT, but Collaros would have been sacked by Aaron Roberson, so no turnover. Offense to punt.
Offense 32, Defense 17
A little trickery. Anderson pitches it to Woods on a reverse, who heaves it to an open Hazelton down the right sideline. That's a 60-yard pass to the 4-yard line. Hazelton can't believe he got caught short of the goal line. After a penalty, next thing you know, the Bearcats are at the 25-yard line. A little fullback action, hand off to Colin Lozier gains about two yards. Danny Milligan in for the 41-yard field goal, and it's no good. Looked off to the right. Offense 32, Defense 27
Collaros airs it out and Orion Woodward makes the outstanding catch in double coverage. That's down to the 8-yard line. That was a 49-yard pass play. One play left with no time on the clock. Collaros rolls right and finds Woods in the back of the end zone for the 1-yard TD. On the extra point, Bruce Horner comes off the edge to block it. Offense 42, Defense 28 (half)
Some stats: Darrin Williams has 47 yards on eight carries. Collaros is 17 of 19 for 199 yards and two touchdowns. Chazz Anderson is 3 of 6 for 19 yards. D.J. Woods has five catches for 69 yards, and Hazelton has four for 83.
Another 20-yard pass from Collaros to Woods. This is becoming routine. And now it's raining and raining hard. It'll be third and 17 for Anderson, and he scrambles for about seven yards. Rogers for the 43-yarder, and it's good.
Offense 49, Defense 42
Not a good pass by Anderson, who throws it directly to redshirt freshman Sean McClellan (formerly of the Dayton Daily News), who returns it 33 yards to the 5-yard line.
Defense 50, Offense 49 (end of the third)
Nice play by Alex Delisi to sack Anderson and force a fourth down. And then Anderson hits a wide open Lynell Payne for the 36-yard TD. Offense retakes the lead and the game ends with 4 minutes to go. Offense 57, Defense 47 (final)
It was a long wait for WR Mardy Gilyard, but he's finally off the NFL Draft board, going with the first pick in the fourth round to the St. Louis Rams. And you know what? He gets a new franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford. That should be fun for him.
I know the Bengals scribes were hoping Cincinnati would take him in the third round, just because he's such a great quote. It could have happened, too. Instead, the Bengals grabbed Texas WR Jordan Shipley.
Here's an example of why the writers were hoping to keep Gilyard in Cincinnati: he was talking to the St. Louis writers on a teleconference just now, and as, AP's Joe Kay reports from St. Louis' AP guy, Gilyard was talking to the writers about catching crabs. I don't know the context of that conversation, but really, that's pretty darn funny.
For years, players at Colerain
High School have been gravitating toward UC. It started with the
dynasty Kerry Coombs built while a head coach there and has continued
since Coombs moved on to UC under Brian Kelly, and now Butch Jones.
When you think of Colerain, you
think of fast and athletic guys. You can go back to Doug Monaghan at
safety a few years back or more recently to Terrill Byrd on the
defensive line and Dominick Goodman at wide receiver (by the way both
are playing indoor ball for the Commandos at Cincinnati Gardens now).
What you probably don't think of
is offensive linemen. Then again, who do you think sprung all those
blocks for Dominick Goodman when he was riddling Division I defenses
in the state of Ohio as a running quarterback?
While he was too young to block
for Goodman at Colerain, Evan Davis is one of those guys that loves
the "dirty work" and works hard so others look good.
"Working the trenches,"
said Davis of his trade.
Davis is now a junior for the
Bearcats and is in line to start at center. Or perhaps move over to
guard if Jason Kelce plays some center. Either way, he's getting
good guidance from some of UC's veteran linemen as he steps to the
front of the depth chart.
"I'm playing next to two guys
who have been veterans for me and helped me fill this role," said
Davis. "Obviously, I'm filling in big shoes for Chris Jurek last
year, who was a great player. So far, it's been going great."
Most of Evan's success can be
credited to Jason Kelce who had to endure his share of "hard
knocks" to get to his position. Offensive linemen are always a
unique bunch and this crew is no different.
"He's been helping me,"
said Davis of Kelce. "He's been helping me make calls and
everything. He's been great. That's how it is."
The big guys seem to run in a
pack and have one another's backs, just as they "have the back"
of "the back" in the Bearcat run game.
"We always are hanging out with
each other," said Davis. "Outside of football, we're always
together. It's a strong bond, we bond really well. We live together
and we've got a good relationship on the offensive line."
Actually, most of this line
lived together in a house along with one honorary offensive
lineman...named Zach Collaros. Collaros is wise to befriend the
behemoths as they are the ones that can make him famous. While some
of the current housing arrangements have changed, there still appears
to be an "open door policy".
"We're actually in the dorms
now," said Davis. "But me and Derek Wolfe, we're over there a
lot. It's Zach Collaros, Alex Hoffman, Craig Parmenter and Jason
There's a reason Wolfe and
Davis are often present at the house. It has something to do with
"Me and Wolfe always come
over to cook," said Davis. "They always make me and Wolfe come
over, but they always supply the food."
And naturally, there's
always one messy eater who doesn't clean up.
"Jason!" Davis said
pretty much before I finished the question. "Nobody argues it."
Away from the feed table,
it's obvious the linemen communicate well. I've seen them
instructing one another. During the season, I've even seen them
dancing to "Jump Around" when it plays prior to the fourth
quarter. This year, they're very excited to be able to move the ball
on the ground a little more than in previous seasons.
"We're happy with it,"
said Davis. "We love to run the ball. We definitely love it a lot
more, being able to run instead of always passing. It brings another
thing to the table, you know?
We have great running backs. Pead,
Williams, Goebel, all three of them. We have great running backs. I
trust them 100% in the backfield."
Coming from Colerain, you
have to figure Davis is used to run blocking as the Cardinals have
traditionally run a triple-option attack. Passing was something
pretty much reserved for the scout team as the current ex-Colerain
crew knows. However, run, pass, offense, defense, it doesn't matter
as Colerain has always produced fine football players.
"We lost some," said
Davis. "I think it's just me, (Brandon) Mills, and (Colin) Lozier
now. Of course, Coach Coombs where ever he's at."
Well, right there are four
guys who have already contributed. Davis has been a back-up and now
figures to start--same for Brandon Mills on the defensive line (a
slightly smaller Terrill Byrd). And, Colin Lozier was a goal line
fullback last season and just is your typical tough Cincinnati
football player kind of along the lines of a JK Schaffer.
Then there's Kerry Coombs,
who jumps and hollers like a madman and should be the poster boy for
some brand of decaffeinated coffee. Without him and the legacy he
built, you might never know if any of these kids would have made to the
level they're at now.
They're all good reasons to
have local pride and all good ambassadors to what's happened at
Colerain and what's happening at the University of Cincinnati.
"Not only that, but it's
our drive too," said Davis. "We grew up watching Bearcat
football. It's our pride in our city, a great opportunity to be able
to play for our hometown of Cincinnati--be able to 'Represent the C'
. We just take so much pride in being from Cincinnati, playing for
On wide receivers getting some extra
blocking sled work at the end of practice....
"It's just we pride ourselves in the
receiver position here. We're going to take great pride in the
details of run blocking and blocking on screens and doing all that.
That was just a point of emphasis that we're going to block. They're
called receivers, but there's a difference in being a receiver and a
pass-catcher, and it's different."
You do have some 'pass-catchers'?
"Everyone just thinks you run out
there and block, but there's a lot of technique that goes into it.
It's a mentality. I've seen great effort in trying to block, a lot
of it has just been a breakdown in fundamentals and we'll get that
corrected. That's why we coach."
Is Kenbrell Thompkins more confident
in what he's doing?
"Yep. I think the further we go, he
becomes more and more comfortable with the offense. You can see his
teammates embracing him. Right now, he's doing all the right things
from academics to the football field. You know, we're just waiting
word (on his eligibility for fall)."
Do you get a kick out of hearing the
chatter back and forth between the defensive backs and the receivers?
"Oh yeah. Both sides of the ball are
very prideful. They're very prideful groups and they compete each
and every day and the great thing is, they walk off the field and
they go in the locker room and they're talking about, 'Hey, what did
you see on this play?' So, they're coaching each other too, which
is great to see."
On Jake Rogers' field goal to end
practice (teammates surrounded him and heckled as he had to boot one
through)--kind of like running suicides in basketball and letting
someone hit a free throw to end it?
"That's exactly it. Like I said,
everything is applying pressure, controlled chaos and competition.
Our kickers aren't excused from that."
As coaches, are you ready to compete
in Saturday's Bearcat Bowl IV?
"We're ready to compete again a
little bit. I wish we had another 15 practices. I think we've made
great strides, but we're nowhere even close to being game ready.
Saturday we take very seriously because it's another evaluation day.
It's a day where we can compete in front of our fans and we can see
which guys step up when 'quote/unquote' the lights are on."
Walter Stewart was happy just to be on the field. He was a redshirt freshman
playing college football in front of a sold-out Nippert Stadium crowd, his
squad kept on winning on national TV and he was performing well enough to
impress his coaches and teammates.
new-car smell quickly faded for Stewart, though. It wasn't enough for him to
simply be wearing the uniform and playing. He needed to be playing well and
making a big-time impact for one of the top teams in the country.
Jones said it aptly earlier this week when I asked about Stewart. He needs
football, Jones said. Needs it to sustain him and keep him alive. But it's more
than that for the defensive end/linebacker. He doesn't just need football.
Actually, he needs to excel at football.
why following last Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage, after saying goodbye to his
parents, Stewart went back to work in the film room. You see, football isn't
just a sport to Stewart. He needs football like he needs his liver.
to be around it," Stewart said.
result, the improvements speak for themselves. Stewart went from a rookie who
barely felt he was ready to play to a guy who finished his freshman season with
59 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks to a person who will be one of the major cogs of the
Bearcats defense this season.
really excited about the development he's made from day one to the next day to
the following day," Jones said. "He's another individual who needs football in
his life. He's very hungry, and he takes coaching. It's important to him. He
wants to do well. He lives it every day. 'Coach, what do I need to do to get
better? How can I take my game to the next level?' He's a sponge. He wants
more. Anytime an individual has that, they're going to develop because of the expectations
he's placed upon himself."
than just Stewart's expectations, though. The coaching staff also has raised
the scope of what he'll be asked to do. Much like Connor Barwin's role from two
years ago, UC's coaches are transforming Stewart into a hybrid defender.
rush the quarterback some. He'll probably drop back into coverage some. He'll
play a combination of the defensive end and linebacker positions. With his
athleticism and the resume he's produced so far, the move makes sense. What's
interesting is how much the coaching staff must trust Stewart's physical and
mental abilities - his on-field gifts and his football smarts - to make a move
like this work out well for the Bearcats.
going to be everywhere," Stewart said. "I'm going to be on the line for third
downs. Third downs and long, I'll be coming off the edge. Other than that, just
be a linebacker. Depending on what offense is on the field, that determines
what I'll be doing. It's a lot to take in for me. But that's the game. I have a
new role on defense, and I accepted it.
definitely put a lot of trust in me. I take my responsibilities real seriously.
I do what I'm coached to do."
only a year removed from the uncertainty of playing as a freshman in a stadium
full of people, seems poised to make a huge leap in responsibility. He's much
different from the guy who was just happy to take the field.
season went on, I realized that I belonged here," Stewart said. "Once I got
rolling, I started to get more comfortable on the field and understanding what
I needed to be doing out there. It was a good experience for me. This season, I
feel a lot more prepared. Now, I know what to expect."
Now that UC football is firmly on the local map and arguably the national one (a BCS bowl game win would help) its time to expand the fan base. With our ever growing Hispanic and ethnic population, I hope the Bearcats see the new frontier of their fan base. Just in Cincinnati alone the population of Spanish speaking citizens is growing faster than we know and with grocery stores, newspapers and events that draw large Hispanic crowds, UC can really get the jump on Ohio State, Miami of Ohio and others by rolling out the welcome mat. They may have already done it and I'm not aware of it and that's ok too.
I think this city is experiencing a growth on multiple levels but we must not forget those who want to call Cincinnati home. By engaging the Hispanic community it also endears their college bound children to have a connection to the University of Cincinnati and that increases enrollment, diversity numbers and potential scholars.
Sports has always been the great equalizer and as you see the NFL doing more games outside the US, the one place where the numbers boom is in Mexico when the Cowboys play there. 100 thousand fans show up and revel in the moment. If UC gets one-tenth of that that's 10 thousand new fans, students and supporters simply by saying you're welcome here. Football is growing in popularity around the globe and while it won't soon replace football (soccer) as the world knows it, it can grow its market share. UC get out into the Hispanic Community and invite them to a football game, practice or take players to them and say
If you're a Cincinnatian then we're your (college) team! UC could be a trend setter with this type of outreach and capitalized on their efforts in process. Imagine Cincinnati being know for reaching out...hmmmm I like the sound of that
Ã‰sa es la manera que la veo...sitting in The Box Seat
Toward the end of practice
Tuesday, some loud hecklers could be heard from the stands at Nippert
Stadium. While that behavior really can't be policed since "The
Nipp" is an open facility, most students/fans/sunbathers usually
have the courtesy to just watch and eat their lunch at a reasonable
In all honesty, the "lack of
privacy" is one of the reasons somewhat secretive coaches desire
private practice facilities like the one being constructed on
However, these weren't your
average hecklers. They were noisy and specifically knew the players
and numbers their verbal jabs were directed to. Fortunately, Coach
Butch Jones knows he couldn't do much to them. In his regime, these
guys are family.
Not that Butch Jones his
welcoming any loudmouth in a pair of pants with a bullhorn. It's
just these late practice harassers were former players Tony Pike and
Craig Carey. They're probably fortunate that it was a Butch Jones
practice since "the Irish predecessor" might have taken umbrage
with being upstaged on his own field.
Instead, it was good-natured
heckling that Pike and Carey were involved in as both hope to attract
some NFL attention later in the week. Seeing as Tony Pike might feel
lonely without another reporter asking him about his draft plans, I
approached the Orange Bowl/Sugar Bowl/practice interrupter with such
"It's hard with the draft being
three days now," said Pike. "You know, they split the rounds up
and you can go high or low. So, it's kind of hard. I think maybe
golfing Thursday and Friday and I think we'll have a little family
get together on Saturday. Just trying to stay busy and stay from
being in front of the TV all day."
Then again, Pike could always
pack in the Reading clan in the family RV that made it's way on many
a road trip in Tony's playing days. That "urban assault vehicle"
is equipped with all of the modern conveniences and probably has a
satellite to pick up draft coverage from any network.
"Might as well," said Pike.
"Just start driving."
It seems the goal for Tony Pike
is distraction. Where the draft used to be a Saturday-Sunday
affair, now it's Thursday, Friday and Saturday. So, depending on
where you land, an athlete could be in line for three sleepless
In Daytona, that might be fun.
In Cincinnati, it can wear on you. Unfortunately, the NFL personnel
folks don't give you a day and a time range like the plumber or the
cable company does.
"Yeah, that would be a lot
easier, but it's a nice three-day event so I'm sure the stress will
be up there," said Pike.
You can understand, if you're
Tony Pike. If this is three years ago, Tony Pike is waiting on a
free agent call like his friend, Craig Carey. Or, he's watching the
draft at Buffalo Wild Wings or any other venue with multiple TVs,
cold beverages and nachos like the rest of us.
Perhaps his first phone call
should go to Dustin Grutza. In the "from adversity comes
opportunity"/Wally Pipp world of sports, if Grutza doesn't break a
leg at Oklahoma in 2008, Tony Pike might not have had an opportunity
to prove himself. Instead, in one of life's strange twists, Pike
took over and later overcame his own injuries to lead UC to it's
first ever BCS bowls.
Now, somewhere in every NFL
"war room", there's information on Tony Pike.
"From just everything with the
Combine, I've talked to every team," said Pike. "I've had
workouts with probably 10 or 11 teams. I actually have one with
Cleveland today. I'm staying busy up until the draft, so I'll have
the day off (then)."
Pike with the Browns would be
odd, especially for a native like Tony who grew up a Bengals fan is
certainly not opposed (much like Mardy Gilyard) to playing at Paul
Brown Stadium. As it is now, his college exposure has made him a
recognizable figure by many in town.
"It's nice," admitted Pike.
"I've grown up in the city, I love the city. To be able to help out
and sign some autographs out at dinner, it's nice. It's nice to be
recognized and then being a part at what happened here at Cincinnati
the last two years is definitely a nice thing."
Thanks to Pike's efforts and a
style of offense that's entertaining and effective, UC football is a
national program. Recruits from USC and Tennessee have left to
transfer HERE. Coaches have come and gone and styles have come and
gone, and the program continues to improve. Not surprisingly, Pike
is a fan of new Coach Butch Jones and his offensive philosophy.
"Just watching a little bit
today, I got to see some--obviously, the practice speed is a lot
faster," said Pike. "The way he cares about his players, the
relationship he has with his players on and off the field--the
players respect him on the field. From what I've heard off the
field, he's a great guy to be around."
Come Saturday night, Tony Pike
hopes to watch more Bearcat football as Bearcat Bowl IV takes place
at 7 p.m. at Nippert Stadium. By then, he hopes to have a
professional destination and he will have come a long way from being
"that lanky dude holding the clipboard" looking for reps of his
own in a spring game.
"Yeah, hope to," said Pike
of his weekend plans. "It'll probably depend on whether anything's
happened yet or not. I hope to get down here and watch the guys."
As we all watch, we can
wonder what Bearcats in the coming years will hear their name
announced on ESPN's draft show. There certainly are many more to
Asking for money is not easy. Therefore, on behalf of head coach Jamelle Elliott and the women's basketball team, I will ask for them. Consider giving something, anything to Coach Elliott's team for the Walk MS taking place on April 24, 2010. Whether it be $5 or $500, every penny helps fight this horrid disease.
The event takes place at Sawyer Point, this Saturday morning, with all proceeds to benefit multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease near and dear to the heart of Coach Elliott. Jamelle lost her mother to MS in 1999 and has dedicated this walk team and her effort in memory of her mother.
If you can not donate and have some time Saturday morning to walk, I suggest you join the Bearcats at Sawyer Point. Not only will you help grow the Bearcats walk team, you will get to spend a few hours getting to know one of UC's newest head coaches, her staff and team, all the while supporting a great cause.
For more information on Jamelle's team and the opportunity to walk or donate click here for more information.
three practices left to go in spring camp - including Saturday's Bearcat Bowl
IV - Butch Jones has seen his UC squad practice nearly a dozen times. He's
installed about half of what he wants to use in his offense. He's seen the work
rate and the tempo and the players' ability to adjust to a new coaching staff.
satisfied. Not even close.
wish we had another spring ball," Jones said after Monday's practice. "As a
coach, you're never satisfied with where you're at. It comes down to execution
and having a great base for the next phase in your program - our summer
strength and conditioning program. Tuesday and Thursday will be critical
practices for us."
Monday's get-together. More than anything, though, Jones called Monday's
practice a good exercise in the cerebral portion of football.
"It was a
great learning day," Jones said. "I thought we got a lot of out of it. It was a
big mental day for us coming out of our scrimmage on Saturday. To come out and
reinforce all the fundamentals and all the attention to details and review all
the situations that have occurred through the spring. Today was a great mental
day, but also a good fundamental day."
isn't the only one who's been left a bit unsatisfied. So have some of his
have a long ways to go," sophomore defensive end Walter Stewart said. "We're
definitely making strides. The first thing is we have to clean up the mental
errors. We're having a lot of breakdowns. We have to clean that up. The effort
has gotten way better, because everybody is in better shape. We just have to
give more attention to detail."
be expected, though. With a new offense and a new defense to install, mistakes
are bound to occur during the coaching staff's first spring camp. Doesn't mean
Stewart has to like it, but it's been plenty to take in for the Bearcats.
terminology this year and the way we played it last year, it sometimes contrasts
- just the way the call is presented," Stewart said. "We're trying to put it
together and trying to make the right reads while we're playing fast."
trying to understand why they're doing so, as well.
Jones: "It's a process. Each day, it's been an improvement, some days more than
others. We still have a long way to go in our depth of the football team. It's
us understanding situational football. We always talk about FBI - FootBall
Intelligence- and understanding what we're trying to accomplish and
understanding our opponent and their technique and their body language. That
all goes into playing a game."
announced today that senior WR Jamar Howard underwent arthroscopic knee surgery
on his left knee and will miss the rest of spring camp. He's expected to be
ready for the start of fall camp.
in five games last season, catching three passes for 50 yards.
not very often you hear from an athlete who makes an effort to seek you out and
tell you that he appreciates something you wrote about him or her. It's
actually quite rare.
fine. I don't write articles and features so athletes will say how much they
like and appreciate my prose and my reporting. In fact, if they read it or not,
if they like it or not, it doesn't make much of a difference to me. If they
like it, cool. If not, that's OK too. If they're indifferent, well, that's pretty
much what I expect.
said, it's always nice when you get a phone call out of the blue telling you
how much somebody treasured what you wrote about them.
my years as a sports writer, this has happened only a handful of times. When I
was in college at Georgia,
I wrote a nice piece about Randy McMichael and his daughter (or was it his
mother? Not sure, but I think it was his daughter), and he sought me out the
next day to tell me how much he loved the story. When I worked at the
Cincinnati Post, I wrote a nice feature about Xavier play-by-play man Joe
Sunderman. A week or so later, I got an actual hand-written thank you card from
the classy Sunderman.
Saturday, as I drove to pick up my brother from the airport in Dayton, I got a call on my cell from Andre
Revels. You might remember I wrote this story on him recently, and he had just read it when somebody at work slid it across
his desk. He said as soon as he read it, he knew he needed to call me to thank
he didn't need to do that. If he hadn't, I never would have
thought twice about it.
called. And I'm glad he did.
how jaded you become or how ambivalent you get about people's opinions of your
work, it's always nice to hear that you've done a good job. Even a sport writer's
cynical heart can appreciate that.
One of the guys hanging around
spring practice this month has been Brad Jones, one of last year's
cornerbacks. Some of the Bearcats that haven't been taking the
field with the Commandos in arena ball at The Gardens are prepping
for the NFL Draft Extravaganza coming up.
Jones is not alone as other former
Bearcats have made appearances like Mardy Gilyard and Mike Mickens.
Mickens needs a job (Bengals released him) Gilyard is all but
assured of a job (and wants to be a Bengal).
Brad Jones just wants a "look"
and has been training at Ignition where Connor Barwin put in some
hard hours last year, and at UC.
"I go up there a couple times a
week," said Jones. "I'm just usually down in the weight room
and on the field. Days they're out here with spring ball, I'm
usually inside. If they're inside lifting, I'm usually out here
working. I bounce back and forth from Ignition to out here."
Jones also isn't opposed to be
being a Bengal and worked out at Paul Brown Stadium last week along
with Tony Pike and Gilyard, plus Craig Carey, Alex Daniels and some
"I talked to Coach Lippencott
and I got all squared away with directions to get there," said
Jones. "I was there 7:30 April 13th."
A number of Bearcats went to a
similar event last year and then later the Bengals invited other
'Cats down for try-outs. Sometimes situations like that are little
more than a call for "live practice dummies" but you can't get
seen if you're not there. Plus, Ryan Manalac eventually got a
practice squad opportunity for his efforts (even though it wasn't
"He ended up at Buffalo on the
practice squad, that's good money too," said Jones.
While Jones' Pro Day didn't put
him "off the charts", he certainly was good enough to be there
and among a number of Bearcats who were on display for numerous NFL
teams about a month ago. His 40 time wasn't where he had hoped
(officially) but it's still representative of a quality player.
"I'm hearing after the Pro Day
I had that I improved my stock," said Jones. "Late shot/possible
priority free-agent type of guy. I just want a shot, as long as I
get a shot. It doesn't make any difference."
The 40 time in question was 4.53
which can go up or down depending on thumb quickness,etc.
"I don't know where that time
came from, but even a 4.53 isn't a bad time," said Jones. "The
times I had been running all week prior to Pro Day were high 4.3s to
mid 4.4s so that's what I was expecting to get released publicly."
Still, Jones knows that
sometimes it just comes down to playing football. The NFL is full of
stories of the proverbial, "look like Tarzan, play like Jane"
"They pass the 'eye test' but
they don't play how they look," said Jones.
Brad Jones looks the part and
hopes to play the part. He's finished his degree and points out that
his resume includes an Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl and two Big East
titles. Maybe it wasn't one of the most stellar defenses in college
ball, but they had to have been doing a few things right.
"I played on a team that was
12-0, so obviously guys get overlooked, but anytime you're 12-0, guys
have got to be able to play football," said Jones. "I understand
that it was a great system we played in under Coach Kelly, but
coaching only takes you so far. Guys have to go out there and make
plays and be responsible."
Brad is one of several current
and former Bearcats that keep up Twitter accounts, so perhaps in a
week or so, he'll be Tweeting some good news.
Going into the final week of
practice, a certain UC running back has a lot going for him. It's
called "The Big Mo"/a/k/a momentum. Darrin Williams from
"Motown" has been turning the head and catching the eye of Head
Coach Butch Jones by being his multi-dimensional self and making
No, he's not ready to unseat
Isaiah Pead as the feature back. But, he's proven his worth by
consistently making guys miss in the open field. At one practice
this past week, he scurried to the endzone unscathed from about 50
yards or so...TWICE!
"That's the idea man," said
Williams. "Try to make big plays. That's what this offense is
based on, everybody coming together as one. Just have as many
weapons as we can and I'm just trying to play my part."
His part on this day was to match
Isaiah Pead, who had also broken a touchdown run, and Quentin Hines
who nearly did. So, the 5-7, 180 pound Williams did so and then
some. As soon as the "Red Sea" seemingly parted, Williams was
through without much prompting from Moses.
"When I see it open like that
man, I just run," said Williams. "I don't even think of
nothing. I just think to make the first guy miss. Then, once the
first guy misses it seems like it's clean from there. The more 'first
guy misses', the easier it is to score."
With his shifty moves and his
speed, Williams has left many an opponent's athletic supporter on the
field. (He did run a 10.61 100 meters in high school and won a
couple national AAU titles in the indoor 60.)
After redshirting a year and
then playing sparingly last year, Darrin Williams is ready to jump in
and be the "situational guy" in any situation Butch Jones comes
up with. He already has a 100-yard kickoff return from last season,
so Jones is fully aware of #10's capabilities.
"I just try to show what I can
do always," said Williams. "A true running back can pass block
and run the ball and catch the ball. I feel like I can do a numerous
amount of things--whatever they need me to do, I'll do."
As many have said, you can't
measure heart, desire and determination and Williams has plenty of
all that. In red zone situations where Pead has improved and John
Goebel has a track record, the dynamo from Detroit has been no slouch
dishing out his own dose of punishment on defenders.
"You've just got to be able to
handle it," said Williams. "If you slow everything down and
read your reads, it's not that hard. The defense is going to come
with intensity anyway, I just try to do what I can do, that's it."
The good news from all of this is
as Williams improves, the offense improves. And, the offense has
noticeably improved in the last week. Earlier in spring drills, it
was the defense earning the "props" and the offense has since
"They came out with the
intensity that we didn't have, we came out sort of flat," admitted
Williams. "We had a team meeting and Coach Jones told us to get it
going. I took it to heart. I saw an article that said defense
dominates offense in a scrimmage and I don't like to see that. I
feel like our offense is one of the best in the nation and that if we
get clicking, we'll be hard to stop."
With yet another playmaker at his
disposal, it's outright scary thinking about what Butch Jones could
(The remarks of Butch Jones from Thursday's practice with temperatures nearing 80)
Is it normal for things to
be"heated" at this point?
"You've been hitting each other for
nine practices, ten now, and obviously, the heat--I thought we came
out and competed but we're still nowhere we need to be in terms of
work volume and patience. Everyday is a learning process. I thought
our kids competed a little bit."
What do you like about Darrin
"Boy, I'm really excited about
Darrin. First of all, he's a great person and he's one of those
individuals who brings intensity and brings passion everyday. His
progress from practice one all the way to practice ten continually
improves. I'm very excited about what he brings to our offense."
What does he bring?
"Well, he is a different dimension.
We're going to be able to put him out on the perimeter and let him
run some receiver routes and some slot, some screens. He can execute
our run game, he's got great quickness and he's extremely competitive
and he's very, very tough."
On the competitiveness of Darrin
"Right now, he's been extremely
hungry. (He's) very passionate and very eager. I like everything
that he's bringing to the table right now."
Do you like little guys?
(Williams--5-7, 180 pounds)
"Well, I do. There's a difference
between little and short. When you're 180-190-200 pounds, first of
all, they always have leverage. They're hard to see and very
explosive. I've coached anywhere from big backs to smaller backs and
I think you need to have a variety in your offense."
Physical play emphasized today?
"Well, I think everyday is. We need
to grow up in our offensive and defensive lines. It starts with the
mentality to run the ball and the mentality to stop the run. That's
something we're preaching everyday. You can talk it, but you've got
to live it everyday in the way you practice. You've also got to
practice smart obviously. With the injury situation and all that,
we've been relatively healthy all spring, minus C.J. Cobb."
Is it tough to discipline the
"Well, there's a fine line. They've
got to understand how to practice. It gets heated, but it's just
like in the heat of a game and it's maintaining your composure and
your poise and getting lined up. We use the phrase, 'snap and
clear', play the snap and clear it from your mind and get ready to
play the next. We've got to do a better job of that."
On Kenbrell Thompkins working with
the 1s at WR....
"Well, he's pushing and plus,
obviously with the absence now of Armon Binns, I said it from day
one--our receivers are pretty good, first team--it's our second
team that's our depth. We're continuing trying to find depth,
especially at that position."
Is Thompkins eligible yet?
"We're still waiting on word with his
Can anyone stop Walter Stewart?
"Walter's doing a great job and he's
another individual like Darrin Williams who gets better everyday.
He's a great individual. He's got great passion. He's got a great
hunger, he's got a great thirst to get better each and every day.
He's taking coaching and obviously, I think Steve Stripling's the
best defensive line in America. He's really taken with Steve. He's
teaching him and running with it."
remember wide receiver Marcus Barnett during his freshman season. You remember
thinking, after watching Barnett catch 62 passes for 862 yards and a
program-best 13 receiving touchdowns, that he was going to be a receiving star.
The second-team All-Big East status that season only confirmed those
was going to be the one to break all the UC receiving records.
two years have been perplexing for Barnett. He knows his talent is still there.
He knows he can return to his old habits of catching passes and scoring
touchdowns. But he needs another chance - to prove he can be the player coach
Butch Jones wants him to be on the field and to prove he can be the person
Jones wants him to be off the field.
work in progress," Jones said. "I'm excited, but as he'll tell you, there's
nowhere to hide in our program, from going to class to being on time for
treatments and meetings and being out early and working. He's done a good job
so far, but we're going to continue to drive him each and every day. He has a
lot of ability and we've seen that in the past."
Yes, we have.
two touchdown passes and gained 210 receiving yards vs. West Virginia in 2007. He recorded a
team-best 80-yard score against San
He caught 11 passes for 127 yards and three touchdowns at Syracuse. Plus, he threw for a 76-yard score
vs. South Florida.
Barnett, Mardy Gilyard and Dominick Goodman, that trio was going to be one of
the best receiving corps in Bearcats history. Then, Barnett disappeared. It was
clear former coach Brian Kelly and Barnett were on different wavelengths, and
he didn't have much impact his sophomore season, catching 30 passes for 277
yards and just one score.
Kelly and his staff decided to try something different last year. They decided
to move Barnett to cornerback.
look at it that it wasn't a good thing, because a new opportunity is always a
good thing," Barnett said. "I always looked at it as half-full. It was an
opportunity to display my talents on the other side of the ball, which so few
people get to do at this level. I looked at it as a blessing in disguise.
respected coach for doing that. He had trust in me on both sides of the ball.
Being a utility guy, you're going to have to move all around the offense and,
in my case, move to defense. I looked at that as a good thing."
the coaches moved him to the secondary last spring to help replace the lost
trio of Mike Mickens, DeAngelo Smith and Brandon Underwood. But before fall
practice began, he was switched back to offense. Then, with Dominique Battle
injured, Barnett started the Fresno State game at cornerback and performed
well, recording a couple tackles and breaking up a pass while participating in
75 plays on defense.
dalliance on defense didn't last long, though, and he moved back to receiver, finishing
the season with 10 catches for 95 yards.
two years were pretty confusing, going from offense to defense," Barnett said.
"It's a learning experience, a humbling experience. It was confusing and tough
and a mental challenge. Some people could have packed it up and left, but I'm
here to continue to do what the team needs to do."
mission: make a huge impact on offense - just like he managed his freshman
season. The stability of one man, one position should help.
question," Jones said. "Repping it over and over and over again and staying on
him, that will enable him to concentrate on one position. That will help him. I
expect him to be a great contributor. He's played a lot of football here. He's
a senior, and we expect him to be a great leader and set a great example as a
senior would. I have great expectations for him. Every day he knows my
expectations, because I tell him every day."
I'm at the point where every day counts, every rep counts, every catch counts,"
he said. "Everything is counted toward me and my aspirations of going to the
next level. I have to do everything possible within my means so I can help the
team out this year and hopefully take the next step toward the next level."
The Bearcats offensive line troops
went down one this week when projected preseason starter C.J. Cobb
broke his right ankle (since repaired by Dr. Angelo Colosimo). It's
frustrating news for the senior Cobb who has struggled to stay on the
field, but provides a possible opening for someone else.
"I heard about C.J. Cobb, it's
survival of the fittest out here," said fellow senior Sam
Griffin, who will most certainly man one of the tackle spots. It
also means a couple behemoths like Sean Hooey or Andre Cureton are
going to have to step in. Just like the guard competition has an
opening with Randy Martinez out.
It's not been one of the better
springs in terms of injuries. On the other hand, things happen for a
reason and maybe it's better to have some youngsters get reps now
than in August or September.
The other part of the equation
is...these practices have been more physical than past springs.
Certainly, from post-Dantonio years.
"It gets intense," said
Griffin. "This is as intense as it's been since I've been at the
University of Cincinnati. At least for spring ball. We might fight
in the middle of practice, but after, we're all love in the locker
room. I feel it's just bringing us together. It's bringing the
toughness out of us on both sides of the ball from what we're doing
in the trenches day to day. I would honestly say that. Not taking
anything from the past three years--this might be the toughest team
that played at the University of Cincinnati."
Well, that might ruffle some
feathers, but you can't argue with the idea. Based on the Orange
Bowl and Sugar Bowl losses, there was a level of physicality that was
missing. Coaches and players have admitted as much.
"That might have been," said
Griffin. "We always play hard, not matter what. Everyone on the
field loves to play. But, we will take it to another level this
And, that comes from a tackle
who's been molded to move vertically and pass-protect rather than just
grind guys forward for a run. Obviously, with UC's talented
receivers, you see a lot of four and sometimes five wide-out sets.
That doesn't mean the backs are out of the picture though if you saw
any of Central Michigan's games.
"We don't run that much in the
spread offense, but when we get the chance, we try to make sure it's
good," said Griffin. "Open some holes for Isaiah Pead."
A lot of times, the run plays
look that much more successful because the defense is sitting back
trying to stop the various downfield routes. Trust me, the big guys
pride themselves on rushing yards.
Also, even though they look big,
burly and mean, most of them are "teddy bears" off the field. Of
course, you don't mention to them while in uniform, but usually
offensive linemen are well-rounded kids and good interviews. That's
probably because they're often the "forgotten" ones to the naked
eye (but not to the coaches that see the gaping holes on video).
This year's O-line is no
"Whenever you're going to have
different personalities, it's going to be hard at first," said
Griffin. "But, we've matured over the years. We've come together.
We might me the most closest-knit group on the team."
When you spend so much time
together, it's natural for that to happen. Many of them came in as
somewhat scrawny (in terms of linemen) high school stars and they've
had to add (and share) beef together.
Sam Griffin can relate. He was
228 pounds fresh out of Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey. It's amazing
that he even played that first year. Like many, his proportions
have changed dramatically.
"I've gained close to 50
pounds since I've came here," said Griffin. "Jason Kelce
too--almost over that. It's all been good weight. If you look at
Andre Cureton, he's good where he's at, but he'd probably move
better and work better in our offense if he'd lose weight. Really,
it's about having good weight. C..J. Cobb, before he got injured, he
was up to 320 and got down to 300. It just helped him conditioning
wise and blocking in space."
Young man Sam knows of what he
speaks. He's humble and realistic, yet optimistic with the
confidence a senior should have. He stands in front of you sore and
beaten up, with a ripped jersey and a smile that says he enjoys every
moment of it.
planned to publish a notebook lede on C.J. Cobb and the job he's done so
far in spring practice, but then I got this today.
CJ Cobb Undergoes Successful Ankle Surgery
CINCINNATI - University
of Cincinnati senior
offensive lineman CJ Cobb underwent successful surgery to repair a broken right
ankle at University of Cincinnati Hospital Monday.
Angelo Colosimo, the Bearcats' team orthopedic surgeon, performed the operation.
injured during spring practice on Saturday, April 10, 2010. He will miss the
rest of the spring, but is expected to be ready when UC opens fall camp in August.
the story I would have published (and I guess I still am):
during practice, C.J. Cobb's running style could best be described as plodding.
During end-of-practice sprints or as he hustled to get off the practice field
following a repetition, the 315-pound Cobb was less swift than just about
anybody else on the Bearcats squad.
week, though, I noticed a different Cobb. True, nobody is going to mistake him
for a burner quite yet, but it was also evident that Cobb has been hard at work
transforming his body and dropping weight.
mindset of an offensive lineman who's entering his senior season, short on
gameday experience but long on desire to make sure he gets plenty of playing
time this season.
year was a weight issue," Cobb said. "But I have a new mindset. This is my last
year. This is the only chance I have to step up and give my teammates all I
have. This year, I want to be a leader. If that means me hustling more to get
off the field quicker, that's what I'll do. I'm going to hustle to get off my
block, I'm going to hustle to get to the ball carrier to help him get up. I'm
going to do all of it, because I want to give everything I've got to my team."
that by becoming, dare I say, svelte. He played last season at 315 pounds, and
because he wasn't sure what kind of offensive style the new coaching staff
would implement this season, he entered the spring at 323. He was told he
needed to lose weight to stay relevant in the spread offense, and at a practice
last week, he said he was down to 302 pounds.
299 after practice," Cobb said with a smile.
playing a new position and seems destined finally to earn a starting spot.
While he's flip-flopped between tackle and guard, the coaching staff has decided
that he's most definitely a tackle. He's needed to lose some of the weight
because he'll be counted on to move his feet more quickly and display more
athleticism while blocking opposing defensive ends.
ago, Cobb seemed ready to take the step toward earning a starting spot, but
midway through fall camp, he tore his ACL and lost his opportunity.
happens for a reason," Cobb said. "When I got hurt two years ago and I tore my
ACL, that's when I was beginning to feel good. I was told by the coaches that I
had cracked the starting lineup going into camp, but then I got hurt. I got
relegated to a backup position. Guys stepped up and stepped in there and kind
of took over. I was kind of put on the backburner. Obviously, I can't argue
with their success, because they did a great job. I've just waited for my
chance, and now that I'm getting it, I'm going to make the best of it."
coach Butch Jones' biggest projects this year is developing some depth on a
young defense after losing a number of starters to graduation.
thing is depth and learning how to play for an extended period of time and
learning how to play when you're tired," Jones said. "When you don't have
depth, you have to learn how to play when you're tired."
Jones says UC still doesn't have much depth at this point - "That's what we're
trying to develop each and every day," he said - the Bearcats have some young
players who received significant time last year and performed well. Guys like
Walter Stewart, John Hughes and J.K. Schaffer spring to mind.
have experience," Jones said. "They have to continue to build off that
experience and help the younger players trying to build depth and to compete.
They have to help along those same lines."
senior wide receiver Marcus Barnett his thoughts on the performance this spring
of the Bearcats offense. So far, he's not exactly satisfied.
doing OK," Barnett said. "To the outsiders, we might look good. But inside, we
know we're not where we need to be yet. But we're going to get there. Everybody
is working every day to get better."
Good news if you're a bearcat fan and/or a compassionate soul; Charges against former UC basketball star Steve Logan were dopped due to inconsistencies in the stories involving the allegations of his reported criminal act(s). Since the charges have been dropped I don't need to mention them.
I know he's breathing a sigh of relief and hopefully praising GOD for his freedom but what's next? How do you rebound from a situation that had you in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons? I know its stars with evaluating your life and your priorities. I don't know Steve personally, just from the years at UC, where he kept it close to the vest and with family. I get that but now that you are trying to rebuild trust and confidence among those who would employ you it is imperative that your circle steps up for you like the screens they set on those long jumpers.
Sadly one of my memories of Steve is that of he and his agent, allegedly, turning down the contract offer with Golden State because it wasn't guaranteed money (at the top of the second round) and subsequently he never got to display his talents in the NBA. The balls never seem to bounce his way after that and it culminated with these charges. But now that this is for the most part over with, let's hope he can share his talent with a coaching staff who can not only use his success on the court but his near tragedy off. So many star players have a feeling of invincibility and he can show them just how thin the line is, and he's young enough that they can relate.
I wish Steve Logan the best in rebounding from this situation. I hope the Bearcat faithful encourage and root for him the same way they did when he was making jumpers and winning games. He's due at least that; don't you think?
That's the way I see it sitting in The Box Seat...
(Former UC Offensive Line coach Larry Zierlein/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
not unusual to see familiar faces from days gone by at UC practices.
Particularly with Butch Jones emphasizing "family" in his current
regime. Everyone granted access to the field during practice is
considered "family" as the recruit credentials say as much.
credentials don't say that, but that's understood, it's kind of part
of the territory.
there's some that are recognized and accounted for, but don't
necessarily need credentials. These would be coaches, scouts that
stand out. One of those dropped by the other day and it was
delightful to see him.
the team on the radio crew for years allowed me close access to
players, coaches and gave me great insights on the UC football
program. I was privileged to know most UC coaches well, most of the
players and a lot of the parents and and followers. So, when I saw
the familiar white hair of former offensive line coach Larry
Zierlein, I was glad to see him back at "The Nipp". It had been
last year of coaching here was 2000," said Zierlein after a hearty
grin and handshake. "I really haven't been back since--I think
that spring after I left I came back to watch a spring training
practice. Outside of coming down for the offensive line clinic, this
is really the first time I've been back."
many UC coaches in his era, he went on to bigger and better things.
Larry Zierlein coached in the NFL for the Browns, Bills and Steelers.
However, as life often becomes a business, just one year after a
Super Bowl title in Pittsburgh, he was released as the line coach of
said it before and I'll say it again (and for now I'm living it)
sometimes bad things happen to good people. Coach Zierlein is just
another example of that (for now) and to me it appears he still has a
hunger and a gleem in his eye to be on a gridiron somewhere.
wanted to come out and just watch a little spring practice,"
Zierlein said. "I'm going to determine in a year from now--I'm at
retirement age now--I'm going to determine if I want to keep doing it
or just head to Texas hill country. My son's a head coach down
there. He might let me help him out, or he might not. Then, I have
another son down there who has a radio sports talk show. We're going
to decide in about a year from now if we're going to keep doing it or
guess is whether it's the pros, college or "Friday Night Lights"
in Texas, Larry Zierlein will be around some football. He's one of a
number of good offensive line coaches in that era of Bearcat football
(with more of a run emphasis) that is well known in coaching circles
(Bob Wylie--coached in NFL and Syracuse, Stacy Searles--LSU,Auburn,
Steve Shankweiler--here, East Carolina and there's probably guys and
or places I've left out).
that on to the numerous coaches at other positions who moved up,
including the three current NFL coaches (Mike Tomlin--former DB
coach, now HC of the Steelers, John Harbaugh--special teams--now HC
of the Ravens, and Rex Ryan--former DC--now HC of the Jets) and
you've got quite a "Coach's Cradle" in Corryville.
I don't know how many it is," said Zierlein. "You know, Rick
Minter used to get criticized a lot for staff turnover. But he was
meticulous in his hiring. He would go the extra mile before he hired
a guy. We had good coaches on this staff. A lot of guys have gone
onto what at that time were better jobs--although as UC has
progressed I don't think that some of these jobs that we might have
left for at that time can be considered better than what it is here.
Rick hired good guys. Everybody that I coached with--we all liked
coaching here. We all liked working with Rick."
those that have heard comments to the contrary about Minter, Rex Ryan
pretty much told me the same thing a year ago. Again, I maintain
someone should have given him a crack as a pro personnel guy because
he did know coaching and athletic talent. He also assembled a
pretty good cast of characters for Larry Zierlein to work with in the
know, it seems like there's has been quite a few," said Zierlein.
"We've always had good offensive linemen to work with. When I was
here, we had a great group of kids here led by Doug Rosfeld who's
coaching out at Moeller now. Teddy Forrest is out there with him.
We had a lot of local kids at that time, I think four out of my five
starters in the late 90s were all Cincinnati or Kentucky kids--Kurt
Doolin, Andy Weinheimer--I don't want to leave out anybody. We had
a lot of local kids and they were good players."
lineman blocked for Orlando Smith, Landon Smith and Darryl Royal in
the Humanitarian Bowl in '97, for Robert Cooper as UC upset #9
Wisconsin and Ron Dayne in '99 and for the "Mack and Jack" attack
of DeMarcus McCleskey and Ray Jackson in 2000 that went to the Motor
City Bowl. Many of those "road graters" went onto the NFL or
other careers in football, with Jason Fabini probably being the most
recognizable "pro talent".
Fabini," started Zierlein. "Fabini would probably be the best
and he played in the NFL for a long time. Joel Dolinski was a good
player, he's a head coach at Seton Hill over in Greensburg,
Pennsyvlania. Then that group I had in '99-2000, I forget the years
now, Rosfeld, Doolin, Weinheimer, "Ghost" (Josh Gardner) they
left UC for the pros himself, Zierlein found line-coaching at that
level at little different. Sure, talent is superior, but the
business aspect of the game comes into play and often affects coaches
that are left to "assemble parts".
you get a guy that comes in during the year and a week or two later
he's starting for you," said Zierlein. "Your techniques and
your slickness, I don't think in that league that the techniques are
as good as they are in college because you have such constant
astute observation by Zierlein, who to me, sounds like a guy that
misses the college game and still has a fire burning to "light a
fire" under some burly youngsters. When he coached here,
attendance could often hover around 15,000. He talked to me about
the Wisconsin game in '99, where attendance might have been in the
20s, but students were rushing in late as word got out that UC was
many that have returned and seen the facilities that have blossomed
since they left, Zierlein was in awe. He spent a lot of time just
trying to figure out where his office used to be in the old Shoemaker
Center facility. Amazing how a man can spend so many hours in an
office and then years later see that it's been transformed into
something majestic like the Lindner Center.
been amazed at what the campus looks like now," marveled Zierlein.
"The athletic facility is unbelievable."
building inside is even better thanks to some of the early "blocks"
led by the likes of Larry Zierlein and others.
"Oh, I think it had an effect. A lot
of times, when you run a no-huddle system--survival of the
fittest--these kids line up and play fast and they rely too much on
the verbalizations and not the hand signals. Obviously today, piping
in the crowd noise, you couldn't hear anything. It made us go back
to the roots of the offense which is all hand signals--different
signals and seeing who's live and who's not live. I thought it was a
great, great teaching point and a great learning lesson. We've got
to get better on offense, plain and simple. We've got to get better
as a football team each and every day. We're nowhere (near) where we
need to be, we're nowhere where we should be. That's what spring
football's for and we'll continue to strive to get better."
Offense improved as day went, but
early on was sloppy....
"Real sloppy for our liking and for
our expectations of handing the ball to the officials and the overall
efficiency of operating the offense."
On several fumbles during the
"We're going to pride ourselves in
taking care of the football. We're going to get those things
Any movement on the depth chart
between 1s and 2s?
"We'll sit down as a staff and we'll
grade each and every player. Tremendous, tremendous teaching occurred
with all the situation football that we exposed our players to and
then obviously we're seeing who we can win with in the fall. This is
a great gage and I'll know more once I watch the film."
On the defense's dominance on the
"Well, I thought we got after it.
(There's) still a long way to go. The one individual that really
sticks out there right now who's added another level to our defense
is Walter Stewart. I think you see that with him coming off the
edge. I'm real pleased with him--he's got to continue to learn the
'Leo' position--very excited with the progress he's making right
On having Dominique Battle square
off with Vidal Hazelton in practice....
"It's more the situations and the
schemes than anything else."
What does Vidal Hazelton bring to
the receiving corps?
"Well, he's got to pick it up. He'll
be the first to tell you in terms of being in shape to run the
offense, the nuances, the whole group (needs to ). I know he's got
great expectations for himself, but he's still going through a
learning process of learning how to play fast, and getting lined up,
and being in receiver shape, and getting through the next play and
snapping clear if something happens. I'm excited about him because I
know he's hungry. I know he's passionate and he wants to do it, but
we've got a long, long way to go and he's far from being crowned
anything or earning a starting spot."
Does he have and advantage having
been here for a year?
"No. He was here for a year, but he
ran scout team. It's easy just to run scout team--look at a card
and run deep and we'll throw you the football. It's different when
you do an offense and you've got to know down and distance and you've
got to get lined up and you've got to know route conversions and
techniques and all those things. It's a big difference."
No doubt, because of the Lance Stephenson news of the hour, Wednesday's practice didn't have it's usual array of reporters. So, my due diligence of the day is to provide you with full Butch access.....
On today's effort....
"I liked our tempo, we've got to pick
it up though. I really like the mentality right now that our defense
has. Right now, offensively, we're still not executing the way we
need to. We have way too much talent on offense right now, with it
being practice #7, to not be executing more. That's going to be a
point of emphasis again. I'm not real happy where our offense is
right now. That's what usually happens in spring football, the
defense is usually ahead of the offense, but we've got to step it
OL Jason Kelce trying to rally the
offense today (verbally) looking for that?
"No question. Jason's a very
passionate individual and he takes great pride in everything that he
does. Most teams that win have peer pressure and they don't want to
let each other down. One of our goals this spring is to develop our
leadership, who's going to be our leaders? It's our job to teach
them leadership qualities but we're also looking where our leaders
are. I expect to see leaders step up. Jason's an individual who's
been through a lot, he's been very successful in this program and
he's paid his dues."
On how individual competitions make
"That's why we compete on each and
every play and that's why we end practice as coming together as a
team because we are one. But, when you compete on every snap on both
sides of the ball, that makes you a better football team."
Trying to make statement with more
"Well, I think our philosophy as a
coaching staff and it's our program philosophy. I don't think it has
anything to do with what's gone on in the past, it's the way we
conduct our business. That's the way we're going to play and those
are our demands and those are our expectations."
Halfway point...good and bad....
"I think we're still learning how to
practice. When I say learn how to practice--how we track the ball
in a 'tag' situation, how we tackle, how we block on the perimeter,
how we run the football--so we're still going through that process.
I think our players came out here on back-to-back days and the 'want'
is there. Now, it comes down to they've got to do a better job of
executing our schemes, the finite details that it takes--the proper
route technique, the pass 'pro' technique, being able to rush the
passer--all those different things that continue to be a work in
Grading how team has taken to the
"It's an ongoing process, but I would
say an 'A'. We're still learning each other, we're still learning
each and every day. But, I think what they should find out is that
we care for them both on and off the field. We're very passionate
in what we do. We're very fair and we're going to demand excellence.
We're going to demand greatness on every snap. I think our players
are showing that they want to please by their academic progress and
by the way they're practicing, so I've been extremely happy to date."
Intense red-zone drill today...point
"No question. It's a mentality.
You've got to live that mentality everyday, it's a way of life.
Obviously, coaching is correcting but also you need to point out the
good too and you want to reward the performance that you want. There
was a number of times where finally our tight ends started blocking
the way we want them too."
Number of yellow jerseys...tough to
prevent...training staff always keeps them busy....
"There's something to always do to
get better and rehab your injuries and a couple of them are hamstring
pulls and we need to get them back."
Is it not also a little 'incentive'
to try to get them back quicker on the field?
"Well, there's a difference between
being injured and being hurt. Sometimes, you've got to push through
some other things. Some things you've got to be smart and each
individual has his own circumstances."
what Butch Jones said today after practice, and I'm guessing the college
football career of Demetrius Jones (a former four-star recruit) is now over.
This is what Butch Jones told me today when I asked him Demetrius Jones'
certain standards and expectations within our football program," Butch Jones
said. "It stems from going to class and doing the right things. That's first
and foremost the way our program is going to be run."
was off the field issues, then?
multitude of things," Butch Jones said. "We have certain standards and
expectations, and he has not been with us for a while."
the Enquirer reported that Butch Jones, who would have been a redshirt senior, said that Demetrius Jones has decided to
leave the program.
a strange journey for Demetrius Jones, who was Notre Dame's starting quarter
three seasons ago before coach Charlie Weis pulled him in favor of Jimmy
Clausen. Jones then transferred to UC (after a short stop-over at Northern Illinois) where he underwent surgery before becoming
a non-entity in 2008 as the Bearcats fifth-string quarterback. Last year, Brian
Kelly moved him to linebacker, and he fared decently there, starting four of 10
games played, making 36 tackles (five for a loss), one interception and one
other Bearcats news, Jones said that sophomore wide receiver Danny Milligan broke his hand during
practice today. And apparently Tommy G's beard is here to stay for a while. I asked
place-kicker Jake Rogers what he thought of Tommy's facial hair. "It's furry," Rogers replied before
voluntary workouts around the NFL have begun, and when Connor Barwin returns to
begin the second season of his career with the Texans, he'll be thrilled about
one new aspect of his life.
excited," he said, "to not be a rookie any more."
being a rookie was bad for Barwin. Although he didn't earn much playing time
early in the season, he slowly caught on and ended up leading all rookie
defensive linemen (including the three who were picked in the first round) with
4 Â½ sacks and finished third overall among first-year players.
you know Barwin, you know how extraverted the guy can be, how big his
personality can shine. That's not a great personality trait for a rookie to
showcase in the NFL. That's why he's excited to move on from his rookie season.
At least he can voice his opinion every once in a while.
first year for me, I kind of stepped back and watched and tried to learn how
things are done," he said. "In your second year, you can be yourself more and
do more things how you want to do it. You have a small voice, but it's still a voice
in the locker room or in your position meeting. As a rookie, you can't say
anything. You can't do anything. You just watch and learn. I'm excited to take
that next step."
rookie season for Barwin was also tough because he expected so much more out of
himself. His stats, he said, were fine. His performances were adequate. But it
didn't go quite as well as he expected or as he wanted. That was a tough blow
Texans clearly were pleased with Barwin's performance, and they plan to make
even better use of him this season.
extremely impressed," Texans defensive coordinator Frank Bush told the team's
official Web site."The kid didn't have a whole lot of defensive
experience, but he had a lot of talent. He's a guy that can run. He's got
somewhat of a knack for the pass rush; he's a little bit slippery. I think he
was able to excel because he understood exactly what he was and exactly what
his positives and his negatives were."
this season is to enhance the positives and improve the negatives.
"It was a
lot like the transition from high school to college," Barwin said. "You get out
there and you're playing with guys who are bigger and faster, but in your head,
you know you can play. You kind of play tentative at first, but then you just
adjust. The second half of the season, I was playing a lot more comfortable and
you're playing a lot better. That's what happened.
by far the most I've ever been challenged. Being a second-round draft pick,
you're expected to do good things. I had a coach who was one of the most
challenging coaches in my career. It's hard, and I told this to Craig Carey: if
you're going to make it next year, you're going to have to be mentally tough.
The mental aspect of something like that, you really can't prepare yourself for
it. That's a lot different than college football."
I happened down to the Westin Hotel early today in preparation for my meeting with our travel industry's Regional Tourism Network in conjunction with the Cincinnati Reds opening day; and If you're not from here Google it and save me the pleasure of your jealousy. It is a tradition way beyond out-of-towners comprehension. But I was made aware of another event involving military personnel who were at a breakfast where Ken Griffey Sr. and Hall of Famer, and all around good guy Anthony Munoz were speaking and in attendance as well.
And so were Mick Cronin and Butch Jones from the University of Cincinnati. I was aware but not intimidated by their security guard and assistant athletic director Mike Waddell as well but it had me thinking how cool it was to see both these coaches in support of our troops first thing in the morning. I'm sure some may not be impressed and you shouldn't be but what you should be is proud Cincinnati alumni because neither had an obligation to be there and who could blame them for being at work with their respective challenges, one replacing his mentor and icon while the other works to continue moving his program back to the Bearcats desired NCAA tournament position.
I often think coaches and athletes are in a unique situation. These coaches went because it was the right thing to do and to offer support of those who probably followed UC while at war. They say sports help take your mind off things when you're thousands of miles from campus and UC has lots to embrace no matter how you look at it. But the uniqueness is that if they promote they're going to be somewhere, people think you are grandstanding; if you don't people don't know, and say you don't care because they aren't aware. Which road would you choose? I think both coaches chose the latter and let the naysayer's make fools of themselves spewing conjecture without facts. College's coaches of today face more pressure than ever before courtesy of money minded alums who like to dangle (pledge) dollars in the face of decision makers. And believe you me they are all eyes and ears "evaluating" how well a coach does their job based on their personal assessment and, if they see them at multiple events and their record isn't superlative, then maybe they aren't doing their job. I am adding some conjecture but I have some facts in my pocket that support my claim, and as my former pastor would say "I know that doesn't apply to anyone here."
Let's simply give props to coaches and players alike who fly under the radar to give and do in the community as part of their commitment to Cincinnati. Whether or not they promote it or you see them is irrelevant; Its about being part of something bigger than yourself and bigger than your team. Spending time today with troops, many who have lost limbs, is as big as it gets. Thanks to all the coaches and players who did just that this morning and any other time they stopped working to get out in our community. As I say "Those that know, know; those that don't know don't need to."
That's the way I see it, sitting in The Box Seat...
Now that the career of Stephanie Stevens has come to a close, it is time for the Bearcats women's basketball program to seriously consider retiring number 34. Prior to Stevens donning 3-4 for four seasons at UC, the number belonged to Valerie King, one of the most decorated Bearcats ever to play for the women's basketball program here at UC.
For women's basketball, there is only one number retired. That is #24 and belonged to Cheryl Cook, who was without question the greatest Bearcat to play in Clifton. Cook is the Bearcats all-time leading scorer, made more field goals in her career than any other player, is 7th all-time in rebounds with 688 and 5th all-time in assists with 360. There is no question #24 deserved to hang inside Fifth Third Arena. Now it is time for #34 to join #24.
Over the course of her career, Valerie King played as many games as any other Bearcats (126) and is 2nd all-time in minutes played (4,200). Besides Cook, she is the only other Bearcat to eclipse 2,000 career points, finishing with 2,156. All-time she is 4th in scoring average (17.1 PPG), 1st in 3-point field goals made (338), 1st in 3-point field goal percentage (.399), 3rd in free throws made (440) and 1st in free throw percentage (.866).
Additionally, Val was a 2002 honorable mention All-American, three-time All-Conference USA, a member of the 2001 Conference USA All-Freshman team, twice the C-USA Tournament MVP and a four-time member of the C-USA All-Tournament Team.
Currently, Val is an assistant coach at Morehead State, where she is on the staff of former Bearcats assistant, Mike Bradbury. Maybe the Bearcats can schedule the Eagles for next fall, welcome #34 back to Fifth Third Arena and give her the honor she very much deserves.
(Photo from the Oregonian/UC-Oregon State/Dancing With The Stars Partners Ben Guidugli and Mardy Gilyard)
For those that have followed the
program, you may feel old when you find out the SECOND Guidugli to
play at UC is finally a senior this season.
Ben Guidugli came to the Bearcats
as a Mark Dantonio recruit from Highlands with the difficult task of
establishing his own identity at a school where his older brother,
Gino was a record-setting quarterback. Ben wasn't as tall as Gino,
and he didn't play quarterback.
He could pound weights though and
catch a football. Although he made contributions in all of his
playing years, he came into his own last season in Brian Kelly's
offense, unseating Kazzeem Alli as starter. The fastbreak style fit
Guidugli who put his 6-foot, 237-pound frame into the endzone enough
to separate himself from just being "Gino's brother".
Now, it's coach #3 for Ben, and
another style that should favor #19.
"Coach Jones, he's definitely
up-tempo," said Guidugli. "He also stresses toughness at the
same time. The tempo is fast as it was before, maybe faster actually
and then he stresses toughness. (It's) a little different kind of
attitude when we take the field with Coach Jones."
Toughness fits Ben Guidugli.
He's got a little "swagger" in him as you may have noticed after
a big play. He's done his work in the weight room and he doesn't
mind walking around in his Under Armour (or without it) to show you.
However, I've never found him
arrogant or impolite. Sure, on the field, he wants to rip your head
off, but to me, he's still the shy, little guy I'd see with the rest
of his family as I often interviewed his brother on the field at
A lot's changed since then. Ben
now gets surrounded by microphones and Ben now is a major contributor
to a pair of teams that have made history by playing in the Orange
and Sugar Bowls. Ben is now a part of what could be the most potent
Bearcat offense ever.
But, it's early....
"We're still installing, so
everybody's learning." said Guidugli. "Everybody's got to learn
to be patient. I'm sure the coaching staff will find the right ways
to get guys in position to make plays. Obviously, there's lots of
playmakers on offense."
Make no mistake, Ben Guidugli
is one of those.
Some speculated that Guidugli
might make a position move, both publicly and online. Coach Butch
Jones would hear none of it, he wants #19 handling the football.
"I was up for it," said
Guidugli grinning. "I asked him when he first got here, 'If the
defense needs help I can definitely play linebacker, I feel like I've
got the skills. He told me he wanted me on offense.'"
Argument settled. Plus,
cameras tend to find the dude with the ball.
"Catching touchdowns and
getting first downs is definitely more fun," said Guidugli who
would entertain going "both ways, Chuck Bednarik-style".
"I would, I would love to
do that," said Guidugli. "Put me in coverage, blitz me. I
could definitely do it if he wanted to go that route."
These days, all routes are
good for Ben Guidugli. He's shaken the shadow of Gino, whose #8 is
honored on the Shank Pavilion portion of Nippert. He's fortunate to
come from a talented family as Dave and Sherry have four college
football players in the family. Son #2, Jeff, played receiver at
Southwestern Louisiana and #4 ,Tony, is a junior college quarterback.
But, I may have found the
Guidugli of the future in a pigeon-toed, curly-haired youngster that
was hustling after footballs with great zest on this sunny afternoon.
This would be Ben
In terms of "bloodlines",
it'll be tough for some to compete in 2027 with a youngster whose
father was a Bearcat starting tight end and whose mother was a
starting UC point guard (5-7 Carla Jacobs of Jamelle Elliot's squad).
Personally, I was shocked that Ben Jr. wasn't given a recruit
credential to wear along with the rest of the prospects on hand.
"Man...17 years... I'm sure
he'll be getting calls," said a proud Papa Guidugli (the younger
one). "Touchdown and football are his favorite words. 15 months
I saw it. He couldn't keep
his hands off the pigskin. Write it down.
Hopefully, I'll be writing
more on the young man in whatever form media comes in by the late
So, watching the NCAA Tournament can be a good way to measure where your team is relative to being a postseason contender.
Whether you want to compare UC's basketball team to Northern Iowa and Butler or Michigan State and West Virginia, there are lessons to be learned from teams who have put on an amazing show over the past few weeks.
What that in mind, here is a wish list of sorts for the 2010-11 Bearcats:
1.Find/recruit/develop a designated 3-point shooter or two (or three). I think about guys like Field Williams, Darnell Burton, LaZelle Durden - players who will nail a wide-open 3 a high percentage of the time. How many teams advanced in the NCAA when a reliable outside shooter hit a clutch shot in the final seconds? If you can't hit them regularly, you're unlikely to sink them when it counts most.I thought maybe Larry Davis or Darnell Wilks could be that player last season. They weren't. If I were them, I'd be shooting 1,000 3-pointers a day. At least. UC needs someone with the mental makeup of an Ali Farokhmanesh (See Northern Iowa over Kansas).
2.Bring in a team psychologist and a shot doctor to help with free-throw shooting. The end of so many games comes down to fouling and free-throw shooting. Anyone think any of the Bearcats would sink three straight free throws at the end of a game like Terrell Holloway did for Xavier with five seconds left at the end of regulation against Kansas State? Not me.
3.I once covered a coach whose goal for this team was to "play harder longer" than any opponent. We've watched teams compete at an unbelievable level during the NCAA Tournament - and several NIT games (the Dayton Flyers come to mind). They may kick it up a notch during the postseason, but these are teams that are accustomed to playing and competing with that kind of intensity throughout the season. That's how you get to the NCAA - you can't just turn it on and off. After watching the Bearcats in the Big East tournament, how could you not help thinking: What if they played that hard every game all season?
4.There have got to be a few bread-and-butter plays a team can use when it's going lengthy periods without scoring - kind of like a stopper in a baseball team's rotation who can halt a losing streak. I have not seen many teams over the years regularly go 7, 8, 9 minutes without scoring like this past season's UC team. Somebody has to be able to design a few go-to plays that prevent those kinds of droughts.
5.While I appreciate that there were a lot of capable players on this year's team, it did not seem like natural roles developed for each guy. It was hard to point to the best player to run the offense, the best on the fast break, the defensive stopper, the spot-up shooter, the relentless rebounder. So many guys played different roles every night that I am not sure whether they found a rhythm in their roles.
I have been fortunate enough to cover some great head coaches and former assistants who are now head coaches: Gene Keady, Skip Prosser, Bob Huggins, Bruce Weber, Kevin Stallings, Steve Lavin, Dino Gaudio, not to mention Mick Cronin and Chris Mack. I would never claim to know more about basketball than any of these guys.
Just sharing some thoughts I've had while watching this fabulous NCAA Tournament. Hope the Bearcat players are watching, too.
At the beginning
of every spring, former Bearcats football players line up in the weight room
and proceed through the assembly line. They're weighed. They're measured.
They're watched as they pump out bench press after bench press. They're timed
as they sprint the 40-yard dash.
they have virtually no shot at landing a spot in the NFL, most of the former
senior class takes a chance and try to impress the pro scouts during UC's
annual pro day.
one notable exception this year. Andre Revels, who led the team in tackles with
109 last season, was not in attendance. Perhaps this shouldn't have been a huge
surprise, because, if you know Revels, you know he's cerebral and mature beyond
his years. The reason he wasn't at pro day was simple - he's done with
football. Plain and simple.
has been more like a vehicle to be able to get my college education," Revels
said as we watched a recent Bearcats spring practice. "That was the main reason
I came to the University
of Cincinnati - to stay
close to my family and to get my bachelor's degree. It wasn't really a dream of
mine to play in the NFL. Also, with the knee injuries it brings up that there
are more important things in life than football. That will come around when I
have kids and I have a family and I want to run around and play with them and
not to have walk around with a cane. Even if I had a couple million dollars in
the bank, you can't buy health."
Revels is now trying to promote it. He's working for Northwestern Mutual,
selling life insurance, annuities and long-term care. This also shouldn't come
as a surprise. Revels is a smooth talker, a guy who wants to take care of you
and your family. He's soft-spoken and intelligent. It's hard not to like him
immediately, and that should make him effective in his vocation. You look at
him, and you know Revels is going to be a success.
with people my age, I'm trying to open their eyes to the things that my eyes
have just been opened to," Revels said. "That way, they can better prepared for
the future. You don't want your family to be stuck holding the bag at the end
of the day. You want to take care of the people who took care of you."
says this, he's thinking of his mother, Andrea Revels. Since Revels didn't grow
up with a father, his mother is the most important person in his life. Growing
up, he watched her sacrifice while working two jobs to give Revels everything
he needed to be successful.
one of the driving forces in his life, and because of her example, he wants to
make that his life's work.
to be able to give my family - when that time comes around - the best
opportunity to succeed and to be there for my kids," Revels said. "My father
wasn't there for me, but I'm going to be a father for my kids."
wasn't a decision he took lightly. He had thought about his plans as the 2009
season - and his career - wound to a finish. He got to appreciate his final
games in uniform, because he knew he was moving on to a better, healthier life.
playing off one leg and doing things I shouldn't have to do to play football,"
Revels said. "But you make the sacrifices for the team. You don't really think
about it because you're so into the team and the game and the tremendous run we
had. You don't really worry about it. Now that I can look back on it, I think
it was the best decision. I could have sat out, saved the knee, went to the NFL
and made money. But that's selfish. I have no regrets about what I've done.
me and the team, we had a lot of success and a lot of people felt like the NFL
was an obvious decision. One of my friends laughs and says I'm the only person
in the recession who's not trying to play in the NFL. It's kind of true, but
there are a lot of other ways to make money outside of football. The most
important thing is the future and thinking about my family."