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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.

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