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.