This is the first in a series of looks at the 2010 UC football roster through the eyes of its position coaches. It opens with a glimpse at the wide receivers with WR coach T.J. Weist.
Weist, a 22-year coaching veteran, is in his first year with UC after spending the past eight years mentoring receivers at Western Kentucky.
Summer two-deep: Starters - Armon Binns, Sr., Vidal Hazelton, Sr., D.J. Woods, Jr., Marcus Barnett, Sr., Reserves - Kenbrell Thompkins, Jr., O.J. Woodard, Jr., Jamar Howard, Sr., Danny Milligan, Soph.
Freshmen: Dyjuan Lewis, Anthony McClung, Montreal Robinson
Outlook: This could arguably be the deepest position on the Bearcats roster. Binns and Woods both put up big numbers last season and USC transfer Vidal Hazelton has looked as good if not better than anybody during his practices in the spring. Injuries wouldn't set this group back, however, with players like JuCo transfer Kenbrell Thompkins and highly-touted freshman Dyjuan Lewis lurking behind, there is talent abound.
Biggest Question: Is it fair to place the pressure of being the No. 1 guy on Armon Binns and will there be enough footballs to go around for this dynamic group?
Weist: "It is kind of unfair, we are not really focused on who is our No.1, who is our No.2 because we feel like our offense can spread the ball around fairly evenly and we have a lot of talent. So it is not like we are going in saying we are going to get this many balls or plays or catches to this guy and this guy and this guy. That kind of develops naturally as you go during the season. Obviously, Mardy (Gilyard) was the No. 1 guy last year with the most catches, but with as much talent as we have and everybody working hard this summer it is hard to say who is going to end up being the top guys from that standpoint.
"You want the receivers to want the football, if they don't want the football then it is a problem. We are going to have to deal with that. We are not in the business of making people happy. We are in the business of winning football games...I would love for everybody to catch 100 footballs this year. Is it going to be possible? No. But I can't tell you who our top guys are going to be in terms of producing. We plan on spreading the ball around a lot not to just one guy or two guys."
Worth noting: Weist on how this year's group will look in comparison to last year's receivers that worked the edges at Nippert Stadium.
"Last year...they almost always had a tight end in the game, we will go a little bit more four wide receivers," he said. "We will still use the tight end a lot in a lot of formations. We probably will use more formations. It will be a very similar tempo because they had a very fast tempo. We can be faster, but I think our guys are excited about that. The variety of our offense from a formation standpoint, from a play standpoint, we probably are more balanced. It is hard to say watching film, I didn't study Cincinnati's offense all that much. You look at what the receivers did, they were productive with Mardy, D.J. and Armon, they were all productive and we are looking to get more out of them this year."
THE TOP TIER
Tangibles: 6-4, 200 pounds, Sr.
Last year: 61 receptions, 888 yards, 11 touchdowns
Strengths: "He won some ballgames with big catches in clutch situations," Weist said. "It is hard to teach that. He's got experience, game-experience, clutch play-making experience. That is something really hard to teach. You don't get those scenarios in practice or spring ball, something like that...He gives us a guy that has respect because of the play that he made last year and gives us leadership from that point."
Next level improvement: "Probably just being a complete package player; a guy that plays fast all the time and is consistent in his play-making ability. You go to the next level and everything is so fast. It's much different than a college game. From that standpoint, all these guys are going to have to realize that."
PDJ Projection: Last season, Binns showed a flair for the dramatic and ability for the NFL. He was rated among the top five returning senior receivers in the country by Mel Kiper. With Hazelton, Woods and the threat of a running game to keep the defense from keying on him, he should be the top receiver on this team.
Tangibles: 6-2, 210, Sr.
Last year: Sat out transfer season; 2008 injury, 2007 had 50 receptions, 540 yards, 4 touchdowns at USC.
Strengths: "Very similar to Armon, just play-making ability," Weist said. "He has great awareness of playing the position, a natural feel to run routes and get open and make big catches in clutch situations. He has experience, even though it has been a couple years. He gets respect because of the success he had at USC in big ballgames and bowl games. Things like that. He has that experience. It's just the things he has done on the field, how hard he has worked."
Next level improvement: "Just a matter of him getting back on the field, in play-making mode and getting in the groove, getting in game shape. It has been so long since he really played and gone out on the field and competed. He is so hungry to do that, that is really what it comes down to. He had a good spring and a good summer, now he is ready to play."
PDJ Projection: Hazelton is almost a Binns clone with his size and play-making ability. Making defenses decide whether to cover him or Binns with their top DB will be a difficult choice. He should be neck and neck with Binns for the most yards and touchdowns.
Tangibles: 6-0, 175 pounds, Jr.
Last year: 51 receptions, 640 yards, 4 TDs
Strengths: "He has a great natural feel for playing the inside receiver position," Weist said. "He takes a lot of pride in running his routes sharp. He can make clutch catches down the middle. He knows what to do with the football, once he catches it he gets north. He's got a keen playmaking ability that is hard to teach. Plus, he's in great shape."
Next level improvement: "More about route technique than anything. Defining his routes, making him show the DB that he is going deep every time. But he is in great shape. Just a matter of being consistent on his routes and he will make plays.
"And his blocking. He's a little lighter than the other guys. The others are 200 pounds and above. At the 170 range he needs to work on his blocking."
PDJ Projection: Woods will be the man in the slot and few people on the team own his field vision and ability to snake upfield, particularly off WR screens. His numbers should be similar to what they were last year, if not a little higher in Butch Jones' system.
THE SECOND TIER
Tangibles: 6-2, 185 pounds, Jr. JuCo transfer (originally signed with Tennessee, then changed to UC when Lane Kiffin left)
Last year: 69 receptions, 1,020 yards, 9 TDs (at Camino Community College)
Strengths: "Kenbrell Thompkins was one of my most dedicated blockers," Weist said. "You have to take a lot of pride in blocking. They have to work at it. They have to believe in it...Kenbrell really stood out to me from a blocking standpoint because he takes a lot of pride in it.
"I think he is a very fast player, very smooth. He takes a lot of pride in technique and is very competitive."
Why he'll improve: "He got a lot of reps when Armon got hurt in the spring. He did a great job because he is one of our fastest players, one of our most explosive players and he plays like that, too. He catches the ball with his hands very well. He takes a lot of pride in everything he does and that is why he gets better every day. Not everybody gets better every day. He really works at it."
PDJ Projection: Nobody doubts his ability and Weist specifically spoke about him in regards to blocking -- that will be a major part of his role as the season progresses. With more four WR sets expected, he should find a way onto the field in spurts. At the least, if Binns or Hazelton go down, there will be a dynamic replacement available.
Tangibles: 6-2, 190 pounds, Fr.
Last Year: Four-star (Scout and Rivals) recruit from Indianapolis Pike
Strengths: "He came in and has been working hard all summer," Weist said. "We are always going to play the best player I don't care if you are a senior or a freshman and Dyjuan has come in and really been impressive. Knowing his past he is a guy to look for in the future. He is a guy that is going to compete this fall because physically he is very similar to the other guys."
Difficulty for a freshman: "Physically is not the hard part, it is the mental part and really developing in the offense. When they are not in a position where they are a starter and gaining reps all the time then it is hard. That's the thing, it is hard because those guys have to learn despite getting reps. It is hard to play true freshman unless you make it simple for them. But guys are doing it because they have been here all summer. They have been learning the offense all summer."
PDJ Projection: Lewis is the wild-card of this bunch. His athletic ability is on par with that of his teammates, but the question will be how fast he can grasp the system. Regardless, his playmaking ability will demand some playing time. What he does with that will determine his contribution come November.
Tangibles: 6-2, 175 pounds, Sr.
Last year: 10 receptions, 95 yards, 1 TD (62 receptions, 862 yards, 13 TDs as a freshman)
Role: "He is going to play some inside receiver. He played some DB this year. He had a good spring and a good summer so far. He is going to be a dependable player for us this year."
PDJ Projection: Barnett produced on of the greatest freshman receiving seasons in UC history, but he hasn't been able to beat out Woods at the slot position. He always will benefit from more 4 WR sets this year and represents a nice commodity to have backup slot receiver who was a Freshman All-American. It's certainly not out of the question he could overtake Woods, but that would take a remarkable August.
Tangibles: 6-2, 214 pounds, Jr.
Last year: No receptions
Role: "I think he is going to be a good role player for us," Weist said. "Solid, he is dependable. Needs to work on his route techniques. I think he is going to be a good player for us, he has always been a good special teams player on the team. He's done a good job this summer and he is ready."
PDJ Projection: Woodard will mostly contribute on special teams with his shot at a serious contribution likely coming during his senior year when Binns, Hazelton and Barnett clear out.
Tangibles: 6-4, 210, Sr.
Last year: 3 receptions, 50 yards
Role: "His main thing is he needs to get healthy. His injury in the spring really put him behind," Weist said. "He took the first part of spring and was productive, but once he got hurt he hasn't come back. I will be anxious to see how he does. He only has one fall left. He has to come out healthy.
Where he's at now: "Still not running full just yet. Not working out from that standpoint yet. Hard to say when he is going to be ready this fall."
PDJ prediction: Howard has the talent to play a significant role on this team, but it will be an uphill battle between himself and his health.
Danny Milligan, Soph.,
Anthony McClung, Fr.,
Montreal Robinson, Fr.,
PDJ Projection: These three aren't likely to see much playing time and McClung and Robinson would be candidates to redshirt unless they break out at fall practice.