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April 2010 Archives

Mike Windt begins his new career

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I walked 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.

 

For 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 hometown team.

 

For 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 in 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 option.

 

"They might 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."

 

Windt 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.

 

"You 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."

 

There are 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.

 

"Coach 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.

 

"(With 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:


"Mike's 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."

Woods looking to keep starting spot

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There are 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.

 

Vidal 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.

 

D.J. 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.

 

No, Woods 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.

 

It's 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.

 

"D.J. 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."

 

What 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."

 

For Woods, it's a matter of practicing his craft every chance he gets.

 

"We do 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."

 

The technique, Woods said, is an important part of his game that he's continued to improve.

 

"The 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."

 

That 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.

 

"None of 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."

THIS D.J. ROCKS

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dj woods.jpg
(picture courtesy espn.com)

     

     (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 Vidal Hazelton.


     "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 games."


     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 downright scary.


     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.




DJ's Out Of The Woods

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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.

That's the way I see it sitting in The Box Seat

Gilyard finally goes

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The 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.

 

Mardy 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.

 

Thursday's 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.

 

With the 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?

 

"I'm about to go crabbing," he said.

 

Oh. Sure, 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."

 

Gilyard 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.

 

But he had to wait a while during the Draft.

 

"He's not 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."

 

One positive in Gilyard's favor, though, is his ability to excel on special teams.

 

"That was 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."

 

Now, 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.

 

"I'm just 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."

ANSWERS FROM BUTCH BOWL

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On the game...


"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 results....


"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 good job."


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 to improve."


What about the addition of Hazelton and Thompkins?


"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 things again."

Bearcats Bowl IV LIVE blog

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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)


Finally for Gilyard

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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.

Seriously, we're going to miss that guy.

DAVIS CENTER OF ATTENTION

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      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 Kelce."

      There's a reason Wolfe and Davis are often present at the house. It has something to do with culinary talents.

      "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 Cincinnati."

TUESDAY WITH BUTCH

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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."

Stewart accepts a new role

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At first, 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.

 

The 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.

 

Butch 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.

 

That's 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.

 

"I've got to be around it," Stewart said.

 

As a 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.

 

"I'm 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."

 

It's more 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.

 

He'll 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.

 

"I'm 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.

 

"They definitely put a lot of trust in me. I take my responsibilities real seriously. I do what I'm coached to do."

 

Stewart, 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.

 

"As the 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."

Represent The Si!

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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

Ésa es la manera que la veo...sitting in The Box Seat

PIKE'S PLANS

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(Tony Pike courtesy of sportsillustrated.cnn.com)



      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 volume.

      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 Jefferson Avenue.

      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 a query....

      "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 nights.

      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 come.


Time to help Jamelle Support a Great Cause

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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.   

WalkMS.gifIf 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.

Getting close to the end

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With only 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.

 

He's not satisfied. Not even close.

 

"No, I 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."

 

As was 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."

 

Jones isn't the only one who's been left a bit unsatisfied. So have some of his players.

 

"We still 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."

That's to 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.

 

"The 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."

 

And they're trying to understand why they're doing so, as well.

 

Said 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."

 

--UC 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.

 

He played in five games last season, catching three passes for 50 yards.

 

--It's 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.

 

And that's 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.

 

That 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.

 

Throughout 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.

 

On 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 me.

 

Actually, he didn't need to do that. If he hadn't, I never would have thought twice about it.

 

But he called. And I'm glad he did.

 

No matter 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.

JONES'IN FOR A LOOK

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      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 others.

"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 here).

      "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" characters.

      "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.



MAKING THEM MISS

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      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 plays.

      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 responded.

      "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 concoct.


JONES ON THE HEAT OF THE BATTLE

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(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 Williams?


"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 Williams....


"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 altercations?


"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 appeal."


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."


Barnett back on offense and comfortable

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You 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 suspicions.

 

Barnett was going to be the one to break all the UC receiving records.

 

And then, he wasn't.

 

The past 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.

 

"It's a 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.

 

He caught two touchdown passes and gained 210 receiving yards vs. West Virginia in 2007. He recorded a team-best 80-yard score against San Diego State. He caught 11 passes for 127 yards and three touchdowns at Syracuse. Plus, he threw for a 76-yard score vs. South Florida.

 

Between 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.

 

Then, Kelly and his staff decided to try something different last year. They decided to move Barnett to cornerback.

 

"I didn't 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.

 

"I 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."

 

Originally, 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.

 

His dalliance on defense didn't last long, though, and he moved back to receiver, finishing the season with 10 catches for 95 yards.

 

"The last 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."

 

His new mission: make a huge impact on offense - just like he managed his freshman season. The stability of one man, one position should help.

 

"No 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."

 

Barnett has responded.

 

"Mindset-wise, 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."

SAM HE IS

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      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 year."

      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 different.

      "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.



Cobb making changes

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I had 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.

 

Football's 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.

 

Dr. Angelo Colosimo, the Bearcats' team orthopedic surgeon, performed the operation.

 

Cobb was 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.

 

Here's the story I would have published (and I guess I still am):

 

Last year 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.

 

Last 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.

 

It's the 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.

 

"Last 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."

He's done 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.

 

"Probably 299 after practice," Cobb said with a smile.

 

He's also 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.

 

Two years 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.

 

"Everything 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."

 

--One of coach Butch Jones' biggest projects this year is developing some depth on a young defense after losing a number of starters to graduation.

 

"The big 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."

 

While 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.

 

"They do 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."

 

--I asked senior wide receiver Marcus Barnett his thoughts on the performance this spring of the Bearcats offense. So far, he's not exactly satisfied.

 

"Everybody's 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."

LOGANS RUN

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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...

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DECADE MAKES

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(Former UC Offensive Line coach Larry Zierlein/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

      It's 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.

      Media credentials don't say that, but that's understood, it's kind of part of the territory.

      Then, 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.

      Covering 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 awhile.

      "My 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."

      Like 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 the Steelers.

      I've 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.

      "I 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 not."

      My 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).

      Tack 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.

      "Yeah, 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."

      For 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 late 90s.

      "You 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."

      Those 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".

      "Yeah, 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 were good."

      Having 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".

      "Sometimes 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 turnover."

      An 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 winning.

      Like 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.

      "I've been amazed at what the campus looks like now," marveled Zierlein. "The athletic facility is unbelievable."

      The building inside is even better thanks to some of the early "blocks" led by the likes of Larry Zierlein and others.

NOISY NIPPERT SATURDAY

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Effect of the crowd noise today?


"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 day....


"We're going to pride ourselves in taking care of the football. We're going to get those things corrected."


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 scoreboard Saturday....


"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 now."


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."

KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES'

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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 up."


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 you better....


"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 physical practices?


"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 progress."


Grading how team has taken to the new staff....


"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 of emphasis?


"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."


Demetrius Jones apparently won't be back

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That's 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' status.

 

"We have 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."

 

So, it was off the field issues, then?

"It's a multitude of things," Butch Jones said. "We have certain standards and expectations, and he has not been with us for a while."

 

Later, the Enquirer reported that Butch Jones, who would have been a redshirt senior, said that Demetrius Jones has decided to leave the program.

 

It's been 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 forced fumble.

 

--In 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 moving on.

 

Barwin gearing up for second season

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The voluntary workouts around the NFL have begun, and when Connor Barwin returns to Houston to begin the second season of his career with the Texans, he'll be thrilled about one new aspect of his life.

 

"I'm just excited," he said, "to not be a rookie any more."

 

Not that 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 ½ sacks and finished third overall among first-year players.

 

But if 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.

 

"The 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."

 

The 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 for him.

 

But the Texans clearly were pleased with Barwin's performance, and they plan to make even better use of him this season.

 

"We were 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."

 

The plan 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.

 

"It was 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."

Community Coaches

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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...

 

Time to Consider Hanging up #34

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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.VKing-Action1-001.jpg

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.

THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT (AND YOUNG)

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(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 Nippert.

      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 Guidugli...JR!

      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 old."

      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 2020s.


NCAA teams provide benchmark for Bearcats

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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.

A new direction for Revels

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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.

 

Even if 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.

 

There was 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.

 

"Football 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."

 

Instead, 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.

 

"Especially 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."

When he 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.

 

She is one of the driving forces in his life, and because of her example, he wants to make that his life's work.

 

"I want 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."

 

This 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.

 

"I was 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.

 

"Obviously, 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."