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August 2010 Archives

CINCINNATI -- Not since the day Butch Jones officially took over the University of Cincinnati football team have the Bearcats looked back.

New coach, new staff, new players, new schemes, new season.

Jones and his team never spoke about the team's current 18-game regular season win streak. Not once.

The focus holds square on the present and future.

That said, JK Schaffer just can't shake this frustrating feeling. No matter how hard he tries, no matter how many practices or interviews he endures, the residue of 51-24 lingers. Despite all the accomplishments of the Bearcats back-to-back Big East titles and Sugar Bowl berth, Schaffer can't help but feel a nasty taste still exist from the ugly loss to Florida.

"I have (moved on), but I haven't," Shaffer said. "I am definitely ready to move on."

That can only be accomplished by playing in another game.

The view of this rising program - and even the Big East conference as a whole -- on the national landscape suffered bruising blows with every Tim Tebow touchdown pass. Suddenly, the feel-good story transformed into the butt of jokes.

Armon Binns still feels it. The reputation of this team was sullied in Louisiana. A third consecutive season opening outside the Top 25 further solidified that notion.

"There definitely is a bad taste left in our mouth from last year," Binns said. "Guys are really hungry and we are definitely ready to prove everybody wrong that has doubted us, we are really ready to show them that we are a quality football team and we should be contending with the other top teams."

On the schedule, the Fresno State opener is far from ideal. A new coach in his first game traveling across the country to play in front of a sold-out stadium against on national TV a team returning eight starters who pushed UC as close to defeat as almost any team in the regular season last year. Ugh.

However, a silver lining to the thousands of clouds the Bearcats charter will fly through is the opportunity this game provides.

"We feel like we have an opportunity on the big stage to show the world that we are the real deal," Binns said.

Call it a friendly reminder. The national pundits needed one last year, as well, when the Bearcats opened up the regular season and Rutgers' new stadium in Piscataway, N.J.

Well, 564 yards and 47 points later, the country took notice. UC never stopped reminding them until the Sugar Bowl. Only, at that point, a coalition of voters and national prognosticators were finally compelled to call out the Bearcats.

At seemingly every turn since then, voters seized all opportunities to do so. UC was picked tied for second in the Big East poll. They were left out of the coaches and Top 25. Some rankings placed them as far back as 44.

A Rutgers replica on Saturday would go a long way to restoring any dings the Florida game produced - even if only in the mind these players.

"This is huge," Shaffer said. "This is definitely going to make a huge impact on the rest of the season. And showing the rest of the country that we are still here and we are not going to go away."

A busy day in the works today with the first press conference and lunch of the football season at the Varisty Village. Butch Jones is set to speak at noon and I will have an opportunity to chat with Armon Binns, Zach Collaros and JK Schaffer.

If you have any questions you would like me to ask any of them or any questions in general about this week's game and beyond, make sure you send me an email at pauldehnerjr@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter for constant updates, especially with all the happenings as I fly out to Fresno and back with the team.  

I will be on Twitter all weekend, keeping you informed on what's going on and also answering any and all questions there. If you're not on Twitter, well, you really should be, but I will also be on the blog page running CoverItLive to answer your questions and hold discussion there during the game.

As I said, busy day, so on to some quick Breakfast burritos....

--- Fresno will be humming on Saturday night. The temperatures are expected to reach triple digits at kickoff, as Bill Koch points out in this story

Heat shouldn't be much of an issue after practicing through some steamy days at Higher Ground, but there is a difference between 92 and 102. The Bearcats have been bragging about how they are in the best shape they have ever been all camp. We'll see if it was all talk.

--- The depth chart was officially released yesterday, (here is the link to the game notes, just scroll to page 9) the only real surprise coming with the move of Jason Kelce from center to guard and Evan Davis moving to guard.

Kelce will have a better handle on the calls as the experienced senior of the group and Davis is a bigger body to plug in there at guard.

Also, Reuben Johnson won the CB battle from Camerron Cheatham and Adrian Witty is the only true freshman on the position player two-deep. That is a little surprising considering how much opportunity the team was giving to freshman DL Roney Lozano.

Chris Williams will be playing nickel corner, but also now backing up Wesley Richardson at FS.

--- Drew Frey stepped in front of the portable background with Brian Bennett last week.

--- B Twice also made his bold predictions for the season. They included Noel Devine in New York in early December and Zach Collaros breaking the Big East yardage record. Brian Brohm set the mark with 3,978 yards in 2007.

He would need 306 yards per game to do so. Considering how much the offense will run through his hands both passing and rushing, it's no stretch of the imagination to see this happen. The ideal yardage Collaros would probably be 200 yards passing and 100 yards rushing every game. (As BB points out, Dan LeFevour went over 4k yards twice under Jones) Not saying that is going to happen, but that is how the offense is set up to succeed. It would be hard to imagine the Bearcats losing if they can make that happen on a weekly basis.   

--- Tommy G sits down with Collaros at Higher Ground.   

--- Pitt plays at Utah on Thursday on ESPN. Who will you be rooting for? A Pitt win is good for the Big East. But can you really root for the Panthers? And consider what an opening loss would do to shatter the confidence of this team that has been told a million times they are the best in the Big East before winning a thing? 

--- The women's soccer team landed at No. 19 in the country.  

--- One of my favorite blogs had a post of the Top 5 pop culture references to Cincinnati. I love the WKRP talk, but I'm not sure about the No. 1.

--- It was pretty disappointing to see only 14k at the Reds game last night. Granted, the totals were low across baseball for a Monday with school back in session, but doesn't this team deserve better? All they did was deliver yet another walkoff win.  

Oh, and Lorenzo Cain made this absolutely absurd catch. He's a rookie. In two years, he'll stop at the track and lightly toss that one in for the double.

--- The Jersey Shore folks are being accused of "Racketeering." Of course they are. I assumed that would be the title of the show if "Jersey Shore" failed with focus groups.    

'CATS AND DOGS PREVIEW

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Johnny Carson as Karnak.jpg
(courtesy NBC "Tonight Show")

WHO: University of Cincinnati vs. Fresno State

WHEN: September 4, 2010

WHERE: Bulldog Stadium

KICKOFF: (In Cincinnati) 10:00 p.m.

SERIES: UC leads 1-0

LAST TIME: Bearcats won 28-20, 9/26/09


      After watching the Sugar Bowl in limbo in January, Butch Jones is officially in charge on the UC Bearcat sidelines and it all starts with this opener in California. For the second consecutive year, the opener for the Bearcats is on the road and no cupcake.

      Last season it all started with a Big East game at Rutgers which UC won handily. This season, it's not a league game, but it's a pretty good non-conference match-up against the team (next to Pitt) that came the closest to beating UC--Pat Hill's Fresno State Bulldogs.

      It's the Butch Jones opener, but it's also a part of one of the more demanding Septembers UC has had since the days in the 80s when marquees "money games" against top opponents were scheduled to keep the program afloat. Now, UC is in that "name" category and they'll be featured on national television three times in September (on the road for this one in Fresno, at North Carolina State and at Paul Brown Stadium against Oklahoma).

      "The Butch Jones Story" begins with the first installment on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com as the Bearcats try to stop Fresno State on their own field and perhaps try to find out what exactly is up with Coach Pat Hill's mustache. Neither will be easy.

      Fresno State last year dominated the Bearcats in possession time 43 minutes to 16 with a successful ground game featuring Ryan Mathews (145 yards on 38 carries). Fortunately, Mathews is now a San Diego Charger, but one would have to assume Pat Hill would refer to that same game plan in this one.

      For Bearcat history buffs, it was Craig Carey who "iced" the game with a key interception as the Bulldogs had invaded the redzone for a potential tying score.

      The big questions this season?

      Can the Butch Jones offense sustain longer drives against Fresno State and still score enough points to beat the potent Bulldogs?

      And, can UC's somewhat disrespected defense "cowboy up" out west and keep the Bulldogs from chewing up the clock with long drives?

      If I had the answers, I'd certainly zip them off to Butch Jones in a jiffy. However, early games are often hard to judge and all of the pieces of the puzzle don't usually fall into place right away.

      That said, I'll try to give you my honest assessment as always just as I would if we were sitting together in the stands somewhere. I won't offer bold numerical predictions because you typically "honk" someone off by doing so. On the other hand, if you read my previews thoroughly, you can usually guess where I'm leaning.

      Now, in appreciation of the great Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song, let's head to the "Breakdown", shall we?


UC OFFENSE VS. FRESNO STATE DEFENSE


     Tony Pike threw for 300 yards against Fresno State last season, meantime Zach Collaros proved he could throw for over 400 yards when he replaced an injured Pike and obviously Collaros is the guy now. While Pike and Mardy Gilyard are both gone, much of last year's offensive attack remains with Armon Binns, D.J. Woods and Ben Guidugli catching the ball and Isaiah Pead running out of the backfield. That's not to mention the debut of USC transfer Vidal Hazelton (returning to California) and a healthy John Goebel who was a pass catching threat out of the backfield in '08. The interesting thing here will be the run/pass balance Coach Jones will use as ball control was one of the ways Fresno State kept last season's contest so close.


     Another plus for UC is that this defense has the same problems the Bearcats do. Fresno State's reputation is on offense. Last year's squad was 95th in the nation in interceptions and 119th in sacks, those numbers don't bode well for facing an explosive offense. Looking to improve the numbers will be four-year starting LB Ben Jacobs (1st team All-WAC) and quick defensive lineman Chris Carter.


THE NOD: Bulldogs will play inspired at home, but UC has too much firepower.


FRESNO STATE OFFENSE VS. UC DEFENSE


     Ryan Mathews is in the pros in San Diego, but the Bulldogs do return starting lefty Ryan Colburn at QB. Colburn managed the Fresno State offense in 2009, albeit handing off quite a bit to Mathews who ran for over 1,800 yards. However, Colburn can fling it and has a decent deep threat in Devon Wylie. While UC kept Wylie in check a year ago, four of Jamel Hamler's 37 catches came against UC and one was a touchdown. Colburn is the guy at QB, but it should be noted that Derek Carr, the brother of former Bulldog star David Carr is waiting in the wings. The plan is to redshirt Carr if possible, but as UC saw last year at Rutgers with Tom Savage, sometimes long term thoughts are shelved for short term results.


     The loss of Mathews is significant, but Fresno State does offer up a change-of-pace (quicker) option in Robby Rouse who popped UC for 50 yards on five carries. Rouse is similar to UC's Darrin Williams in size and elusiveness. This could further be an issue as the Bulldogs return their starting offensive line.


     The difference for UC could be the 4-3 scheme Jones has guided the Bearcats back to with a more physical, attacking emphasis. Most of UC's defense has significant game experience and I'm sure Derek Wolfe and JK Schaffer will have their teammates focused after a couple of ferocious hits. Your guy to watch on UC's defense this season is LB Maalik Bomar. Just a hunch, based on how I've seen players develop during my time around the program.


THE NOD: Because the game's in Fresno, I'll call this one a draw as you have untested questions on both sides of the ball. For UC to gain the edge, they'll have to do as they did last year in Rutgers and silence the crowd with early results.


SPECIAL TEAMS


     Granted, UC has lost Mardy Gilyard's electric returns, but both Darrin Williams on kickoffs and D.J. Woods on punts have those same capabilities. Plus, Vidal Hazelton has displayed a knack for finding daylight that no one has (officially) seen yet. The Bearcat kicking game gets a boost in my opinion by having Jake Rogers focus on field goals and extra points, with Patrick O'Donnell taking over the punting. O'Donnell has (Kevin) Huber-like potential in hang time and distance.


     Fresno State also has a pretty good kicker in Kevin Goessling (1st team All-WAC) who displayed a 49-yard foot in last season's game. Hill has told the Fresno Bee that punting will be, "unconventional".  Whether that means rugby punts, punts out-of-bounds, or fakes remains to be seen until Saturday night.  Speedy receiver Devon Wylie is the Bulldogs return threat.


NOD: Due to familiarity with conditions, I tend to side with the home team in the special teams area unless they're just simply awful. I have no evidence that indicates that, so give the Bulldogs the slight edge. On the other hand, if UC takes one "to the house", throw this prediction out the window because such plays are often big momentum changers that disrupt everything.


INTANGIBLES


     Obviously, Pat Hill has the "revenge" and the "home field" speeches in the can and ready to go. This game is for conference and non-conference respect for both teams. Both teams have been discounted by experts in the past and both teams would like to make strong statements for their conferences with a win in a pretty good time slot (10 p.m. here, 7 out west). Wherever there's TVs and games Saturday night, this one will be on and it could go a long way in influencing doubters. It will also be interesting to see how Butch Jones responds to the spotlight. In so-called "name games" at Central Michigan, he lost at Kansas, Clemson, Arizona and Purdue. He did though beat Michigan State and Mark Dantonio in East Lansing last season and you'd have to think the Bearcat talent supersedes what he was working with in Mt. Pleasant with the Chippewas.


     The game looks like a virtual coin flip on paper. For the optimistic, I would direct you to Zach Collaros' track record as a starting quarterback (not just at UC).


     Enjoy it and be ready to come out in force for Indiana State (and the return of Rick Minter) on the 11th.





There are few months worse than August. February is kind of a kick in the junk. December is cold, but it has Christmas and the final weeks of football season.

August is the worst. Sweat begins to build a small community with a shopping mall and beads store in the small of your back, the only news to come out of the month-long training camp is bad: injuries, holdouts. It's holiday-free. Back to school.

The worst.

Thankfully, September is nearly here. More importantly, football season is here. It's game week. I imagine many of you have taken the intelligent route and chosen to avoid all the preseason predictions and prognostications associated with August. In fact, you may even be making your first appearance on the blog now that the season has arrived. (I'm not happy with you and your case is under review with the GoBearcats.com commish)

So, I figured this would be a great time to recap all the preseason comings and goings with the Bearcats and give you the Cliff's Notes version of the month of August for the UC football team.

It's essentially the midseason clips show every sitcom uses. They're not popular, but they serve a purpose.

Also on that note, I will give you a couple of my favorite clip shows from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Seinfeld to help you slice even more of your Monday morning productivity at work.

On to the Bearcats...    

--- Camp opened with the disappointing news that Tennessee transfer WR Kenbrell Thompkins would be ineligible this season. The good news was the NCAA granted Thompkins two years of eligibility beginning next season instead of the one he likely would have had to play this year.

Bottom line, Thompkins played well in the spring and with the decision, and also the uncertainty of the still pending case of star freshman recruit Dyjuan Lewis the Bearcats are surprisingly thin at what was supposed to be a deep position.

--- Zach Collaros is back and has looked as sharp as ever. I've done a lot of radio shows this preseason and the question I hear over and over again is wondering if Collaros is ready to be a full-time QB.

To me, his readiness is the closest to a sure thing on this team.

Collaros is a natural leader, looks sharper than ever and was born to run this spread offense where Jones uses more of the QBs running skills than Brian Kelly did.

Plus, if you take his numbers from the four games he played in last year and play them out over 12 games, you could argue he returns with the most impressive resume of any returning QB in the country.

I did so here.

Collaros was named to the Davey O'Brien Watch List. Which is nice, until you consider that these watch lists are all pretty much garbage. Just ask Isaiah Pead.

--- Have any other player you are wondering about? Want to hear what his position coach has to say about him? Just go here.

--- The team spent the last two weeks at Higher Ground Retreat Center and Butch Jones loved it. He plans on bringing the team back from the first day of practice forward next year.

Today they will practice on their new practice field at the Jefferson Avenue Sports Complex for the first time.  

--- The defense is the question mark. The players on the defensive side of the ball are sick of hearing about it.

Walter Stewart and Maalik Bomar added 44 pounds of muscle this offseason to do something about it.

The defensive line depth is a big reason for it and freshman Roney Lozano is at the top of a list of anywhere from 7-10 true freshmen Butch Jones believes will see playing time.   

In a couple of scrimmages, the defense held its own.

--- OT C.J. Cobb sacrificed his summer to assure he returned healthy in time for his senior season. Considering the depth of the position, it's a good thing he did. You should root for C.J. Cobb.

--- In the past four years senior WR Marcus Barnett inked 85 tattoos. Or at least that was the count five days ago when I interviewed him. I imagine he could be anywhere from 86-90 by gameday.

D.J. Woods only has eight. Lazy.

--- The Bearcats were picked tied for second in the Big East preseason poll with WVU. Pitt was first and could possibly have three first-round draft picks next April. UConn was fourth, but some pundits including Kirk Herbstreit like the Huskies to win it all. Going to Hartford at the end of November will be no picnic for UC.

--- UC ranked No. 26 in the preseason AP poll.  

--- As Bill Koch pointed out, Butch Jones is not Brian Kelly. Don't expect him to be.

--- UC at Fresno State, 10 p.m., Saturday night, ESPN2. Finally. 

--- Keep checking back here for the daily breakfast along with plenty of other game week stories and features.

You can run and tell that, homeboy 

JK37

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jk schaffer.jpeg

(#37 JK Schaffer)



      While he didn't exactly play with a bag over his head, Jerome Kyle Schaffer was pretty much an "unknown linebacker" to most college experts (and those not following UC's program closely) when he pulled his #37 jersey on for the first time in 2008.

      Not anymore.

      The former first team Division I All-Ohio defender out of LaSalle High School that laid the "smackdown" on the GCL in Cincinnati, is now a known commodity in the Big East after finishing eighth in the conference in tackles in just his sophomore season. Now, as a junior, he's coming off his third trip to Camp Higher Ground and looking forward to chewing on the Bulldogs of Fresno State on September 4th.

      "We had a good camp," said Schaffer. "It went pretty fast. I guess we were having some fun. Usually, it drags on."

      Fun is good. Winning is fun. JK Schaffer has done lots of winning as UC's been 22-4 since he's suited up, playing in the Orange and Sugar Bowls in consecutive years.

      Thing is, those years were hardly based on defense. Former coach Brian Kelly's offense received all of the accolades while the defense was forced to play a lot of minutes. With Kelly's offense striking quick, Schaffer and the defense barely had time to get their helmets off and get a Gatorade squirt.

      The result was a lot of points being scored on the defense and not much respect handed out nationally. Schaffer and every member of the defense you talk to is out to change that perspective.

      "Yeah, we've got a little chip on our shoulders still," said Schaffer. "We're going to set out to prove people wrong this year. We're always the underdogs, but we like it like that. We like to prove people wrong."

      Coach Butch Jones is also looking to prove people wrong. UC's offensive talent has been well documented, but Jones is hoping to shore up the defense by returning to a 4-3 look that should be on the attack more. In the heart of that attack is JK Schaffer, assuming the leadership role left when Andre Revels graduated.

      Schaffer is now leading by example and influencing "stars in waiting" like Maalik Bomar, another local product (sophomore--Winton Woods).

      "JK's been a great mentor to him," said Coach Butch Jones of the relationship. "He's consistent day in and day out. He's explosive. I'm excited because he's really worked at that spot."

      Unfortunately, beyond Schaffer and Bomar, the Bearcats have become a little thin at the linebacking spot thanks to a Camp Higher Ground injury to freshman Solomon Tentman out of Roger Bacon. Much like the "next man in" mantra preached by Brian Kelly, Butch Jones will have to dig into his bench strength this fall.

      "Colin Lozier will be another person that needs to step up," said Coach Jones. "It's a process right now. We're not in a stage of our program right now where we can afford to redshirt a lot of our freshman. We're going to have to play some freshman and that's definitely a position where some individuals need to step up."

      There's no question that JK Schaffer will step up as he has in his previous years. As for the others, Schaffer believes they'll follow suit.

      "We do have a lot of guys," said Schaffer. "You'll be seeing a lot of Maalik Bomar. He's a young guy--reminds me a lot of myself last year. Guys like Colin Lozier and someone that's been in the program a long time now, Obadiah Cheatham, have been playing pretty well this camp."

      This Bearcat defense is used to plugging holes, on the field and on the depth chart. Last year's defense wasn't really anything that Buddy Ryan and his sons would salivate over, but there was experience gained and typically numerous guys were shuffled in and out. Rotating and changing parts is nothing new on this Bearcat machine.

      "That's just the nature of the sport," said Schaffer. "We have to adjust to whatever happens and make everything work."

      Typical "grab your lunchbucket" comment from a Cincinnati-bred GCL tough guy. No excuses, just get it done.

      That mentality has served JK well in his tenure at UC and has earned him a trip to Big East Media Day and a picture on some local billboards. The Schaffer family has enjoyed the notoriety of seeing JK on local thruways, but #37 is still playing the "modest card".

      "In my mind, I still haven't done anything yet," said Schaffer. "I've got a lot to prove. All that stuff is good and it's nice for my family and all that, but in my mind, I haven't earned that stuff yet. I've got a lot of work to do this season."

      Schaffer's work begins later this week when the Bearcats travel west to face Fresno State, a team they only beat by eight last season at Nippert. Gone is running back Ryan Mathews who shredded the Bearcats on the ground, but Coach Pat Hill is still around and his Bulldogs are as tough as anyone on their home field.

      "They're a very good team--it's a great challenge for us," said Schaffer. "I'm looking forward to the opportunity to go out west. I've never been to California so I'm looking forward to it."

      California can be nice for sightseeing, but rest assured, JK Schaffer will be all business when he takes the field in Fresno. First impressions are always important and Schaffer undoubtedly would like to leave an "impression" on a "Bulldog to be determined".



CINCINNATI - On April 10, C.J. Cobb found himself in a familiar position. He lay on his back in the middle of field, looking up at the sky. Alone.

 

Not on the bottom of a pile after pancaking a defender. Not stretching his legs with teammates after a long practice.

 

No, he was alone. And much like an ACL injury he suffered which cost him the 2008 season, he knew this injury was bad.

 

"I looked up at the sky and said, 'Why? Why is this happening to me again?" Cobb said.

 

What happened this time was a broken right ankle.

 

What happened this time was, suddenly, the senior year of the right tackle enjoying his first run atop the depth chart was placed in jeopardy. Not only would the timetable for recovery push into early portions of camp and the Bearcats regular season, a possibility remained Cobb might not be the same.

 

Cobb knew what it would feel like to be an outsider having watched the Bearcats live the highs and lows of the first Big East championship and trip to the Orange Bowl from the sidelines two years ago. He wasn't about to relive that experience again. Not for his senior year.


"The guys I have been here with the past five years, I was like 'I can't let them down,'" Cobb said. "I have to get back on the field. I wasn't going to go out like that. I am going to go out playing and starting my last season. That lit a fire under me."

 

The fire grew with the help of trainer Bob Mangine and his staff.

 

"When it happened, Bob sat me down on the field and said, 'You can't go home. You can't stop working. You have no vacation,'" Cobb said.

 

With extra work and a relentless attitude, Cobb came to camp not only recovered, but ahead of schedule. The number of reps and total workload has been monitored, so Cobb hasn't been tossed completely into the trenches. But, he's now reaching full speed and fighting for his first starting spot position during his time in Clifton.

 

"It's difficult because I couldn't even walk on this thing for a good six or seven weeks," Cobb said. "It hurt. It was swollen. My ankle is probably never going to be back to size."

 

But Cobb now provides depth desperately needed along the thin offensive front. 

 

"He's got a big role and played a lot of football here," Butch Jones said. "The kids respect him, he's a leader and a great example to the younger kids."

 

Cobb's effect expands beyond a name on the depth chart or 300-pound mass of body along the edge of the offensive line. As part of a senior class small in numbers, Cobb delivers stability and emotion.

 

"C.J. Cobb is one of the best people I have ever known as far as character," Jones said. "He is always full of energy and passion. He has great spirit about himself."

 

Offensive line coach Don Mahoney saw Cobb's spirit rub off on those working along with him during the summer. The man he battled for the starting position with, Andre Cureton, dropped 30 pounds over the summer with Cobb serving as the gold standard for determination.

 

"It has been unbelievable," Mahoney said of Cobb. "People don't see that. They never will see it, but this guy has worked unbelievably to get himself ready to go for the season."

 

Eight days before Cobb's final run at college football officially begins at Fresno, he strapped on the full uniform and ran through the gameday procedure at Thursday's Beanie Bowl. It was his first time working as a full participating member of a Bearcats practice since he was sprawled out on the field about four months ago.

 

The experience of sacrificing a summer of leisure for the grind of ankle rehab left a lasting impression on the gentle soul of the 6-foot-4, 306-pound giant.

 

"God has a plan for all of us," Cobb said. "Sometimes that plan isn't exactly what we think it should be. So when he changes it up on us it takes us for a loop, but everything happens for a reason. I am happy. I am happy I am back out here."

 

Many times when adversity strikes and the path followed hits a detour, those who persevere and survive emerge stronger than before it began. In many ways, Cobb can be counted among that contingent.

 

Every step has been worth it and been a big reason why his smile spans from ear to ear when he talks about taking the field a week from Saturday.

 

So, he wouldn't change any aspect of his journey, right?

 

"If I had a chance to go back," Cobb said, reflecting. "Yeah, I still definitely wouldn't let (the injury) happen."

Bearcats Breakfast 8.27.10

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In exactly one week I will be boarding a plane for Fresno, Calif., along with the rest of the Bearcats. And then, thank goodnees, we can stop talking about practice.

On Thursday, the Bearcats played the Beanie Bowl, which is essentially an exact replica of gameday from the uniforms to the pregame routine, through the simulated game situations. They even ran over to the corner of Nippert Stadium and practiced the post-victory chant.

So, the Bearcats are ready...or at least as much as they can be without an opponent.

"It exposes everyone to everything. That is the thing, you have to have 130-135 people all on the same page," Butch Jones said. "You can't assume anything. But, you never really know until the live bullets start flying." 

Eight days. Bullets. 

Alright, on to the links...

--- In the spirit of selfishness, I will start by reminding you I posted a special extreme Ink of the Week with Marcus Barnett.

If the Ink of the Week feature were sandwiches at Jimmy Johns, Barnett would be the double-meat Gargantuan with everything. 

Barnett has 85 tattoos. I took photos of his favorite three and posted a story instead of the standard snippet. My personal favorite is the mustache tat on the inside of his index finger so he can hold it up to his lip.

"That's my business-man look right there," he said.

Indeed.

--- Brian Bennett cranked out a few more pieces from his trip to Higher Ground. He talked to Vidal Hazelton  about his journey from USC to UC.

Perhaps the forgotten element of Hazelton's playmaking ability, will be his job as a kick returner. He possesses the combination of size and speed to be dangerous attacking a seam.

He spent much of last year learning from Mardy Gilyard about being patient. And watched some talented returners during his time at USC as well.  

And, most importantly, Hazelton wants to do it. Badly. 

"In the offseason, I used to go up to coach Coombs all the time, telling him 'I want to do it, I want to do it,'' Hazelton said. "Even if I couldn't be the guy, I wanted to compete to be the guy. Just to give me a chance. He gave me a chance and so far I think he is liking what he sees."

I'm not contending Hazelton will duplicate Gilyard, but he should create his fair share of excitement on kickoffs this year.   

--- B-twice also included UC in the five things to watch in the Big East this year. There is no doubt, the conference will have plenty of opportunties to squash the also-ran stereotype this year. The conference's record in the 11 major non-conference games he mentions may go a long way in determining where the BE champ lands in a national discussion.

--- Jones told me yesterday the first thing he did when he had a free minute upon his return to Cincinnati from Higher Ground was take a walk around the Jefferson Avenue Sports Complex. And loved what he saw.

Tommy G and Barrett Bamberger filmed the latest segment out there with the Bearcats ready to use the new practice field on Monday.

--- The Big East enters the year of the running back in the conference. Isaiah Pead told me he doesn't compare his stats with backs like Dion Lewis at Pitt, Noel Devine at WVU or Jordan Todman at UConn. He does compare how many more rings he owns then them, however. And said as long as he adds one more to his total by the end of the season that will be all that matters. 

:You can't ask for a better attitude than that.

--- For those of you who subscribe to Sports Illustrated -- throw your fleece in the air and wave it like you just don't care -- or picked up the Joey Votto edition this week, make sure you page through the photos at the front. You will notice a sick picture of UC alum Ricardo Mathews at Colts camp with his dreads flying through the air.

--- Some interesting developments on the Mardy Gilyard front last night. The pooka shells got their first professional reception. In fact, Gilyard had three of them for 23 yards.

He also returned four kickoffs 99 yards for the best average on the team at 24.8.

However, top receiver Donnie Avery went down with an injury that looks to be serious. Nobody wants to see anybody go down, but the NFL is a business and this creates an obvious opportunity for Gilyard. The Rams are scary-thin at WR and he will be afforded every opportunity to fill the gap.

--- A Tony Ugoh injury moved former Bearcat and now Indianapolis Colt Jeff Linkenbach to LT last night for the Colts in their game against Green Bay.  

He has been playing LG and LT and making a play for the 53-man roster or at least the practice squad.

--- Bill Koch talks to Dion Dixon about "The Turnover." Good to see Dixon putting that play behind him. Hopefully, he makes plenty of plays this season to help people forget what happened at MSG.

--- The award for the most in-depth blog by a site covering a team in the Summitt League goes to "The Golden Grizzlies Gameplan." What does it mean for you? Well, Yancy Gates is mentioned for his participation in a prestigous 2009 summer camp. It gives some nice context on Gates' potential and also mentions that DraftExpress has Gates as a late second-rounder right now.

There is absolutely no way around it, this is a make-or-break season for Gates.  

--- I will probably have to retract my claim UNC was the most underrated team in the Top 25 poll. That was one destructive nanny.

--- Russians + airbags + explosions = viral video.  

--- I was going to go to see STP at Riverbend on Wednesday, but some other plans came up. When I found out Scott Weiland took a digger off the stage, I immediately regretted that decision. (Note: He's OK, or at least as OK as someone can be after decades of drug addiction) Of course, when I found video of it, I felt better.

--- Jumpin' Gigawatts!

--- My Ohio State fan friends always wonder why they are almost universally hated nationally. Well, this kind of d-baggery is part of the conversation.

Each week throughout football season I will feature a tattoo of a UC football player. Everybody has ink these days and these tatts obviously mean something to the guys. They spend plenty of hours and energy coming up with the perfect concept. They should be given the opportunity to show them off.

 

This week features Marcus Barnett: the king of ink on the Bearcats football team. 

 

CINCINNATI -- Every tattoo tells a story.

 

The tattoo of the skyline of Baltimore tells the story of a boy who spent many days and nights growing close to his uncle.

 

The tattoo of Michael Jackson tells a story of a kid who grew up dancing to Billie Jean.

 

MB2.jpgBut none of the eyelid, neck or back ink truly tell the story of wide receiver Marcus Barnett's love of tattoos like the answer to the simplest question.

 

How many tattoos do you have?

 

"Eighty-five," he said, "and counting."

 

When asking around to find out who owns the best tattoos on the Cincinnati Bearcats, the answer was unanimous.

 

"Bones," said D.J. Woods, who owns a collection of tattoos himself.

 

Bones is Barnett, it could be because of the UC receiver's 173-pound frame, or it could stem from the spine he has tattooed running up the middle of his back. MB3.jpg 

 

As soon as Barnett turned 18, he knew he would be come a regular at the tattoo parlor.

 

"My brother has tats, my cousins, just about everybody I knew," Barnett said. "I have been wanting to get them for a while, so what I did was I started drawing them out."

 

There was only one problem.

 

"And then I showed my mom (the drawings) and she wouldn't let me get them," Barnett said.

 

Clearly, mother's words only held so much weight. Barnett inked one, then another, then another.  The drawings became a reality on an almost daily basis as he began to piece together to a larger puzzle.

 

"My mom only knew about one," Barnett said. "Then next time she saw me I had like 20-some."

 

He tattooed a mustache on the inside of his index finger, so he could lift it to his upper lip for a laugh.

 

"That is my business-man look right there," he said.

 

mb1.jpgThere was the tattoo of a seven on his left hand and 11 on the other, with the logo of 7-11 convenience stores. It owns a triple meaning for the senior. Like 7-11, he's always open. In the book of Judges, the number correlates to the verse which states if you listen to God he will strengthen your hands. Then, when Barnett's son was born, he weighed 7 pounds, 11 ounces.

 

When Barnett shuts his eyes, it exposes two eyelid tattoos reading "amour vrai," which means true love in French.

 

Across his each of his temples "Truly blessed" is inked.

 

It got to the point when Barnett decided to get a tattoo on his neck, he did everything in his power to keep his mother from finding out. He would tilt his chin down and look at the ground during postgame interviews and make sure he buttoned up his shirt if he was ever in a picture.

 

"One day I slipped up after practice," Barnett said. "She saw one of those pictures and said, 'I told you not to get any more tattoos.'"

 

How many tatts were already done when that conversation happened?

 

"Probably about 20," he said.

 

Barnett's mother gave up. Her son obviously was determined to cover his body. He's currently working on a complete sleeve on his right arm. And if you ask him, he'll tell you, there is no such thing as a complete sleeve until zero skin shows.

 

Plus, half of his left arm is wide open for artwork.

 

Though, for the 22-year-old Barnett, he will probably slow down the 20-tattoo per year pace he is currently riding.

 

"When it first started, I was getting a lot because I knew what I wanted," he said. "Now I am getting picky. They have a lot of different meanings now."

 

Eventually, he will either run out of ideas or run out of space, right?

 

"I got a lot of work to do," he said. "I don't think that far ahead."

Bearcats Breakfast 8.26.10

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Should be a pretty eventful day with some basketball and football practice going on in the Varsity Village. Butch Jones' crew will make their return to campus with a gameday walkthru while Mick Cronin's clan is preparing for the upcoming Canada trip. I'll poke around and see what kind of trouble I can get to and report back later in the day.

To hold you over, how about some Breakfast...

--- It's time to start making specific plans for Fresno State. Well, if you will be at the game, there a tailgate party is already in the works.

--- The Bearcats are practicing every possible scenario, including what to do if Zach Collaros gets injured. Collaros scared the life out of nearly everyone at camp when he went down as part of a drill for the training staff on Wednesday. Luckily, it was all fake and Collaros is OK.

--- Tommy G spoke with Butch Jones for the final time at Higher Ground, at which point Jones talked about Chazz Anderson having a slight edge over Brandon Kay for the second QB job and some other nuggets about the time spent at Higher Ground. 

--- Everyone's favorite Big East blogger Brian Bennett spent Wednesday at Higher Ground and came away with some observations.  

--- Dominick Goodman is killing it playing football in Europe right now. Here is a highlight video of his last game. He is playing both ways and apparently making every play on the field. The camera operation would be considered shoddy at best, but it gets better and there's some nice highlights beginning around the 2-minute mark for those who miss seeing Goodie play.

--- Depth continues to be the big word of concern around the Bearcats as camp concluded. As Jones told Bill Koch, "I'm excited about our 22."

Jones is obviously not as thrilled about the other 80-some, but as the season pushes forward you have to expect playmakers will emerge.

--- Collaros hasn't been able to sleep the past five or six nights. He's up thinking about Fresno. A few hours of sleep might be able helpful for game week. I suggest either ambien or watching the Slap Chop infomercial on repeat.

Stop having a boring tuna. Stop having a boring life.

--- Tony Pike talks about his situation with Carolina and talks quite a bit about his time in Cincinnati. Cutdown day is coming with the Panthers and Pike is battling Hunter Cantwell to hang on as the third QB.

--- The Butch Jones blog has updates on former Bearcats Alex Daniels, Haruki Nakamura, Ryan Manalac, Jeff Linkenbach and Mardy Gilyard.

--- What happened with the Doak Walker watch list displays exactly why nobody should pay attention to any of these lists. Two...count 'em, two, RBs from Louisville were selected to the national RB watch list, but Isaiah Pead was not among them. Five Big East backs made it with Dion Lewis, Noel Devine and Jordan Todman joining Victor Anderson and Bilal Powell, of U of L. If you were to ask 100 people in the know to name the top five RBs in the Big East, Pead would be on 99 of those. I guess we found the one was compiling the Doak list.

--- Andy Katz and Doug Gottlieb took a summer look at the Big East basketball landscape and placed UC at 11.

--- This girl can't control her moped.

Wide Open

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Expect big things again from UC's offense especially the wide receiving trio of Marcus Barnett, D J Woods and Vidal Hazelton. 3 different wide outs with 3 unique stories; Marcus was a freshman all-american, DJ has grown into his role and Vidal is a transfer from USC and the one thing they all have in common: They have something to prove. When you look at an explosive offense the key is the big play components and these 3 have to deliver like their predecessors who have moved on but the names still stay. Dominick Goodman and Marty Gilyard, for example have set the bar high but these guys can reach it and raise it even higher. 

The key is staying healthy and as Zach Collaros said about D J, run great routes and trust that the linemen and backfield will do their job. I wouldn't be surprised if this group of receivers garner as much attention as Batman and Robin, aka Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens of the Cincinnati Bengals. If UC is to win the Big East and win a BCS game it will take everyone contributing and buying in to Coach Butch Jones and his philosophy. But more importantly defenses have to believe your receivers can get past their safety's or shake them so bad in the open field its on their mind constantly. Thus play action and misdirection increase in value like many of us wish our investments would.

So train your eyes to go down field even on play fakes and straight ahead plays; its just a set up for the big play to come. And an opportunity for you to turn to your friends and family and say: I saw that coming several plays ago...

Write it down and memorize the names; Barnett, Hazelton & Woods aka Turf Wind and Fire

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

TWIN CANNONS

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jake rogers.jpegpatrick odonnell.jpeg
(Jake Rogers and Patrick O'Donnell)

      After a year of having Jake Rogers virtually in on any play involving a kick, the Butch Jones regime will return to the traditional punter AND kicker format. It's not a knock on the punting ability of Rogers, who averaged 41.6 yards per boot. After all, going back to 2002, only in Kevin Huber's two years, did a UC punter have such numbers.

      However, with a blossoming punter in the wings in Patrick O'Donnell, who occasionally brings rain with his hang time (much like Huber) Rogers will be returning to kicking the ball off the ground. This will allow him a little extra time and focus in kicking the ball into the net on the sidelines.

      "The only thing it makes easier is the leg," said Rogers. "I don't have as many kicks during the game. I like it. Now I can focus on kicking and kicking's a whole different motion than punting."

       The obvious upside (to the switch) is Rogers can concentrate his time on his accuracy, the one area where he's not at the top of UC's all-time leaders. There's no question the ability is there though, as Rogers once made 13 consecutive field goals between 2007 and 2008 (a record he shares with Jonathan Ruffin).

      After a 102 point 2009, Jake Rogers has made 40 field goals in his Bearcat career. That leaves him one shy of Eric Richards for second place career-wise and 22 behind Ruffin for the all-time lead.

      "You know, I'll take a look at those (records) when the season ends," said Rogers. "I'm focused on that next field goal and putting them through."

      When he does put a field goal through, it's usually with authority. Rogers nailed a 55-yarder as a redshirt freshman against Oregon State, and went 53 yards at Hawaii in '08. In practice one week, with the entire team around shouting and heckling, he was good from 52 with a swing that looked like a professional golfer chipping onto a green. His leg strength is tremendous.

      "I wouldn't say it's a lot stronger," said Rogers. "I know it is field-goal wise. Kickoffs are about the same--maybe a little bit deeper. I think the overall it's just contact and the feel of the ball is a little bit better."

      However, looking at Rogers now compared to the young freshman from Warsaw, Indiana that redshirted behind Kevin Lovell in '06, you see an entirely different animal. The confidence has increased along with the weight.

      "Obviously, coming in at 180 pounds my freshman year is a lot different than the 210-215 that I am now," said Rogers. "What Coach Lawson (strength and conditioning) has me doing now is focusing on my leg and my leg strength in the kicking area, so it's a good thing."

      For Rogers, the extra work and focus hopefully pays off with a good season. From there, you'd have to think the NFL would be interested in a young man with such leg strength and potential.

      "Yeah, that would be a great thing," acknowledged Rogers. "But, I'm just focused on the season and putting every one through. Tom (long snapper DeTemple) and Pat (holder/punter O'Donnell) have been doing a great job. I've been working with them a lot. One field goal at a time."

      While Bearcat fans hope to see plenty of Rogers on extra points and the occasional field goal, there will be a punt from time to time. Sophomore Patrick O'Donnell now assumes that role thanks to his aerial displays over the spring and most recently at Camp Higher Ground. O'Donnell did have a few "cameos" in 2009.

      "Yeah, I played three games last year," said O'Donnell. "It helped me develop. I think I'm definitely ready this year."

      As many that have watched practice will tell you, O'Donnell has some pop in his leg and is probably the most likely Bearcat who could reach a light fixture in an indoor facility. The ball, as they say, "sounds different" coming off of his foot. Sending a football into orbit is a pretty good weapon to have on fourth down sometimes.

      "Yeah, it is," said O'Donnell. "Coach likes it--my directional punting, right, left--hang it up there high and have fair catches."

      New for O'Donnell will be the added job of holding for Jake Rogers. While this takes the added threat of Zach Collaros (last year's holder) off the field, it also keeps your starting quarterback from being injured on a fluke play. O'Donnell had previously practiced in this role, but has not performed it in a game situation.

      "Just at camps and things like that," said O'Donnell. "Last year they really practiced with me. I was with Mike Windt (former long snapper) on the side a lot."

      Of course, many wonder what this does to the possibility of the fake, or a broken play on a bad snap. Without making any guarantees, the 6-5, 214 pound O'Donnell is open to advancing the football from his squatted position.

      "Oh yeah, definitely!" said O'Donnell with a smile. "If that's the play, then that's the play. I did play tight end my sophomore year (in high school) and I played linebacker a little bit. I've scored a touchdown or two in my day."

      Regardless, focusing the rocket leg of Jake Rogers on field goals and the "Rainmaker" O'Donnell looks to be a pretty wise move by Coach Butch Jones. You could say the Bearcat kicking game is in pretty good hands (and feet).




Bearcats Breakfast 8.25.10

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Today is the final day at Higher Ground for UC. The Bearcats love the place and Butch Jones is even looking into going to the facilities from Day 1 next year, instead of holding the first four practices at Nippert. But, as of last night, following the 10th day in rural Indiana -- the kids are ready to go. 

They miss their families and, probably more importantly, their connectivity. The lack of television access and Internet they are used to is pretty rough on the guys.

It's all football, all the time.

But I am sure they are excited to get back to their DVRs and catch up on saved episodes of Teen Mom.

OK, let's hit the links...

--- Butch Jones finds himself on a Tony Barnhart's list of five coaches who will enjoy early success. There's another coach on the list you may know. Please contain your rage.

Barnhart also lists five coaches on the hot seat with another Butch Jones connection at the top in Rich Rodriguez. Jones was an assistant under RichRod at WVU. It's difficult to see people you immensely respect in this business struggle on that kind of level. Of course, that's the way college football goes.

Win or get out. 

You are hired to be fired. Or, you are hired to move on to a bigger job and leave your program in a lurch for the Sugar Bowl. I can never remember how that saying goes.

--- Speaking of tough spots, Jones talked a about freshman Dyjuan Lewis yesterday, as I posted on the blog last night.

Lewis was cleared to practice earlier this week, so that is a plus, but the fact this situation is still going on with less than two weeks until the opening game is slightly absurd.

Jones talked about the frustration for Lewis, whose season continues to hang in the balance.

"It is very frustrating," Butch Jones said on Tuesday. "Not so much for me, but for the kid. We are in the business to help kids and that poor young man did everything that was asked of him from his high school. He followed directions. He followed protocol. Now it is up to a governing body to determine his future."   

--- We also concluded the position analysis series yesterday (hold your applause to the end please). I have linked all eight position group analysis at the top if you missed any.

It may not be the most exciting stuff in the world, but I hope all of you have a better feel for the players who will be wearing the red and black this season. 

Many sports fans in other cities -- and even some in this town -- can be downright unintelligent when it comes to understanding their teams and what they are attempting to do. Hopefully, this will help the folks filling Nippert Stadium understand why certain decisions are made why a play from a certain player is more extraordinary than it may appear.

--- Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune thinks UC is the most underrated team in/or near the Top 25 poll in the preseason.

Even as the resident homer, I would probably disagree. When a team has questions as the Bearcats do on defense and also questions regarding a coaching transition, they probably shouldn't be in the top 20. Now, if they were in the 40s as some magazines placed them, then yes, they are extremely underrated.

As far as who I view as the most underrated, I may catch some slack for this, but I would say North Carolina at No. 18. This may be one of the best defenses we have seen in years. They could have as many as four first-round draft picks on the unit. Don't get me wrong, QB T.J. Yates is awful, but I have to believe they will find some way to score points. Even if it means replacing Yates. And they don't need to score many to win games.

Overrated? Florida. I don't think this will have anything to do with the loss of Tim Tebow. John Brantley and the offense will still hum with all that speed. However, this defense reminds me of the 2008 defense that was a complete rebuild and the Gators went 8-4. Everyone is gone. To blindly place them No. 4 is based purely on past history. Of course, that's what just about all of the preseason polls are based on. Why we still have them the first four weeks of the season is beyond me. But that is for another post.

--- Bill Koch wrote about how smooth the camp has been to this point. Outside of Kenbrell Thompkins, Lewis and the injury to Solomon Tentman, it has been pretty uneventful. That's really all you can ask for out of the month of August. Stay healthy. No disasters. 

Mission accomplished. (Knock on wood)

--- USA Today talks Bearcats, Butch Jones and Zach Collaros.

--- AOL Fanhouse has a preview piece on the Big East written by Brian Grummell, who, judging by his tone, I have to assume was a recommended PR hire of Paul Tagliabue.

On the other side of the fence, there is SB Nation, who compares the Big East to the Juggalos, the group of feces-throwing mental institution escapees that follow Insane Clown Posse.

Is it Sept. 4 yet?  

--- Former Bearcat Trent Cole, now with the Philadelphia Eagles, talks about not only being a great player himself after being underestimated as a 5th-round draft pick, but becoming a leader for first-round draft pick Brandon Graham. 

What you love about Cole is he does it the right way. Like many UC players, he doesn't have all the physical qualifications the NFL demands of his position, but he makes up for it with intelligence and desire. Hard not to like a guy like that, regardless of where he went to school. 

--- Also, former Bearcat Jason Fabini visited UC camp last week and Butch Jones Blog posted a video. Fabini is now retired after an 11-year NFL career.  

--- A quick move over to basketball as they prepare for their Canada trip. As we said after the mid-summer press conference with Mick Cronin, it appears likely Rashad Bishop will be with the team this year. He is practicing with them and Cronin said he has one more hurdle to clear and expects him to clear it.

This may have been the fire Bishop needed lit underneath him. My gut tells me he will have a career year this season.

They will need it from him, particularly on the offensive end. Cronin is using the 10 Canada practices to find ways to improve shot selection and put the ball in the hole. Mike DeCourcy at Sporting News talks about the search for offense.

--- When Dana O'Neil writes, I link. This time, she profiles new Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard.  

The Cincinnati Bearcats are still waiting to hear on the eligibility of top recruit WR Dyjuan Lewis. They are waiting for him to be cleared in regards to classes taken in high school.

Lewis is at practice, but was not dressed on Tuesday. He is regarded as one of the top recruits in the recent history of the program and -- considering the recent denial of Kenbrell Thompkins to play this year -- would be a welcome addition to a position that suddenly has depth concerns.

And, considering the Bearcats are but 12 days from the season opener with Fresno State, it is safe to say the situation is wearing thin around Higher Ground. 

"It is very frustrating," Butch Jones said on Tuesday. "Not so much for me, but for the kid. We are in the business to help kids and that poor young man did everything that was asked of him from his high school. He followed directions. He followed protocol. Now it is up to a governing body to determine his future."

The most confusing element is how this situation couldn't have been resolved in a more timely fashion. Lewis has now been held out of almost an entire camp of practices before being allowed to start practicing this week and missed valuable reps. All for an issue involving classes taken last school year.

Jones admitted he is surprised "a little bit," by the fact it has taken this long. "I like to try to look at the positive," he said. "I try to prepare them each and every day."

When that day will come for Lewis should be soon. But for now, it's still in the hands of a governing body. Until then, Jones pushes players like freshman Anthony McClung, Tomaz Hilton and OJ Woodard who are one injury away from playing nearly every down.

"We have some individuals that have not played football for us that need to step up," Jones said. 

First off, with this being the final edition of position analysis, here are links to all eight position group breakdowns:

 

Quarterbacks with Mike Bajakian

 

Running backs with Jahmile Addae

 

Wide Receivers with T.J. Weist

 

Tight Ends with Mark Elder

 

Offensive line with Don Mahoney

 

Defensive line with Ronald Stripling, Part I

 

Defensive line with Ronald Stripling, Part II

 

Linebackers with John Jancek

 

Defensive backs with Kerry Coombs

 

TIGHT ENDS

 

This is the eighth and final part in a series of looks at the 2010 UC football roster through the eyes of its position coaches. It concludes with a glimpse at the tight ends with tight end coach Mark Elder. 

 

Elder is in his first year at UC but spent the last three seasons with Butch Jones coaching linebackers at Central Michigan.

 

Starter: Ben Guidugli, RS Sr.

 

Backup: Adrien Robinson, RS Jr.

 

Reserves: Blake Annen, RS Fresh., Demetrius Richardson, Soph.

 

Overview: Ben Guidugli established himself as one of the premier tight ends in the Big East last year and landed as second team preseason All-American by The Sporting News this season. It would appear his value would only increase under Butch Jones, who has a history of running the ball more out of the spread than Brian Kelly.

 

Biggest Question: How will the versatility of Guidugli be utilized in Butch Jones' offense?

 

Elder: "He's so versatile it is an unbelievable asset to what we want to do with him. He is not just a tight end, he is a wide receiver, he is a tight end, he is an H-back for us. He can do all those things.

 

"We can stay in 11 personnel and we can be anywhere from him being stretched out as a receiver to him being a threat, not just a big body out there that you're running off with, but he is out there and is a receiving threat.

 

"Or he can be in an off-the-ball position, motioning around, pulling around, leading up on blocks, going out on routes from there.

 

"Or he can be a traditional tight end in the three-point stance, attached to that tackle and what's great is his versatility is a nightmare for a defense not knowing with him in the ballgame what they need to defend. They need to defend such a wide variety of things."

 

BEN GUIDUGLI

 

Tangibles: 6-1, 230 pounds, RS Sr.

 

Last year: 13 games, 12 starts, 27 receptions, 364 yards, 3 TDs

 

Elder on new ways to use Guidugli: "Some of the H-back stuff, we can use him even more. He was used quite a bit as a WR, we will still use him quite a bit as a WR, but more as an H-back than he probably has in the past. And a little bit more as true tight end more than he was in the past."

 

Elder on how Guidugli being used as an H-back could help the offense: "In H-back, there are (blocking schemes) not available if he's in a traditional tight end position. Him pulling around and leading up in on the inside linebacker, those things you can't do with him in a traditional tight end position. Not to mention bootlegs off things to get him the ball."

 

PDJ Projection: Tight ends in spread offenses are difficult to gauge as far as production goes. However, considering Guidugli's numerous skills, it seems a no-brainer Jones and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian will find creative ways to get him the ball. Not to mention, his ability as a blocker on running plays and bubble screens will be a much larger asset this season. I expect his numbers to surpass those of 2009.

 

ADRIEN ROBINSON

 

Tangibles: 6-5, 270 pounds, RS Jr.

 

Last year: 10 games, no starts, 10 receptions, 174 yards, 1 TD

 

Elder on how Robinson is different from Guidugli: "Adrien is a bigger body. We are doing a lot of the same things with him. He would traditionally be a true wide tight end and less as an H-back. We don't change the offense because he is in the game.

 

PDJ Projection: Robinson adds a bigger body on the line. While most of the snaps will go to Guidugli, Robinson would be a more than serviceable backup, particularly on running plays.

 

BLAKE ANNEN

 

Tangibles: 6-5, 233 pounds, RS Fresh.

 

Last year: Redshirted

 

Elder's take: "He's been doing a nice job. He's still developing, but he is eager to learn. It's important to him."

 

PDJ Projection: Annen was the top tight end in the state his senior year, according to Ohiovarsity.com. His ability is there, but if he continues to progress he could see some action by the end of the season.

 

DEMETRIUS RICHARDSON

 

Tangibles: 6-2, 237 pounds, Soph.

 

Last year: Did not play

 

Elder's take: "He's playing more and more physical every day."

 

PDJ Projection: Richardson needs to continue to improve before makes a serious contribution this season.

Bearcats Breakfast 8.24.10

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I will be spending some of my morning at the Sprint store...again.

Don't buy a Palm Pre. Ever. Just don't. Get rid of Sprint while you're at it. Though, judging by the national sales numbers, it appears most of you already have.

Of course, serving you your morning goodness always takes priority. So here you go... 

--- Brian Bennett breaks out the best case/worst case scenario on UC. As is always the case with these things, the season will likely fall somewhere in the middle. And if UC really were to win the Big East and beat Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, you would have to put up barriers to keep Bearcats fans from laying bricks for the expansion of the stadium themselves.

Of course, the blog also mentions Steve Kragethorpe (from this point forward known as "the K word" -- which much like The L Word on HBO would make for good television. Only instead of the plot revoloving around lesbianism, it would revolve around complete program self-destruction).

The mere mention of the K word makes my stomach turn south faster than Matt Leinert's career.

--- The latest edition of the position analysis I know all of you were on the edge of your seat about was posted last night. Kerry Coombs talks DBs

--- Butch Jones confirmed to us yesterday that freshman Solomon Tentman did tear his ACL and is out for the year. Tough break, but he will be a major asset next year after a season of building muscle.

 --- Much is made about money in the UC athletic department -- or at least the lack of it in comparison to other BCS schools. Well, the Bearcats aren't alone.

--- You are looking live at Kirk Herbstreit's perfect hair.

Brent Musburger sets up Herbstreit to pick winners in the Big East and he likes UConn. The more you look at it, the harder it is to argue with the Huskies. Dominating offensive line, 17 starters, relatively experienced quarterback, home games against Pitt, WVU and UC, a team that figured out how to win close games late in the year after losing so many early. It's a recipe for success.   

--- The Bearcats are headed to Dave and Buster's in Tri-county from 7-8:30 tonight for a public season kickoff event. If you need me, I will rolling all-comers in pop-a-shot.

--- UC President Greg Williams was up at the Enquirer yesterday and unveiled major Nippert Expansion is "not in the cards."

If a waiting list starts to grow at UC and people that want to go to games cannot, count me among those that would get behind more than one game a year at Paul Brown Stadium.

Decisions like the one Williams is forced to make put the Bearcats in a corner when it comes to big games. The OU game this year will be a good measuring stick for possible future events there.

--- One of my favorite sites, Ballin' is a Habit, put together an all-too-encompassing Big East preview. It reads about the same as the rest of the hoops previews, so, UC fans may just wan to skim it. There are certainly no shortage of Bearcats doubters right now.

--- I'm a fan of the Jersey Shore. I've never hidden this fact. They're absolute cartoons of hilarity. In watching the show, I often wondered how much money these folks are making off appearances and endorsements.

Well, apparently The Situation cleared $5 million. That made me vomit in my mouth a little.

--- The PDJ PSA of the day: Driving your car in excess of 100 mph is unsafe. Driving directly into a median and hitting it like a speed ramp is extremely unsafe.

This is the seventh in a series of looks at the 2010 UC football roster through the eyes of its position coaches. It continues with a glimpse at the defensive backs with associate head coach and secondary/special teams coach Kerry Coombs. 

 

Coombs is in his third season at UC and the lone holdover from Brian Kelly's staff.

 

Starters - Dominique Battle, Jr., Reuben Johnson, Jr., Wesley Richardson, Jr., Drew Frey, Soph.

 

Backups - Pat Lambert, Soph., Chris Williams, Soph., Camerron Cheatham, Soph., Bruce Horner, Soph., Will Saddler, RS Fresh.

 

Freshmen - Adrian Witty, Demitri Beal, Deven Drane, Arryn Chenault, Jorian Hudson

 

Overview: This unit will almost assuredly be great - in two years. For now, the question of how this youthful group will respond remains among one of the greatest concerns on the team. Dominique Battle and Drew Frey will be counted on as the leaders, but beyond those two any number of players could step into a significant role.

 

Biggest Question: What will happen after Dominique Battle? Will there be a rotation of defensive backs?

 

Coombs: "The best kid should be on the field for every snap of football, that is what I think. It's going to be the best guy, nobody should play tired, nobody should play hurt, but nobody gets any gifts. They play because they are the best guy for the job on that down, at that time."

 

CORNERS

 

DOMINIQUE BATTLE

 

Tangibles: 6-foot, 182-pound, Jr.

 

Last year: 12 starts, 60 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 interceptions

 

Coombs' take: "Battle, he's a great man-cover guy. He has great football intelligence. He really gets what you are trying to do and accomplish. He fits really well. It is unfortunate, a cramp and a little twinge, but we are not going to rush him back out there. He's got to be healthy."

 

PDJ Projection: Battle is undeniably the top corner on the team. He was a key contributor last year and will need to deliver the same performance and then some to lead this group of DBs. After an early injury, he is practicing again, so it appears likely he will be ready to go by Fresno State.   

 

 CAMERRON CHEATHAM

 

Tangibles: 5-9, 190 pounds, RS Soph.

 

Last year: 13 games, 1 start, 13 tackles.

 

Coombs says: "We are not very technique sound at this point so we have some improvements to make there. Competition is going to be tough. He is a very smart player, he pays close attention and has a good feel. His press technique has to improve. His overall man-to-man has to get better and I would like to see him be a very physical player."

 

PDJ Projection: Cheatham made a nice play with an interception of Zach Collaros in the first scrimmage of the season and is more comfortable now than he has ever been in the system. He said he believed coming to camp that he would leave as the starting cornerback and also believes he accomplished just that. He owns the confidence to play at corner and I fully expect him to see significant minutes and likely a few starts this season, very possibly the first one coming on opening day.

 

REUBEN JOHNSON

 

Tangibles: 5-10, 180 pounds, Soph.

 

Last year: 11 games, no starts, 5 tackles

 

Coombs' take: "He's explosive and is going to make big plays, but he has to be a little careful and cautious and we have to coach him through that. He's very confident. I want him confident; I just want him to play within the coverage all the time. But he is very explosive and a very talented player."

 

PDJ Projection: Johnson is working through some issues with his technique, but the upside of his raw, physical ability could be worth it if he comes along mentally this year.

 

CHRIS WILLIAMS

 

Tangibles: 6-foot, 182 pounds, Soph.

 

Last year: 10 games, 0 starts, 3 tackles

 

Coombs take: "He's doing a super job in nickel."

 

PDJ Projection: Williams was one of the pleasant surprises of the spring and continues to be thus far in the fall. He appears slotted to play nickel corner for this team, along with Pat Lambert.

 

PAT LAMBERT

 

Tangibles: 6-1, 197 pounds, RS Soph.

 

Last year: 13 games, no starts, 7 tackles


Coombs' take: "He's had a nice camp at nickel. He is better than he was in the spring."

 

PDJ Projection: Coombs really liked what he saw from Lambert. He should contribute in spots and has even been challenging for the starting nickelback position.

 

SAFETIES

 

DREW FREY

 

Tangibles: 6-3, 200 pounds, RS Soph

 

Last year: 12 games, 12 starts, 64 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 sacks, 2 interceptions, 4 breakups

 

Coombs' take: "He's had the best camp he has had since I have been here. He is confident, fast, mature, he is physical. He is going to have a great, great season. I am really excited about the way Drew is playing. Drew has to be comfortable before he is good. I think now he is much more comfortable. He will be more comfortable two weeks from now.

 

Coombs on Frey's leadership: "For Drew, he has a calming influence. It is a young room. Nobody is graduating in there. He is mature and those guys know that. And they know how to act by watching Drew. He doesn't stand in the front of the room and do a lot of talking, he just does. Because of that he will be a more effective force."

PDJ Projection: The words of Kerry Coombs ring true. They may come partially because Coombs desperately needs Frey to deliver on all those claims and partially because he believes they will come true. If Frey plays with more confidence this year than last year, when he was fourth on the team in tackles, he may develop into the premier player in the back end of that defense. If he doesn't, it will be a long year for that young squad.

 

WESLEY RICHARDSON

 

Tangibles: 6-foot, 200 pounds, RS Jr.

 

Last year: 13 games, 0 starts, 21 tackles, .5 TFL, 1 forced fumble

 

Coombs' take: "He's knowledgeable about the game and what we are trying to accomplish as anybody on the team. He is assignment sound, coachable, physical. I am expecting him to have a great year. It is really a pleasure to watch a kid continue to work hard every day to get better and not take anything for granted."

 

PDJ Projection: Richardson represents the biggest question in the secondary. Filling in for Aaron Webster would have been difficult, regardless. Add in the fact Richardson didn't log many significant snaps last year and it becomes downright frightening. Richardson's play early in the season may be an issue the team will have to hide, but as it goes along, with Richardson's intelligence, he will become a strength of the defense.

 

FRESHMEN

 

ADRIAN WITTY

 

Tangibles: 5-10, 170 pounds, Fresh.

 

Last year: Deerfield Beach (FL) HS

 

Coombs take: "He's a very explosive talent, going to be a very good player. He's on the two deep, but I don't know if he'll stay that way."

 

PDJ Projection: Coach Butch Jones really likes Witty and there is a chance he could be starting at some point this season. If I were a betting man, I would put it at better than 50 percent he starts a game at corner at some point this year.

 

DEMITRI BEAL

 

Tangibles: 5-11, 184 pounds, Fresh.

 

Last year: Chaminade Madonna (FL) HS

 

PDJ Projection: The Bearcats and Coombs are still evaluating Beal after he missed some time in camp.

 

DEVEN DRANE

 

Tangibles: 5-11, 179 pounds, Fresh.

 

Last year: Planation (FL) HS

 

Coombs' take: "Drane had a great summer, he came in in great shape. He wants to be good and he is a learner along with being a good man-cover guy."

 

PDJ Projection: You can lump Drane in with some of the other freshman who aren't likely to see much action unless there are some injuries.  

 

ARRYN CHENAULT

 

Tangibles: 6-foot, 196 pounds, Fresh.

 

Last year: Fairfield HS

 

Coombs' take: "He's really sharp, pays attention and knows what he is supposed to be doing. He is getting some looks in the two-deep nickel right now."

 

PDJ Projection: Jones loved Chenault the moment he first met him and raved about him on Signing Day. His play has shown flashes of backing up the hype and I would expect him to see some minutes this season. He may not start but will be in the conversation.  

 

JORIAN HUDSON

 

Tangibles: 6-2, 186 pounds, Fresh.

 

Last year: Roger Bacon High School

 

Coombs' take: "He's a very explosive kid, plays the ball really well in the air. He'll be part of a great nucleus for a long time."

 

PDJ Projection: Hudson also lumps into the group of freshman fighting among themselves to avoid a redshirt and earn playing time.  

Bearcats Breakfast 8.23.10

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I don't think I could live with myself if I didn't open up the blog today by wishing a happy birthday to my mother. She tolerated myself and my shenanigans for almost 30 years of her life now and the least I can do is wish her happy birthday here. 

As for the Bearcats, I popped out to Kings Island for UC Day and it was a pretty festive atmosphere. The football players were all stylin in their straw hats. It's not a bad look if you can pull it off. I won't lie, I own one. Yet, everyday when I look at it in my closet, I shake my head and wonder why I bought it. Can I pull this off? Probably not. Will people be asking me questions about my headgear all day? Probably so. End of debate.

Moving on... 

--- The Zach Collaros diary with Bill Koch has been a great feature at The Enquirer. The latest edition had him talking about the differences in the Brian Kelly and Butch Jones offense. He goes more into depth with what I have been talking about since practice began this year: tempo.

The speed of the game this team will run at is unlike anything I've seen live.

--- Single-game tickets went on sale today for football.

--- Mardy Gilyard's pro debut on Saturday looked a lot like most of his college career -- at least from a special teams perspective. Gilyard returned three punts for an average 16.3 yards, including 23 yarder with all the starters in. He also returned three kickoffs for 70 yards with a long of 28.  

Unfortunately, he wasn't as succesful on the receiving. He was targeted three times, but none connected.

--- The AP Top 25 was released on Saturday and looked a lot like the coaches poll. UC was the first team out at No. 26 and WVU was the last team in at No. 25.

Oklahoma came in at No. 7 and Pitt No. 15.

With three games against Top 25 teams already on the schedule and a fourth with No. 31 UConn in Hartford, there are plenty of opportunities to work up the ranks again.

--- When talking about freshman that would make a contribution this year, Roger Bacon product Solomon Tentman always came up. That's why his injury on Saturday was a tough one to swallow on a defense already lacking depth.

There is no official word as of yet, but Butch Jones was thinking ACL, which would have Tentman out for the year.

--- There is some concern at Pitt because their offense was underwhelming in the team's final scrimmage.

--- One of the best matchups to watch on opening night in Fresno will be the battle between Bulldogs G Andrew Jackson and Bearcats NT Derek Wolfe. Jackson is ranked as the No. 3 Interior Lineman in the country by Rivals.com.

If Jackson can neutralize UC's top defensive weapon up front, it could be a long night for the UC defense.

--- Randomness: Here's a list of 12 movies you would be better off watching with Rex Ryan than your mother.

--- More randomness: Sports Pickle rarely misses.

--- I hate the Little League World Series. That's right, I said it.  

Bearcats Breakfast 8.20.10

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A pretty nice little Friday planned. We have UC media day and a Butch Jones press conference at noon. UC basketball will hve its first practice and media availability for the Canadian trip today at 2:30 and there's even a Bengals game tonight to complete the trifecta. I might go to Bed, Bath and Beyond -- I don't know, I don't know if I'll have enough time.

--- I wouldn't expect too much news to come out of the Jones presser, likely more of the same stuff we have been hearing all camp, only this time the TV cameras will be there instead of just writers.

--- For the basketball team, the only news would be the appearance of Rashad Bishop, who's scholarship has still not been picked up by Mick Cronin. Bill Koch talked about it in his story yesterday. Originally, we were told there would be an announcement for early August and it was assumed we would know by the beginning of these practices. We will see what happens.

--- As for the Bengals, Marvin Lewis had some kind words about former Bearcat MIke Windt, which I posted on the blog. Darrin Simmons, the special teams coordinator, has said Windt is doing everything correctly, thus far. But that position is all about what you do under the real-game pressure. That's why Brad St. Louis isn't here anymore. In reality, it would be hard to imagine the Bengals picking Windt over a guy in Clark Harris who did the job successfully all of last season after St. Louis was let go. But a few more plays like his fumble recovery against Denver, and he may force their hand.

--- For those of you trying to watch the Bengals-Eagles game, it won't be on TV because the game didn't sell out and won't even be on tape delay. However, the always in the know producer at Channel 19, Rufus Millenor, told me about channelsurfing.net.

You can watch just about any event through the feeds of other stations. And Bengals-Eagles is already there as a link to click on

Not sure about the legality of any of this, but hey, it will get you the game tonight if you are that thirsty for preseason football.

It will be chance to check out former Bearcat Brent Celek, who Kevin Goheen profiled here.

--- As a little bit of self-promotion, I had a couple items posted up on the blog yesterday, there is so much going on at GoBearcats.com these days, some of the stories tend to cycle out of the top spots pretty fast.

I premiered the Ink of the Week series by taking a look at two of D.J. Woods' tattoos. Woods' motto he and his father came up with -- Humble, Hungry, Focused -- gives you a good peak into the mentality of the WR. And a reason why you should expect him to put up big numbers again this year.

Also, I had a story on Maalik Bomar and Walter Stewart, who both put on 22 pounds of muscle this offseason. Those long hours of work could be difference makers, Bomar wouldn't be on the field without that weight and Stewart's ability to power through weak blocks on the edge will make him even more dangerous for UC.  

--- Tomorrow will be two weeks until kickoff at Fresno. If you aren't starting to get excited now, you probably don't read this blog every day.

--- Mardy Gilyard will see his first game action of the preseason on Saturday night. He's currently playing with a wrist guard on his hand from a bruise he suffered in a scrimmage, but will take the field in Cleveland.

Not shockingly, he has impressed in camp and is still professing his love for the city of Cincinnati.

--- Meanwhile, time is running out on Tony Pike, but the former UC QB is staying positive.

--- Armon Binns named third-team preseason All-America by Rivals. Of note, Pitt placed three players on the first team. And none of those are name Greg Romeus, who was bumped to the second team. Bad news for Bearcats fans: Pitt is most definitely loaded. Good news: It's all on Wannstache now.

--- Tommy G, back in the hard hat, on the new practice turf just put down at the Jefferson Ave. Sports Complex. 

--- I don't want to put any more power into the hands of folks like Colin Cowherd and Jesse Palmer either, but to contend ESPN owning the BCS Bowl games will open the door for them to sway the competitors they want is a bit far-fetched. But maybe I just need to be a little more jaded.  

--- Brian Bennett puts the UC defense on the spot.

--- I keep hearing more and more arguments for UConn winning the Big East. They are all pretty legit. The Huskies own the best of in the Big East of what I always deem to be the most important position in football -- the offensive line. They are returning nearly all their starters from last year, including their QB.

Oh, and they host WVU, Pitt and UC. That means the Bearcats possibly needing to go into Hartford the day after Thanksgiving and win a game in the snow for the title. Not that they haven't done something of that ilk before.

Just another excuse to link to this!

--- In some bit of random humor, not sure why this biker was wearing a camera, but I am glad he was.  

--- I hope everyone enjoys their weekend, maybe shares a couple of pops with the folks on the cul-de-sac. That is, unless you live in the neighborhood with this disgruntled 84-year-old man who was arrested for bloodying the police chief. Then you should just stay in your houses.

There are two things I hope to be when I am 84 -- 1) alive and 2) not like this guy.

REPRESENTING THE "D"

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brandon mills.jpeg


      Every year in preseason camp, someone will catch your eye.

      Sometimes, it's the flashy guy who runs like a gazelle and can't quit talking. Other times, it's a sculpted and gifted offensive player who simply separates from the rest.

      Brandon Mills is neither of those. But, Brandon Mills can play football.

      He's your typical "lunchbucket" local high school player who got snubbed from the so-called "big schools" because item number one in the "Lazy Man's Short Sighted Book of Recruiting" states, "Only a bigger guy can succeed in athletics."

      Stupid.

      Ask those that took a pass on Flutie and Brees or here with Mauk and Collaros. Or, in more accurate terms, look at how many missed on Tony Carvitti out of Elder or Terrill Byrd of Colerain.

      Somewhere between Carvitti and Byrd is Brandon Mills (also out of Colerain). Mills is 5-10 and about 236 pounds, about 60 pounds less than Byrd and around the same size as Carvitti. He won four letters at Colerain, which at last check is one of the leading football programs in this area. He also with three-time all Greater Miami Conference and all Southwest Ohio.

All that, and the only schools interested in giving Brandon Mills a scholarship were in the MAC.

      Fortunately, Brandon's former high school coach had just taken a job with the Bearcats. After the initial season of Kerry Coombs at UC with Brian Kelly, Mills was invited to prove himself in the Big East.

      After a redshirt year in '08, Mills recorded 25 tackles, eight tackles for loss, three and a half sacks and had a quarterback hurry in '09. On a defensive line full of monsters, Mills' low center of gravity is effective as he maneuvers past offensive linemen that have 70 pounds on him to find the football.

     For that, he's being rewarded with increased playing time on a defensive line that, for the most part, dwarfs him.

      "I'm a key factor being the 'Leo' and I've learned all of the other first spots too, just in case someone goes down," said Mills.

      There is no letdown in bringing Brandon Mills into the game. He's like the feisty neighborhood dog that protects it's property when the trendy Labrador gets too close. The uninformed think "the Lab" can have it's way, but the feisty dog will not back down under any circumstances.

      A similar scenario took place recently at Higher Ground when offensive lineman Alex Hoffman was trying to sustain a block on Mills. In the opinion of Mills, Hoffman appeared to be exceeding his physical responsibilities, so Mills fought back and briefly, it was "Ali-Frazier, round 15".

      Hoffman is 6-7, 296 pounds. Close to a foot taller and 60 pounds heavier. But, Mills stood his ground and didn't do what most of us would do if we were being threatened by a 300-pound dude.

      Turning tail and running is not in the Brandon Mills job description.

      "It's just good," said Mills. "We're still a family, brothers, we love each other out here."

      While that may be true, it's also true that jobs are on the line and a few days on the worksite over 90 degrees can bring the occasional flare-up.

      "We've got to get it a little under control," said Coach Butch Jones. "We've got some competitive individuals and they've got to know there's a line and you can't cross that line. We've got to get after each other, but once the double horn blows we're teammates, and it's all about team."

      That's pretty much the way Brandon Mills handled it as he was as friendly as could be just 15 minutes removed from the scuffle. Between the lines, Brandon Mills is a warrior. Outside the lines, there's probably no better method team bonding in the heat than sharing an over-sized kiddie pool full of water and ice.

      By the time I talked to him, Mills was much less focused on the fight and was pointing an eye toward the refreshing plunge.

     "It's very important," said Mills as he prepped for his impending Rodney Dangerfield "Triple Lindy". "We need that to be healthy and be refreshed after a hard practice like this. You've got to get in the cold tub."

      For the record, Mills has confirmed that Colerain had no cold tub. Beyond that, his scrappiness is why he's in the defensive line mix in just his redshirt sophomore year. Watch Kerry Coombs coach for a few minutes and you understand why his ex-Cardinal players are so intense.

      "It's just a mindset," said Mills. "Everyone here wants to go and win a championship. You've got to put those things (fights) behind you and look past into the future. I just bring a good mindset to the game. I bring enthusiasm and intensity and I just play hard on every snap."

      The goal of Mills and the defense in 2010 is to change the national thinking that the Bearcats can only play offense. The infamous 3-4 of former coordinator Bob Diaco has gone north with the leprechaun and these Bearcats are determined to hit someone in the mouth (preferably not their own teammates). The "no defense" tag is one this group wants to be rid of.

      "We don't like that," admitted Mills. "But, this year they're going to start talking about the defense and the offense as a team. It's going to be a great team this year. Defense is going to be Top 10 this year, no problem!"

      Confidence is something you like in your defense and it can't always be taught. When you're Brandon Mills, and you're not used to losing in high school or college, it comes easy. He's got the "bite", and the "bark" is something UC's defense has always had in the practices I've witnessed.

      "Yes sir, you've got to give defense the edge in that," said a smiling Mills.

      With that, the gritty front-line soldier shucked his shoulder pads and walked toward the glistening pool of sweaty lineman that looked like a pack of resting manatees.

      "I might do something," said Mills. "Cannonball probably."





Sculpting the defense

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Maalik Bomar and Walter Stewart drastically altered their body compositions in order to beef up a defense depending on them.

 

WEST HARRISON, Ind. - Sophomore Maalik Bomar couldn't figure out the problem. For years, he ate his fair share of food, hit the weight room consistently and evolved into a three-star recruit out of Winton Woods High School.

 

He never added pounds.

 

"I used to think, 'Geez, I am only gaining a couple pounds every blue moon,'" Bomar said. "I thought it was genetics."

 

At the end of spring football, Bomar knew his time arrived. A gaping hole developed in the Bearcats defense at his outside linebacker position as starter JK Schaffer appeared destined for more at the middle backer position vacated by leading tackler Andre Revels. Only, at 196 pounds, Bomar needed more size to fill the mold of an effective BCS linebacker.

 

Under the supervision of strength coaches Dave Lawson and Mike Szerszen, Bomar traded summer in the sun for a summer in the damp, sweaty confines of the UC weight-training facilities.

 

Ten weeks later, Bomar emerged with 22 pounds of extra muscle, at a chiseled 218.

 

Bomar defied what he thought to be genetics by never missing a meal and sticking to Lawson's strict nutrition plan. This wasn't an Oprah blow up. This sculpting came carefully constructed every step of the way.

 

"You want one or two pounds a week," Szerszen said. "You look at what he gained, 22 pounds over a 10-week span, it's been a healthy gain."

 

Healthy for both Bomar and the Bearcats defense. During a recent practice Butch Jones patrolled up and down stretching lines and pronounced out loud, "I am buying stock in Maalik Bomar!"

 

Jones proclamation is more than just words with Schaffer's extensive snaps at MLB. At the end of last season Bomar was No. 3 on the depth chart, but if the season started today, Bomar would likely take the field for the first snap of the season at OLB.

 

"We don't have any time to waste for him to come along," linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator John Jancek said.    

 

A similar comment could be made about Walter Stewart. Stewart already proved he could play at a high level with 59 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss as a freshman last year. But with the loss of six starters, the Bearcats need Stewart to develop into one of the most dominant pass rushers in the Big East. And they needed him to do it from both the linebacker and defensive end position.

 

Feeling the same sense of urgency which sparked Bomar, Stewart made a conscious decision to change his body's capabilities.

 

"By the Sugar Bowl, I knew for me to compete and do what I do, which is get to the quarterback, I had to get bigger," Stewart said. "I just took it upon myself to just make sure I am eating three, four, five times a day and just lifting hard. I want to win, so I do whatever it takes."

 

It took a summer with Lawson, Szerszen and Bomar to gain 22 pounds of his own. The 6-foot-5 Stewart ended last season at 213 pounds and now fills out at 235.

 

He's far from the ideal size for a hybrid DE/LB, probably needing to add another 15-20 pounds to be at NFL-ready size. However, he's at the perfect size for this point in time.

 

"I was thinking I wanted to get to 245," Stewart said. "When I got to 235, I was like 'Whoa, I may have to calm it down a little bit.' I don't want to get too heavy then have to work my body into shape. It ended up working out just right for me.

 

"I feel like I still have my burst, it is a different speed that I have now. I have power behind my speed. Not just quickness and bouncing around. I can actually go through defenders now instead of constantly having to run around them."

 

All indications are Stewart's new combination of speed and power are paying off. He has impressed in camp and shined during Wednesday's scrimmage.

 

"I could rip off blocks and throw people around," Stewart said. "It was exciting to take that weight room strength and use it out here. After going through a whole season undersized, it is a big difference. And a lot more fun, too."

 

With his versatility and newfound power, Stewart creates mismatches and becomes the Bearcats most vital defensive weapon.

 

On the opposite side of the field, Bomar hopes to follow in Stewart's footsteps as the breakout defensive player. At the very least, Jones demands reliability from the unproven Bomar.

 

Stewart and Bomar spent countless hours working out together during the early morning moments of this summer. They talked about stepping up when called upon. They talked about becoming dominant defenders. They talked about completing a Big East three-peat.

 

Now they own the bodies to back it up.

CANADIAN CROSSOVER

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cashmere wright.jpeg(UC sophomore PG Cashmere Wright)



      Mick Cronin's 2010-11 basketball team begins practice this week.

      that's something you don't always hear as the football team is at training camp, these practices are for a rare, sneak preview the basketball Bearcats will have prior to Labor Day in Canada. On September 3rd, 4th and 5th, UC will be in Ottawa taking on some Canadian squads.

      "Friday, we'll play McGill University out of Montreal," said Cronin. "We'll play them at Carleton University. Saturday night we'll play Carleton in the arena where the Ottawa Senators play. Carleton has won numerous national championships. Sunday, we'll play Ottawa University. Those are probably three of the four best teams in all of Canada."

      Taking a preseason basketball road trip is something the Bearcats haven't done in 14 years.

      "Cincinnati's last trip was '96'," said Cronin. "It was actually my first year with the program and Coach Huggins. Summer of '96--went to Italy. You're allowed to go every four years. It's a big advantage for your program because you get 10 extra practice days. Not just 10 practices, 10 practice days. Film sessions, shooting sessions, individual sessions all within those 10 days."

      In 1996, the trip improved a team that was already pretty good.

      "Danny Fortson's last year," said Cronin. "Preseason number one in the country."

      Unfortunately for Mick Cronin, he wasn't able to enjoy pizza and pasta with the rest of the guys. As the "new guy" on staff, Coach Cronin's duty was to hang back in the states with those on the squad that still had class obligations and couldn't make the trip.

      Actually, Cronin has taken this particular trip north of the border before and reaped it's rewards.

      "Five years ago, my last year at Murray State, I took my team on the same tour," said Cronin. "It was highly beneficial to our team. We went to the NCAA tournament and dominated our conference. It helped our offensive efficiency in being able to slowly put it in your system. We all feel so rushed early in the season trying to get stuff in."

      Now, Cronin's plan is to practice three days, take a day off, three more days, another day off, and so on until the magic number of 10 is reached. The upside of these exhibitions is it makes the installation process much easier in mid-October when practices traditionally start.

      "It's going to be a big advantage for cohesiveness and to put our offensive stuff in," said Cronin. "As you know, it's a big disadvantage when you start school so late, compared to those that start in August. I'm very excited about it and it should definitely help us early in the season."

      Certainly, winning is always on Cronin's mind, but the prime goal with these exhibitions is to get vital experience for the players on the floor running UC's plays. Two seasons ago, UC beat Carleton in a preseason game at Fifth Third Arena. Four years ago, they beat Ottawa.       However, these games come two months earlier in the year than those did.

      "We will have scripted line-ups," acknowledged Cronin. "We're making sure we're playing guys a certain amount of minutes. We're going to make sure we get a chance to look at everybody and everybody gets a chance to play. It's an exhibition for them. We play to win, but we're also going to monitoring guys' minutes."

      The plan for the Bearcats is to take some time off after the Canadian trip to rest up for the following month's debut. When that finally starts, UC will be featuring a couple of new big guys to complement the ones they have. Those players are Kelvin Gaines and Justin Jackson.

      Gaines is the bigger of the two at 6-11, but he wasn't seen as much this summer because of an injury to his jaw. Then, it didn't help when he arrived on campus and took a Yancy Gates elbow to the already-injured mouth.

      "Kelvin's had a lot of issues with his mouth--he had to get his jaw reset," said Cronin. "He had to have some major oral surgery. He's a big guy. For us, it's important that Kelvin develop and have good developmental years. You lose Thomas, Biggy McClain and Darnell Wilks. They all graduate."

      Along with Gaines, you have wiry Justin Jackson at 6-7 with some pretty incredible reach. Watching him in the Deveroes league, I'd compare his arm length with Jason Maxiell and Eric Hicks.

     While he doesn't have their body weight (yet) he's long and active defensively as they were.

       "He's going to be a great player," said Cronin. "Justin Jackson's got tremendous energy. He's a good rebounder and very active. He can also make open shots and finish around the basket. He can defend probably five positions."

      Jackson's defense should help UC in running a more pressing defense. The Cronin staff has always kept statistics on "deflections" in games and Jackson should be among the team leaders in that category if he gets the playing time. When he's in, look for for UC to apply the pressure.

      "With Deonta Vaughn gone, you'll see us be a much more consistent team with our defensive pressure," said Cronin. "Justin's only going to help us with that."

      Adding Jackson and Gaines down under with Gates, Thomas, McClain, and Wilks gives UC some much needed depth and should enhance their numbers in rebounding and "points in the paint".

      "We have a chance to have a great, if not the best, front line in the Big East," said Cronin.     

     "Our perimeter play and our guard play's probably going to be the biggest question."

      Speaking of guard play, Cronin brought up Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick as being guys that could make or break UC's season. Wright played last season, but had his ups and downs.

      "I think Cashmere Wright is a guy that needs to develop more consistency," said Cronin. "He and I had a lot of talks about him maturing off the floor--that'll translate to maturity on the floor. Oscar Robertson's always talking about how the consistency in your life will translate into consistency in your game. He (Wright) probably miscalculated how tough it was going to be coming back from a knee injury."

      Should Wright play to his potential, and if Sean Kilpatrick can turn it on like some of us have seen in summer games, UC should have nothing to worry about. However, Kilpatrick needs "channeled" a bit after spending a season on the bench observing and not playing.

      "The biggest thing with a guy that sat out and redshirted is slowing him down," said Cronin. "Sean Kilpatrick's going to have to take his time. You're not going to be able to go out in your first game and make up for a whole year sat out. He's so excited to play this season, which is understandable."

      If this were October, the concerns of Mick Cronin on Gaines, Jackson, Wright and Kilpatrick would be even more urgent. But, having the ability to ease into this college season with the extra practices and three exhibitions could prove to be a crucial dress rehearsal to what Cronin hopes is a long run (and hopefully, this engagement goes beyond Broadway).






Ink of the week: D.J. Woods

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Each week throughout football season I will feature a tattoo of a UC football player. Everybody has ink these days and these tatts obviously mean something to the guys. They spend plenty of hours and energy coming up with the perfect concept. They should be given the opportunity to show them off.

What better way to get to know the Bearcats players you cheer on every weekend than to hear about things most important to them.

Now, I am certainly not a tattoo expert. Don't have one, never considered it and likely never will. I'm kind of a wimp that way. However, I really appreciate what they mean to other people. And love hearing other people talk about theirs.

If you are talking tattoos on the Cincinnati Bearcats there is nowhere you can start other than D.J. Woods. The UC wideout is inked across his chest and down both arms. He says he has been under the needle eight times and only goes to his guy Billy in Clifton. 

I caught up with him and he told me about two of those that mean the most to him.

  WoodstatUSE.jpg 

Who: D.J. Woods, Jr., WR

Where: Left arm

What: Three stars, aligned vertically next to the acronym HHR, standing for Humble, Hungry, Focused

When: Woods got the stars and HHR done after his senior year in high school before he played in the Big 33 All-Star game featuring the best players from Ohio against the best from Pennsylvania.

What it means: "Me and my dad made HHR up when I was in high school. We would have eye black with HHF on it. It was for football, but it really stands for everything in life."

 

WoodstatUSE2.jpg

D.J. Woods, No. 2

Where: Left pectoral

What: Famous quote from Martin Luther King, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in comfort, but where he stands at times of a challenge and controversy."

When: Woods inked this when he got to UC.

What it means: "I was asking around and was looking at quotes becuase I really needed something about stepping up to the plate and being a man. Then I found out Dr. Martin Luther King said it, and I got it."

There's only so much which can be learned from an intrasquad scrimmage in the middle of August. The objectives are simple: stay healthy, be efficient, stay healthy, work the reserves, stay healthy.

 

In theory, the Bearcats accomplished their goal. Nobody suffered any major injuries and the first-team offense looked relatively smooth during the first two drives as they moved pretty easily down the field.

 

Vidal Hazelton, D.J. Woods and Armon Binns didn't take many reps together. What does anybody really need to know about those guys at this point? They will be fine.

 

Days like Wednesday were made for the reserves to fight for positions. What Butch Jones learned about those reserves, particularly on offense...

 

"We got a long way to go," he said without hesitation to kick off his post-practice interview.

 

"There was some real good teaching that came out of today. We ran 80-some odd plays and we are trying to figure out who is going to be on the plane to Fresno. By no stretch of the imagination are we game-ready yet."

 

--- As far as players Jones picked out as playing particularly well, DE/LB Walter Stewart drew praise for his work rushing off the edge. Hazelton also earned a mention for plays he made during the few drives he was in the game.

 

Although, Hazelton did draw a personal foul penalty that assisted in stifling the third drive of the day for the first team. He got a little chippy after some late blocking on a third-down play.

 

No surprise Stewart and Hazelton were top performers on Wednesday. Those two have been playing well all camp thus far and both are playing with as much dedication and focus as anybody at Higher Ground. Stewart put on 20 pounds of muscle this offseason in hopes of being a more physical player and all Hazelton can think about is hitting the field for the first time in two years hoping to have a season that will get him noticed by NFL scouts.

 

--- The negative play of the day for Zach Collaros came when DB Camerron Cheatham intercepted the UC QB on a miscommunication on a timing route intended for OJ Woodard.

 

Only two weeks from boarding a plane for Fresno State, Jones knows an excuse for miscommunication won't cut it.

 

"That is obviously something that can't happen," Jones said.

 

That said, on the list of issues Jones is concerned with, Zach Collaros throwing too many interceptions is somewhere between what type of cups the team's water will be served in and the deodorant used by the Bearcat mascot.

 

Any interception by the junior almost seems like an hallucination considering all we have seen from him last year, this spring and so far this fall. He's ready.  

 

--- Jones' primary concern was with the overall physicality of the team. Tackling wasn't up to his standards.

 

The defense played relatively well, but coaches will always complain about tackling. One missed tackle is one too many.

 

Jones wants a team with an attitude on defense. That begins with being more physical.

 

That mentality transfers to the offensive side of the ball where the Bearcats ran the ball more than they had been this fall. Jones wants to establish a ground game and find ways to wear teams down both with the outside speed and inside strength.

 

--- Jones also criticized the high number of penalties committed, realizing this team can't afford to be one that hurts itself.

 

He also pulled out a fact that in analyzing last year's touchdowns allowed, 92 percent of those came from drives where there was a defensive penalty or big play.

 

The ideal for this defense is to force teams to complete long drives.

 

--- One of the most important developments to come out of the scrimmage was the offense earning a true understanding of the speed this attack will run at.

 

"Last year we had a fast tempo," D.J. Woods said. "I thought that was as fast as we could go. This year, I have never seen this kind of speed before. We all have to get our conditioning up."

 

One play ran into another as the offense kept the defensive players huffing and puffing as they plodded to the three-point stances. On top of utilizing a plethora of weapons, the Bearcats believe their uptempo style will wear down teams not used to constantly running at that pace.

 

"It was nice to have referees out here, have the person spotting the ball," Collaros said. "We can move and don't have to wait on the coaches. (Defensive lineman Derek) Wolfe told us after the scrimmage, 'You guys were moving out there, it was crazy.'"

 

Moving the ball from one end of the field to the other at the rapid pace was a great run-through in comparison to practices where coaches take time to teach or only use half the field.

 

"A day like this helps them understand the conditioning necessary to sustain a drive which we might not see in a practice situation," offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said. "They know what to expect."

 

--- There were plenty of snaps for the backup quarterbacks.

 

Brendon Kay played well when he ran with the second team, including a smooth rollout on a two-point conversion where he showed off some mobility in cutting back to run in to the end zone.

 

Chazz Anderson connected with Tomaz Hilton for a nice touchdown pass.

 

That battle will likely go down to the final practices before UC boards the plane for Fresno.

 

Munchie Legaux hasn't seen many reps in practice, so the scrimmage served as a nice opportunity to see what the true freshman from Louisiana could do. Legaux ripped off a nice touchdown run of about 30 yards, but looked very much like a freshman who hasn't taken many reps. His passes rarely connected and he needed Collaros on the field behind him to help with all the play calls coming in.

 

Cody Kater also took some reps, but threw a pick-six to sophomore transfer Aaron Roberson.

 

"They are really green right now," Bajakian said. "We wanted to see how they responded to that situation."

Born To Run . . . At The Mouth

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Moments after I emerged from my mother's womb, the doctor slapped me on the butt and my play-by-play career began.

 

"That's a personal foul - unnecessary roughness!" the infant me yelled (ironically sporting the same amount of hair that I have now).

 

My actual comment at the time was probably a loud "Waaa!", but you get the idea - I've dreamed of being a sports broadcaster for as long as I can remember.

 

As a kid growing up in Lakewood, NY, I was simultaneously the play-by-play man for the Buffalo Bills, Buffalo Sabres, Buffalo Braves (now the L.A. Clippers), and New York Mets.

 

OK, so I was broadcasting the games into a tape recorder in my bedroom, but I took it seriously and probably drove my parents and four brothers and sisters nuts.

 

I wouldn't be surprised if our dog Penny grew sick of listening to me.

 

When I got to high school, I figured that I could improve my public speaking ability by joining the debate club (now there's a way to woo the ladies!).  Unfortunately, winning debates required critical thinking more than the gift of gab.  My argument in favor of the death penalty was that it would curb the worldwide crisis of overpopulation.  The judges were not impressed.

 

My college choice was easy after reading the book "Yesss!" by Marv Albert.  When I saw that he had attended Syracuse University along with Bob Costas, Dick Stockton, and other prominent broadcasters, I knew it was the place for me.

 

Best decision I ever made.  While I had some outstanding professors, I learned even more from spending four years hanging out with incredibly talented students who shared my obsession.  Several of my classmates have gone on to have phenomenal careers including Sean McDonough (ESPN/ABC), Mike Tirico (Monday Night Football), Greg Papa (Oakland Raiders), Jim Jackson (Philadelphia Flyers), Tony Caridi (West Virginia University), Bill Roth (Virginia Tech), Craig Minervini (Florida Marlins), and Todd Kalas (Tampa Bay Rays) to name a few.

 

I have been extremely fortunate to do this for a living for 25 years, including my current positions with two first-class organizations - the Pawtucket Red Sox and the University of Cincinnati Bearcats.  Additionally, last Sunday I experienced the thrill of broadcasting NFL play-by-play for the first time as I called the Bengals/Broncos game with Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz.  The game was carried on the NFL Network and I've been getting e-mails and text messages from friends I haven't heard from in years.  Mike Tirico watched the game with the Monday Night Football crew and passed along a nice comment from Jon Gruden which I greatly appreciate.

 

The telecast wasn't flawless and I made some mistakes (note to self:  If it's hard to see whether the receiver is wearing #81 or #85, Chad Ochocinco wears ORANGE shoes), but it was our first broadcast of the pre-season and I know we'll be better in two weeks when the Bengals play at Buffalo.

 

I'm grateful to Bengals owner Mike Brown and Director of Corporate Sales and Marketing Vince Cicero for the opportunity, as well as PawSox President Mike Tamburro, University of Cincinnati Senior Associate Athletic Director Mike Waddell, and WLW's Darryl Parks for giving me the flexibility in my schedule to be able to do the Bengals pre-season TV package.

 

In the meantime, I'm back in the PawSox booth for the final three weeks of the season, and will call my first Bearcat football game on September 11 vs. Indiana State.

 

It sure beats working for a living.

 

I'd love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you're from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

 

Former Bearcats center Mike Windt made his first big impression during Sunday's Bengals game against Denver. Windt ran down on a punt where a Broncos player muffed the catch and dove into a pile for the loose fumble. He came out with the ball.

In a preseason where there are few opportunities for specialist like Windt at long-snapper to be noticed for anything expect screwing up, this was certainly a nice play.

Windt is currently competing with incumbent Clark Harris, who took over last season when longtime starter Brad St. Louis suddenly couldn't connect.

At today's press conference, Lewis discussed Windt and his current prospects with the Bengals.

"I think Mike has handled this pretty well," Lewis said. "I think this I'm sure has been a good experience for him, much like the placekickers and punters and specialists that perform in the National Football League, it's got to be a little bit of time on task and they have to get a little bit of opportunity out there under the lights. I've been pleased we have been able to give Mike the opportunity thus far and we will see what happens. But it has not been too big for him, he has done well in the games and well in practice and that is why he is still here."

 

Bearcats Breakfast 8.18.10

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This will be a slim and trim version of the Breakfast today with a lot going on, including a trip out to Higher Ground to check out the UC scrimmage this afternoon. I'll have plenty on that when I get back.

Until then, here's some fodder...

--- Rich Cirminiello previews the Big East and says the road to the BCS flows through the Backyard Brawl. He gives the Bearcats their due, but thinks Pitt and WVU are the class of the conference.

---  Tim Adams talked to C.J. Cobb about his fight to finally be a starter. OL coach Don Mahoney raved about Cobb before camp started. He called his recovery from his leg injury one of the great stories of the offseason. It's Cobb's last chance and he wasn't about to let it slip away due to injury.

The funny thing is, it actually helped inspire his backup, Andre Cureton to lose 30+ pounds. Cureton saw Cobb's work ethic and it rubbed off on him a little bit. With Cureton in shape, he can challenge Cobb at the right tackle spot. It will be a fun position to watch as the season draws closer.

--- UC's blog has a video documenting the work of the offensive line at Higher Ground. Caution: Beware of grunting and lifting.

--- Bill Koch talks a little bit more about the hot topic right now of defensive line depth.

--- Our man Tommy Gelehrter reports that former Bearcats safety Aaron Webster is signing with the Chicago Bears today.

--- Of course, I wouldn't leave you without a little mustache humor, this time it is Jonah Hill on Sesame Street talking about lip fur.

GOEBEL WARMING

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goebel.jpeg

      August in West Harrison, Indiana is not Death Valley, but it STILL is August and shoving on the gear of a gladiator and toiling in the summer sun can be a bit steamy. Especially, if you're senior John Goebel.

      You see, unlike the many Bearcats who have cropped their hair or gone "Mohawk", Goebel looks like one of the characters you may have learned about it in Bible School (for those of you that went).

      Much like Dustin Grutza and Connor Barwin did a few years back, Goebel's going with long, flowing locks this season. So, how's that working out for #22?

      "Not very well," reported Goebel. "For the first week it was just so hot out there. I have a goal. (The) end in mind is January after our bowl game. My Mom doesn't like it, but it's alright, I've got an end in sight."

      If everything works out, someone will shear the gritty Goebel in celebration of a bowl win in a little over four months.

      Goebel will have earned it, having gutted out four seasons and a redshirt under three coaches at UC. In terms of Camp Higher Ground, he's spent more time there than some of the employees.

      "This is number five," said Goebel. "I didn't know if I'd ever see number five because my freshman year I didn't redshirt. Being the fifth one, I'm like,'Wow!' During the team bonding thing it was making me reminisce, thinking of all the people I've seen come through here--Bradley Gladthaar, Brad Bury, Greg Moore, Butler Benton, Dustin Grutza. Now, I'm one of the older guys and I feel like I've got to be the leader for these guys and pass on some of the wisdom I've learned."

      Goebel is a leader without question. Last season, due to injuries, he was limited to seven games and was relegated to advice and cheering for much of the season. For that, he was given the Jim Kelly Spirit award. For a guy that had gained 607 yards on the ground and 283 through the air the year before, being in a supporting role was not what he had planned.

      "It was definitely a self-growth season for me last year," said Goebel. "(It was) difficult sitting back and basically watching my spot get taken. (Isaiah) Pead had a great season last year and Jake (Ramsey) had a great season. They deserved it 100 percent."

      Now, Goebel is back alternating in and out with the number one offense. Pead is still the "go to guy" in the running game, with Darrin Williams also in the mix, but Goebel opens up some other dimensions.

      "John's done a great job for us," said Coach Butch Jones. "He's got to kind of be a jack-of-all-trades, so to speak. From catching the ball, to pass protection, to our short yardage back, John's done a great job so far."

      Armed with new perspective, Goebel's happy for any work he can get on the field. After playing special teams and some defense as a true freshman under Mark Dantonio, Goebel used his redshirt in his second year, then returned to the offensive backfield the last two seasons for Brian Kelly.

      "It's been a great transition," said Goebel. "I ended up in the same spot, but took a little different path to get there. The team loves Coach Jones and loves what he's doing with the team. It's phenomenal. If you could see what we did out there--I've never seen anything like it in college football, never heard of it. It's just amazing team bonding and I think we're heading in the right direction."

      That direction should begin shortly with John Goebel back on the playing field at Nippert Stadium. The 22-year-old Goebel is anxious to take that opening trot through the tunnel by the inflatable Bearcat again.

      "I'm definitely excited!" said Goebel. "I remember my sophomore year when I got to play a lot at running back, the games are a lot more fun than practice. I'm really excited to play some different color helmets coming up soon."

      In the meantime, he's biding his time at Camp Higher Ground surrounded by some open fields, some tall trees, a few mosquitoes and a mess hall that would make most military personnel salivate. As pleasant and peaceful as the wooded retreat can be, Goebel's ready to board that final bus, cross the bridge by the cornfields, head past Shelton's Fireworks and return to familiar urban surroundings.

      "I don't know if I know what's past these woods!" said Goebel. "I literally have not gone past (the property). Mardy Gilyard used to go down and go fishing, him and Ricardo Mathews would go fishing. I usually just stay in here--the cafeteria's my spot."

      Before John Goebel leaves the warmth (in more ways than one) of Higher Ground, I hope he takes time to sit in one of the rocking chairs outside of that cafeteria. There's something about a wooden rocker that makes one reflect and remember.

      While he'll likely sit there wondering when he's ever going to get out of the grueling work of camp, he'll eventually sit somewhere in life wondering how he can get back.



Bearcats Breakfast 8.17.10

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While I try to wake up the dark recesses of my brain in charge of early 90s pop culture for an intense game of bar trivia in Oakley tonight, I went ahead and put together some breakfast for you all to enjoy.

--- The most poignant comments from Butch Jones yesterday came in regards to the lack of depth on defense. Bill Koch posted a blog about it here.

Yesterday I wrote a story about the defense responding to its critics, of which there seem to be many these days, and touched on the depth issue as well.

The bottom line is Butch Jones admitted his team is "very limited" in regards to depth and especially on defense. He called the defensive line position a "major concern." As documented in the D-line position analysis with Steve Stripling, the Bearcats feel good about their top five, but beyond them, there isn't much experience. In fact, next to none.

-- If I'm putting together a list of the top five players this team absolutely cannot afford to lose this season, here's how it would look at this moment.

1. Zach Collaros -- this should go without saying, Brendon Kay and Chazz Anderson are battling for the backup QB position, but either would be an almost insurmountable drop off from Collaros in both skill and leadership.

2. Derek Wolfe -- Mel Kiper sees him as the top NFL-ready prospect on this team. It just so happens he plays at one of the thinnest position groups.

3. Walter Stewart -- Nobody else on this team can do what the Bearcats will ask Stewart to do as a hybrid defensive end/linebacker/disrupter type.

4. JK Schaffer -- UC already has him playing middle and outside linebacker and he will likely be heading a linebacking unit with two players without a start to thier name (if Stewart lines up at end) on either side of him come Fresno State.

5. Drew Frey -- His proven game experience and leadeship are paying huge dividends in a very young secondary. They need a general back there to lead them, especially through a tricky first month of the season where they will face three QBs (Fresno's Ryan Colburn, NC State's Russell Wilson and Oklahoma's Landry Jones) among the best in the country. 

You could argue players like Armon Binns, Vidal Hazelton and Isaiah Pead will have a greater impact then these defensive players, but the depth is so much better at WR and RB that if they were to go down for a couple of games, there are very capable backups who could step in and the machine would keep running.

If two or three of the players on that list go down, this machine might be headed for the scrap heap.

--- Ben Guidugli was second team all-Big East last year and was placed on the Mackey Award watch list yesterday. Bill Koch also had a story on him where they headline probably produced a little more than a slight spike in clicks.

The versatility he allows in the spread makes the offense all that more difficult to prepare for. Tight ends coach Mark Elder talked to me yesterday about the effect of having 11 guys on the field but not being limited to any aspect of the playbook. Defenses always want to compartmentalize what certain package groups do when they are in the game. With Guidugli, the Bearcats can line up for a power run, traditional set or spread Guidiguli out as a WR and not skip a beat.

--- Zach Collaros handicaps the Big East.

--- Every practice I have been to this season had a little rumble of some sorts. And from what I heard the one I missed had a large rumble on Saturday.

Here's a video of the players and coaches talking about the intensity with which the team is practicing right now.

--- The SEC breeds a whole other brand of crazy. And head and shoulders above that crazy, is Arkansas fans. I lived there, covered the Razorbacks for a year, I can attest to this.

What would happen if I showed up at UC practice press conference wearing a West Virginia hat?

Butch Jones would probably have a similar reaction to that of Bobby Petrino. A quick slam and move on.

Should I be fired? Even if I planned write a publicly apology and move forward?

Well, I certainly hope not. Of course, this isn't Arkansas where the only thing weaker than the public education system is the red zone defense. 

Outside the U

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I have grown to have a deep appreciation for the University of Cincinnati athletic department for lots of reason dating back to the arrival of the 3 headed Mike; Thomas, Waddell and Harris and then some. 

But it went deeper this week after the loss of Elbert Jovante' Woods, son of former Cincinnati Bengal Ickey Woods. None of us that have been in this position dare not try and imagine the pain and suffering his family is experiencing at this time. A great kid with a 3.8 GPA with a desire to become an attorney tells you a lot about his make up. Add to that he became an organ donor on his temporary license permit and it seems he was engaged beyond his years on multiple levels. Then as in the blink of an eye, he's gone from us too soon by our definition; but not GOD's. For non-believers I won't apologize but will say I have trouble understanding at times myself, but in the end I have faith in every thing surrounding my Christian walk.

I pray in earnest for the Woods family, whom I have known since their arrival, and when I got word that Coach Butch Jones tweeted his condolences for the family in the midst of his first official practices I was proud to be affiliated with the university. No one could blame him if he thought it but continued focusing on the obvious, practice, in his first year. Thank you coach. Then I communicated with Mike Waddell who said they would include him in the hometown heroes tributes and I thought how respectful of them to consider someone outside the UC family. If it gives the family 2 minutes of relief from their pain, it's worth it.

Sometime we get so caught up in "our world" we forget it includes THE world; the world we live in. UC thanks for looking outside the University and seeing Cincinnati. I can say I know the Woods family appreciates the compassion.

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

Defense under attack

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The defense is being cast as the reason the Cincinnati Bearcats could fall short of expectations in 2010. It hears the critics loud and clear.

WEST HARRISON, Ind. -- No environment is safe. When walking around campus, they hear it. When eating lunch, they hear it. Linebacker JK Schaffer says even when relaxing with his friends on other UC sports teams, he hears it.

Will this defense be the downfall of the Bearcats season?

"I am so tired of it," defensive tackle Derek Wolfe said. "It's every day."

In the home stretch of last season, the Bearcats didn't complete a perfect regular season because of their defense, rather in spite of it. UC allowed an average of 39.4 points a game during the final five games of the year, including the 51-point barrage at the hands of Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators in New Orleans.

And only five starters return from that unit.

So, as much optimism as can be derived for 2010 from the returning contingent of players on offense like Zach Collaros, Armon Binns, DJ Woods, Isaiah Pead, Ben Guidugli and Travis Kelce, an equal amount of pessimism exists around a defense currently without a senior starter.

The national pundits reacted accordingly. Despite back-to-back Big East championships and two seasons of rising from unranked to BCS, the Bearcats were slotted by some as low as the mid-40s and by nearly all outside the Top 25.

As Wolfe sat on the front row of a bleacher at Nippert Stadium and expressed frustration over his unit's critics, he stopped and pointed to the pad of paper in my hand.

"I want you to write this down," he said.

And when a 300-pound all Big East defensive tackle tells you write something down, you do it.

"It's not the fact of proving the people who don't think we are going to do well wrong," he said. "The people who expect us to do well, that is who we want to do well for."

The Bearcats defense has been called out - nationally, locally and even inside its own athletic fraternity.

"When I get random people coming up to me making fun of our defense, that bothers me," Schaffer said. "Other than that, I don't really care because I like being the one that has to go out and prove something because I feel like once you stop trying to prove people wrong that is when you fall short."

The possible pitfalls are many. It starts with depth - or the lackthereof.

The known quantities within the team's new 4-3 defense are Walter Stewart ranging between linebacker and defensive end, Schaffer likely moving to from outside to middle linebacker and Drew Frye and Dominique Battle heading up the secondary. Beyond those, the back end of the defense isfilled with a contingent of players who served assisting roles last season, but none who took on the responsibility they will this year.

More than any other spot, however, a concern over depth exists on the defensive line. As long as Wolfe and John Hughes are on the field plugging up the middle, coach Butch Jones feels confident. Beyond those two lives a laundry list of question marks.

"It's a major concern right now," Jones said. "(Hughes and Wolfe) are great players, they are going to have to be ironmen. We are searching for defensive lineman to step up and play."

Freshman Roney Lozano has been thrown into the fire and will be playing a significant role come Sept. 4 at Fresno State. As young players with wide eyes go, he won't be alone.

Without a senior, this group relies on a core of underclassmen to play the role of leader. Normally, a team's leadership falls to those experiencing the convergence of maturity and urgency in their final college season. Only, when there aren't any seniors in that mold, somebody must assume the roles of enforcer and example, teacher and therapist.

Juniors Wolfe and Schaffer assumed the role of leaders of this team.

"It is a role we have to embrace and make the most of because we really have no other choice," Schaffer said. "Plus, that is the way we wanted it to be if we did have the choice."

An interesting development occurred in the absence of the senior leader. Many younger players turned inward with the team in need of an authoritative presence.

"Not having a senior run the whole thing is kind of helping us come together more," Wolfe said, admitting sophomore DB Reuben Johnson - giving up 120 pounds - jumps in his face every day. "It takes certain people at a certain time to step up and say something. Whether it be me slacking or John Hughes, if we are slacking I expect one of these linebackers or DBs to come get after us."

Emerging leaders and progressing underclassmen sure sound swell in August, but mean very little if they aren't parlayed into results come September. At the end of the day, that's where this defense will be judged. The gap between pundits predictions and players proving them wrong lies somewhere between the hash marks on third-and-5 in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma.

Just know this: as the season draws closer, this defense hears loud and clear those stamping the scarlet letter of failure on its chest. It could care less. The team cares about shutting down opponents in order to reward all those who believed.

In doing so, the critics will be silenced in the process.

"We are doing it for the city of Cincinnati, for our families, for ourselves," Wolfe said. "It feels like everyone is against us. They are not ranking us high, giving us no respect. Just like any other year. We are out here to prove something; we are playing for each other."

We shall see what happens, but for now, those convincing words are worth writing down.

The second week at Higher Ground continues for UC. I will be heading out there this afternoon to take in the exhilirating practice action. I say that partially sarcastically because I was actually surprised at how intense and physical the Bearcats practice was last week.

We will see if they keep that up, but they were extremely competitive out there as I detailed in my sights and sounds blog on Friday.

--- Rightfully so, plenty is being written about Butch Jones and the Bearcats offense right now. Those guys are the star of the show and will likely be the reason UC wins however many games it does this year. Personally, I am more interested in this defense right now. I feel like there is more we need to know and need to learn happening on the other side of the ball. That's where you will see most of my stories come from this week. I want you guys to get a feel for why or why not to have confidence in this unit with the question mark around it entering the season.

But, yeah, people are writing about the offense.

--- Scott Springer talks about Vidal Hazelton. In many ways, at least to the fans, Hazelton would also be considered an unknown. But if you have seen him in practice, you know there is nothing to worry about with this kid. Scott does a nice job providing that glimpse here. Hazelton's the real deal.

--- Bill Koch put together a great story about Zach Collaros as the pride of Steubenville. I met a man who lives in Stuebenville not too long ago and said, "Oh yeah, the home of Zach Collaros." He responded by informing how crazy it is I said that because until recently everyone used to talk about it as the home of Dean Martin, but now he hears Collaros' name more.

If Collaros lives up to his expecations this year, people maybe calling Ohio the home of Zach Collaros.

--- The Hartford Courtant offers a preview of UC.   

--- If you want to know what Higher Ground feels like, check out the video on Butch Jones' blog.

--- Mardy Gilyard sat out the Rams' first preseason game with an injury. He is supposed to be back this week, according to CBSsports.com. Although, the reports are Danny Amendola has looked great in returns this preseason and took a punt back 93 yards for a touchdown.

--- There were a glutton of scrimmages around the Big East this past weekend, UC didn't have one, but Brian Bennett has a round up of the others. Of note, Bill Stewart blasted his team B.J. Daniels missed 11 of his first 12 passes. Yikes.

--- Bad news for Lance Stephenson, who was arrested for pushing his girlfriend down a flight of stairs. Stephenson may be a professional, but it's hard to forget he is still only a 19-year-old kid.

--- UC will begin its basketball practices for its trip to Canada this week. Rush the Court checked in with the Big East. Bottom line: they're not in love with the Bearcats.

RTC ranks them 13th of 16. Of course, they place Louisville 7th and all they have coming back is Peyton Siva and a decent recruiting class. RTC is entertaining, but they aren't always the most informed and have always held bias' with certain teams. Although, most will probably have UC in the bottom five preseason.

--- RTC also  has Villanova No. 1. Of course, that could have something to do with the fact Corey Fisher just dropped 105 points in a summer league game.

You think they play defense in the summer league? His season high last year for Nova was 24.

VITAL VIDAL

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 (photo courtesy of Scott's nifty Blackberry)


      The 6-2, 210 pound transfer from USC has one year to play as a Bearcat, and it appears he's going to make the most of it. Vidal Hazelton, who sat out last season and challenged UC's defense in practice is ready to assume the position of Mardy Gilyard.

      That's not to say that he's the #1 receiver now, as Armon Binns and D.J. Woods are weapons that are hard to ignore, but Hazelton is clearly the most "media savvy" of the group.

      Apparently,  the exploits of Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens with the NFL team in town have influenced Hazelton. Not only does he talk on the field, but he's highly involved on Twitter and does the occasional broadcast on Ustream.

      Like Gilyard before him, Hazelton is an approachable, fun-loving guy. Why else would someone purposely wear a Mohawk? Mohawks are not for shy men. They are statements. Jonny Gomes with the Reds did it. Ochocinco with the Bengals did it. It's usually the hairstyle of someone with an attitude. If the attitude is channeled in the right direction, good things can happen.

      "I just wanted to do something fun for camp to get the guys going a little bit," said Hazelton. "When they're tired and down, they can see how stupid I look. It's something fun."

      Actually, when the Bearcats are tired and down, they usually jump into the two plastic cold pools that sit adjacent to the steamy practice fields at Camp Higher Ground. My guess is hairstyles don't matter much after a grueling practice in heat indexes well over 100. But, Hazelton's intentions are good. He's obviously one of the more popular players.

      So, is he the Chad (Ochocinco) or T.O. of the Bearcats?

      "I wouldn't say that," said Hazelton. "We've got a real good receiving corps, we're just working hard and we know we've got a lot of talent. (But) like Coach said in the meetings, you can't win games with talent. We've just got to correct our minor stuff, get our details right and stuff like that and be sound."

      Even the guys defending Hazelton appear to like him, although you can't necessarily tell that from the onfield chatter. At a recent practice, Hazelton and his nemesis Reuben Johnson had some pretty good verbal sparring going. However, despite tight coverage from Johnson, it was Hazelton who was able to use his pro-style receiver body to fend off Johnson and make a key catch.

      Hazelton then used his wisdom and flipped the ball at Johnson, not saying anything. Johnson however, had to face the wrath of secondary coach Kerry Coombs.

      "You're worrying about what you're going to say--not what you're going to do!" chided UC's version of the Energizer Bunny.

      Hazelton has that affect on his defenders.

      Another play of note recently led to another Coombs gem to a defensive back who had been beaten by Hazelton: "They're ain't no JV in college football!"

      Then, there was an incident where Hazelton made a catch and then rolled into Wes Richardson like a fullback nosediving at the goal-line. The next day, it was Richardson who got a lick in on Hazelton as the competition has beefed up on both sides of the ball thanks to Hazelton's skills.

      "Me and Reuben, we go at it," said Hazelton of his daily confrontations with Johnson. "Sometimes I feel like he's holding me and he's lights out. Me and him just battle, we make each other better. He's a physical corner. He gives me a lot of work."

      Even though he's yet to play a game as a Bearcat, Hazelton brings veteran leadership after spending a year practicing and not playing. Then, you have his 32 games as a USC Trojan which come into play. When you've had a 50-catch season, you have knowledge to share.

      In Hazelton's case, he also has knowledge to share about not playing. UC recently found out that Tennessee transfer Kenbrell Thompkins will not play this season and will have to sit out the year (at least in terms of games). Hazelton has been counseling the teammate that he'll never officially get to play with.

      "I'm kind of disappointed about that," said Hazelton. "KT's got a lot of potential. The NCAA granted him two more years, so I think that's real good for him. Just like I sat out--scout team did a lot for me and it's going to do a lot for him. Next year, he's going to come out and he's going to be in a fight."
      Fantasizing of throwing to Hazelton, Binns, Woods AND Thompkins would seemingly be a quarterback's dream.

      "That would have been dynamic!" said Hazelton. "Like I said though, it's God's will and everything happens for a reason. I think he'll be OK."

      Oh well, if you're Zach Collaros, there's only one football you can put into play anyway.

      "We've got real talented receivers (that start)," said Hazelton. "We've got Jamar (Howard) that's behind us and we just need them to keep pushing us to come out and work hard everyday."

      Speaking of work, the workload at UC is something Hazelton's had to get used to. Sure, Southern Cal had a potent offense, but their way of going about it (just like a lot of California) was a little more "laid back" than what's going on here.

      "Not to say anything bad about USC, but the tempo here in the no-huddle offense is just extremely rapid," said Hazelton. "You've got to be in a lot better shape to be in this offense. You know, it's fun though, it's a receiver offense."

      It's so much fun that Hazelton was trying to convince some of his old Trojan teammates to join him here as NCAA rules would allow. At one time, Brandon Carswell was supposed to be a Bearcat, but then he changed his mind once Lane Kiffin hired an offensive coordinator away from the NFL Tennessee Titans (note to Kiffin: pray that you're never pulled over in the state of Tennessee).

      What happened there?

      "It was some guys that we're supposed to come," said Hazelton. "I don't know if any of them are still coming, I don't think so. We (UC) kind of lost some of them to other schools. Everything happens for a reason, I just was trying to help out some friends back at the old school."

      "Everything happens for a reason" is a popular Vidal Hazelton saying. Should the Trojan transfer have the impact that many expect, the doors possibly open up for others looking to improve their own collegiate situations.

      In the meantime, NFL scouts are routinely at UC's practices these days. While they may be looking at several Bearcats, the "smart money" says their eyes are on "lucky #7".

I took the first drive up to Higher Ground this afternoon and am happy to report the drive wasn't too bad at all and the accomodations look pretty impressive.

Reports are the first dinner was delicious with homeade fried chicken, mashed potatoes and corn. Cornhole, weights, visual acuity tests and training areas are all set up inside a large activity center that has doors that open to the field.

Alongside the field a campground-like picnic area is set up where the Bearcats put out a small pool used as a cold tub after practice. Apparently, each player receives his own 10-pound bag of ice to put around him. Recommendations of a media cold tub were made, then immediately rejected. Thank goodness.

But outside of the surroundings there were some interesting sights and sounds from the first day of Higher Ground, here's a quick roundup.

--- Intensity? Check.

The first practice in full pads this fall brought no lack of energy or physicality. In fact, it even went too far at times. After one goal-line play, sophomre DL Brandon Mills went after OL Alex Hoffman. Mills got into Hoffman's face with some pushing and shoving and eventually had to be restrained and pulled away.

That type of competitiveness and fire can be good, but coach Butch Jones realizes it went a bit too far at times.

"We got to get it a little under control," he said. "We got some competitive individuals. They have to know that there is a line and not to cross that line. Also, I think it is excitement. The thing that I like is we get after each other, but once the double horn blows we are teammates and it is all about team."

While there was some chippiness, WR Vidal Hazelton delivered some unadulterated violence on junior DB Wesley Richardson. Granted, Richardson is giving up 15-20 pounds on Hazelton, but the transfer from USC took a slant and truck-sticked Richardson as he attempted the tackle. The speed and size combination Hazelton showed on that play alone is part of what makes him so dangerous.

--- Pretty much every coach is losing his voice.  

--- Jake Rogers connected on about a 52-yard field goal toward the end of practice. He knocked it down the middle and even had some to spare. He split the uprights with the entire team surrounding him three times during the final minute of practice, only missing once from about 35 yards out.

 --- I am working a few different stories, one of them being on LB Maalik Bomar. He's stepping in at the outside linebacker position as JK Schaffer spends more time in the middle. However, I found out today that Bomar put on 22 pounds since the end of spring football. And he looks ripped.

Also, in talking with strength coaches Dave Lawson and Mike Szereszen, they informed me that the other major weight gainer this offseason was Walter Stewart, who put on about 25 extra pounds in preperation for spending more time working with his hand on the ground at defensive end. He's now listed around 235.  

Stewart will be particularly fun to watch to see all the different ways in with the Bearcats utilize him.

--- Safety Dominique Battle is currently out with a hamstring injury. Asst. coach Kerry Coombs said he wasn't sure how long he would be out, but didn't make it sound like it was a major injury at this point.

--- I conducted a 7-minute, 23-second interview with Coombs while the asst. head coach worked out with freeweights and did situps on a inflatible ball without pausing. You could almost feel him putting on pounds of intensity. The guy is a machine.   

--- During a red zone possession of the 1s vs. 1s conclusion of practice, the Bearcats pushed it in when Zach Collaros connected with TE Ben Guidugli at the pylon. Guidugli has become sort of the forgotten man among the talented skill players for the Bearcats, but will almost certainly play a major role in the red zone this year. That was example No. 1.

Chris Crawford at Bearcat Insider has a story on Guidugli and his role if you want to read more.

--- Tommy G was there and talked with co-DC Tim Banks.

--- Also, the voice returned to his blog for the weekend, as Dan Hoard posted a blog on the connection between Zach Collaros and Dan LeFevour. Good to see my sketched bald head won't be the only one on the site for a few days.

--- I hope everybody has a good weekend, I will leave you with this sweet performance by Arcade Fire on The Daily Show Thursday night. Enjoy it.  

  

LeFevour-like Stats For Collaros?

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Chicago Bears rookie Dan LeFevour is the only quarterback in NCAA history to pass for more than 12,000 yards and rush for more than 2,500 yards in his career.  His combined total of 150 touchdowns (102 passing, 47 rushing, 1 receiving) is an all-time NCAA record, and the 6th-round draft pick led his teams to a 36-15 record as a starting college QB.

 

"I feel like I've been watching him since high school," UC junior Zach Collaros told me recently.  "He really understood the offense and knew where to get the ball in certain situations.  I really admired the way that he played because he was a winner."

 

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Collaros is a winner too.  He was 30-0 in two years as the starting quarterback at Steubenville High School, and Zach was 4-0 as a starter last year while filling-in for an injured Tony Pike. 

 

But that's not all that Collaros and LeFevour have in common.

 

LeFevour starred at Central Michigan where the two head coaches he played for were Brian Kelly (1 year) and Butch Jones (3 years).  Zach Collaros spent his first two years playing for one, and will spend his final two years playing for the other.

 

After Jones was hired at UC on December 16th, one of the first things he did was to begin forming a bond with his new starting quarterback.

 

"When he got the job, we talked over Christmas," Collaros said.  "He called me to say, 'Merry Christmas' and we started to get to know each other.  When I first got back on campus, we met and really hit it off.  I love Coach Jones.  I talk to him three or four times a week and I really appreciate how he keeps me in the loop with stuff that's going on with the offense.  He really respects my opinion as a leader in the locker room.  I can talk to him about anything."

 

Like LeFevour, Collaros figures to put up impressive numbers as a passer and runner in Coach Jones' version of the no-huddle spread offense.

 

"The offense is not all that different," said senior wide receiver Armon Binns.  "We do a lot of the same things with the same concepts.  I think we'll be a lot more vertical down the field and take a lot more deep shots.  I think we'll make more big plays.  Zach's got a lot of targets and will probably put up some crazy numbers this year." 

 

"His offense allows me to spread the ball to a lot of playmakers and it gets me involved in the running game as well," Collaros said.  "As long as I can get the ball to guys like Armon Binns, D.J. Woods, Vidal Hazelton, and Isaiah Pead, we're going to put up some pretty good numbers.  If they have the ball in their hands, they're going to make me look pretty good."

 

It will be difficult for Collaros to look better than he did last year while subbing for Pike.  Zach completed 75% of his passes and posted a QB rating of 195.5 - which would have easily led the nation if Collaros had enough passing attempts to qualify.  He set a Big East single-game record with 555 yards of total offense vs. UConn (480 passing, 75 rushing) and the 'Cats averaged 35 points in his starts.

 

"He's a confident, tough kid and he's very strong mentally," Binns said.  "He's a good leader and knows how to get guys going.  I think he'll keep his focus and be ready to go every week."

 

"I think after the second week of the spring, we really got a grasp of this offense," Collaros said.  "Then over the summer, we ran 7-on-7 with just the players and since we had to coach ourselves, we really got a good feel for it.  I'm really eager to get into camp and see what our work over the summer translated to.  It's been a very good summer for us."

 

Last season after Tony Pike helped the Bearcats get off to a great start, "Pike For Heisman" t-shirts began popping up in Clifton.

 

If the Bearcats can win difficult early-season games against Fresno State, NC State, and Oklahoma, could Collaros become a Heisman contender?

 

"I don't know about that," Zach said with a laugh.  "I think we would need to win every game.  That would take care of it I guess."

 

I'd love to hear from you.  You can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

Bearcats Breakfast 8.13.10

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Today is the first day of practice at Higher Ground for UC. I will be making my way up there this afternoon to check them out. I will also be checking in on the progress of the great mustache-growth experiment of 2010.

Out at Higher Ground, those not blessed with full growth capabilities are safe to test out the baby fur look without being chastised by women on campus.

For all those, I present motivation for what those upper lips can be if you let them grow free.

There are many styles and personas you can take on -- here is a mustache history lesson gallery. Of course, when growing out facial hair, you have to make sure you steer clear of the pedophile beard. There's fine line between full and felonious.  

--- The Bearcats actually arrived at Higher Ground yesterday. Here's a video with some of the players takes on what it's all about, as well as some compelling action shots of the guys folding clothes. Also, sneak a peak at C.J. Cobb's monkey.

--- Paul Daugherty stretched out with a column in SI about Butch Jones and his dedication to creating a family.

--- Bill Koch writes about the battles at kick returner and punt returner. For now, D.J. Woods is at the front of the pack for punt returner and Vidal Hazelton at kick returner. Though, Jones did open his statements about the situation by saying, "it's wide open."

Anybody you can imagine has been trying out back there, including Isaiah Pead, Darrin Williams, Marcus Barnett and Reuben Johnson.

"You can never have enough guys because fielding kicks is an art," Jones said. "It's the most difficult technique to teach."

--- The Big East is ripe with young QBs, as Brian Bennett points out. Zach Collaros is probably on the most reliable in the conference right now and he only owns four career starts. You can look around college football and first-year quarterbacks typically crash and burn their teams in at least one or two games. That's good news for the Bearcats, who don't expect such a result from Collaros and could earn a leg up in the standings because of the growing pains other teams experience.

--- When UC plays at N.C. State in September, I will be rooting for Wolfpack QB Russell Wilson to do well. Viv Bernstein at AOL Fanhouse tells the heart-breaking story of the two-sport QB losing his father the day after he was drafted by MLB this summer.

--- Haruki Nakamura tied for a team high with five tackles for the Ravens last night, including a sack of former temmate Tony Pike. Unfortunately, the experience has not gone as well for Pike, who only managed three snaps without a completion.

Rumors are circulating he could be the odd man out in Carolina. There are very few snaps available and Pike can't dig out of the fourth-string role. Carlos "Big C" Holmes thinks the Bengals may take a shot at Pike should the Panthers try to sneak him through waivers. 

Uncertainty does exist in the reserve quarterback roles at Bengals camp, but they won't be getting rid of J.T. O'Sullivan and I would find it hard to believe Carson Palmer's brother is going anywhere considering what his presence means to the most important player on the team.

Even though Marvin Lewis is unhappy with Sullivan and J. Palmer, I don't see Pike having a much better chance latching on with the Bengals than he has had with the Panthers. At the very least, the Bengals need backups that know the system, should anything go down. They would be more likely to ride out this year and select a developmental type guy in the middle to back of next year's draft.

--- Also, Alex Daniels is converting from DE to FB for the Raiders.   

--- The list of people I want to have my back in a street fight just added one more. I don't want to think about what it means for somebody to be "almost too big to play football."  

--- Bob Huggins returned to work after his broken ribs incident in Las Vegas.  

--- The UC volleyball team is beginning its most anticipated season since joining the Big East after the coaches unanimously picked the Bearcats to finish first in the conference and Stephanie Niemer was chosen as the preseason player of the year.

It might be time to make my way down to Fifth Third to see what all the fuss is about.

--- The Early Show talks about the best, healthiest Fast Food breakfasts. The fact that they don't mention the chicken biscuit from Chick-fil-a is a travesty.

--- If you buy a car from Tom Gill Chevrolet in Florence, you can have dinner with Pete Rose. If they throw in his playmate girlfriend, I might consider it.

HAPPY CAMPERS

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  It's time for UC football's annual trip to Camp Higher Ground in West Harrison, Indiana. After practice Thursday, the team boarded the buses for their trip west on I-74 to a secluded wilderness camp that happens to have a pair of football fields, some dorms, cabins and a dining hall large enough to feed the big, burly guys that don the pads each afternoon (along with the smaller, feisty guys).

      Camp Higher Ground dates back to the Rick Minter/Bob Goin days when the program was looking for a getaway from campus for bonding and good ol'fashioned "smashmouth" football a la "The Junction Boys". Initially, it was a couple of nasty cow pastures with a much smaller dining hall.

      Now, it's a sprawling complex with wireless and state of the art fields that allows a team a getaway and a place to practice where no one can hear the yelling but the surrounding mosquitoes (and participants).

      After Rick Minter, Mark Dantonio embraced the concept and enjoyed the "forced togetherness" that such a retreat holds.

      When Brian Kelly came in, he initially wasn't gung-ho on taking the "field trip" and cut back on the number of days spent there. However, he apparently enjoyed his periodic "nature walks" and began to appreciate the value of the property, eventually adding more days to the August schedule in Indiana.

      Fast forward to Butch Jones, who like Kelly before him, is new to the practice of moving your college team away from familiar surroundings.

      "When I was in Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers would train at the University of Tampa," said Jones. "But, in terms of college, I'm looking forward to it. I hear people do an excellent job out there."

      Much like they had to do with Brian Kelly, the Higher Ground staff will be eager to please Coach Jones. My guess is once Jones sees the off-field benefits of the camp (team building, camaraderie, etc.) he'll jump on board. Especially given the "family" message that is preached daily to the Bearcats.

      "I'm a big believer that change is good," said Jones when asked about evaluating Camp Higher Ground. "But, you just don't come into a program that's winning and change everything. It's my job to look around and if it's helped us win in the past, we're going to do it. Talking to a lot of people, it's aided us in coming together as a team. I'm looking forward to it."

      Jones will evaluate the process at year's end, but don't look for the relationship to end anytime soon.

      "My first inclination is that it's going to be tremendous," said Jones. "You talk about total concentration in football--there's no distractions. The facilities are great, the food's outstanding and the living conditions are good. It's a chance for your team to come together."

      Plus, as mentioned before, there's two fields, not one. Rather than being cramped at "The Nipp", drills for both sides of the ball can be spread out and done on a wider scale.

      "That's the other thing--the space," said Jones. "You've got two full-length practice fields, which are critical."

      The only downside to Higher Ground that I can see is the mosquito population appears to be heavier in West Harrison, Indiana than in the Corryville area of UC's main campus. Not to worry, the equipment and training staff is normally well prepared with plenty of Deep Woods Off for the evening workouts.

      "We'll do some night practices, which is what I like to do from an intensity standpoint," said Jones.

      If they can withstand the bites and the bruises and the heat and humidity, the trip to Fresno State should be a picnic for Jones and his Bearcat outdoorsmen.

Bearcats Breakfast 8.12.10

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The Bearcats head to Higher Ground after an early practice today. They will be training up there for the next 13 days. I will have regular reports on the quality of the buffet food. And probaby some football stuff.

Plenty to get to today, so...

--- Brian Bennett chose Walter Stewart as the best hybrid defensive player in the Big East. Everybody I talk to about UC -- and in particular, their defense -- I talk about Stewart. He is the quintessential playmaker on a defense in dire need of them. I got more into the specifics of what his role will be at LB and DE with both LBs coach and co-DC John Jancek and DL coach Steve Stripling in the position analysis series. Those are here with Jancek and here with Stripling.

In the spring, Josh Katzowitz wrote about Stewart's love for football and transition into the hybrid role, much in the same light at Connor Barwin two years ago.

The Bearcats need Stewart to play like Barwin. Maybe not to his same skill level immediately, but a similar amount of disruption. His ability to pressure the QB off the edge and create mismatches from different positions can do wonders to take pressure off a young secondary -- particularly in the early portion of the season.

--- Bill Koch wrote a piece on Isaiah Pead and the impact he expects to have this year in Butch Jones' system.

I wrote a little about this in the running back analysis posted yesteraday, but want to revisit it briefly.

Bill touches on the fact Pead isn't mentioned among the elite of the Big East. That fact is undisputed. Dion Lewis and Noel Devine are the top tier and everyone else is looking up at them. Their numbers dictate that. The key number being the significant number of carries each earned last year in comparison to Pead.

Pead finished with 121 while Lewis (325) and Devine (241) earned many more.

In the RB analysis, I made the contention based on Jones' track record with running backs at Central Michigan that Pead would likely garner somewhere around 130-150 carries this season and -- if he holds near his average -- 900-1,000 yards.

I want to delve deeper into where those numbers come. You might not want me to, but it's my blog, so I'm doing it anyway.

Jones inherited Ontario Sneed from Brian Kelly when he arrived at CMU in 2007. Sneed was a two-year starter and one of the stars of the program. Sneed was a similiar back to Pead, both near identical height and build.

Sneed finished the 2007 and 2008 seasons with 124 and 119 carries, respectively.  

Sneed carried between 10-15 times a game under Jones and somewhere around 2-4 receptions per contest, but missed some games, likely due to injury, though I don't know that for certain.

It should also be mentioned that Sneed's yards per carry dipped from 5.7 under Kelly in 2006 to 4.4 under Jones in 2007. With Jones using more of the running game out of the spread, particularly with QB Dan LeFevour, it could have been a product of teams focusing more on stopping the rush.

Those types of carries would seem about right for Pead this year. I would imagine he would be treated much like Sneed. So, at an average of 12 carries a game and if he can keep his yards per carry average at his 2009 Big East best 6.7, he would finished with almost right at 1,000 yards. If it were to dip down around 6 yards per carry, he would finish in the 900 range.

I'm not 100 percent sure why I felt the need to validate my statistical analysis, but did want to make the comparison to Sneed to have a living example of how we should expect Jones to handle Pead. Now, Jones may have learned from those years and decided he didn't utilize his primary back enough or thinks that Pead is a much better talent and must give him more opportunities.

Bottom line, history dictates we shouldn't expect Pead to receive anywhere near the 230+ carries that Devine and Lewis receive, but becoming the first 1,000-yard rusher for UC in the Big East should be a realistic goal.

--- The News Record writes about Chazz Anderson preparing as if he were the starter. Given the recent history around the program, that would be a good idea. At this time last year, nobody thought Zach Collaros would mean much to this team, either.

--- The Zach Collaros diary continues at Cincinnati.com. This entry is particularly insightful to the differences between Brian Kelly and Butch Jones.

I get asked this question a lot, about seeing a difference between the two. You don't need to look any further than the family enviornment Jones tries to create. He wants to be a part of -- and a have a positive affect on -- every aspect of his players' lives. And he wants them all to feel the same way about each other. Say what you will about BK, that wasn't his M.O. Winning games was. And he was damn good at it. Jones believes he will be, too. 

I'm not saying either is right or wrong, but this diary entry gives a great glimpse at how Jones is achieving that atmosphere.

--- The temperatures were touching 120 degrees on the field yesterday. The Bearcats folks were taking precautions.

--- Tom Gelehrter talks with Armon Binns about the Biletnikoff Award and everyone's favorite topic right now: upper-lip growth.

--- I spent some time talking with Derek Wolfe yesterday for an upcoming story. This was my first meeting with the 300-pound behemoth on the line and I can say I was as impressed with him as I was with the wild, sprawling tattoo that donned his right arm. Mel Kiper has also been impressed by Wolfe, since he says he is the most NFL-ready player at UC.

--- Good to see Deonta Vaughn land on his feet. Vaughn picked up a gig playing basketball in Poland. Vaughn, despite the struggles of his senior season, was always one of the good guys both on and off the court. I hope his game comes together and he puts together a heck of a career, whether in Europe or elsewhere.

--- The Bearcats baseball team is having walk-on tryouts next month. I have some eligibility, but I am assuming they aren't in the market for a pitcher commonly classified as "ineffectively wild."

PLAYERS IN THE LEAGUE: Haruki Nakamura

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haruki_nakamura.jpg
(picture courtesy masnsports.com)


      With UC's recent success in football that started their return to bowl games in 1997, more and more former Bearcats are going onto the NFL and having lucrative careers. The 1998 draft gave the Bearcats a record five draft picks and Artrell Hawkins, Brad Jackson, Jason Fabini, Derrick Ransom and Rodrick Monroe all had decent NFL careers.

      In 2009, that was surpassed by the six picks from Brian Kelly's Orange Bowl team (Connor Barwin, Kevin Huber, DeAngelo Smith, Brandon Underwood, Mike Mickens and Trevor Canfield). So, seeing a Cincinnati Bearcat drafted is commonplace now. (Unlike 1983-86, 1990-93, 1995-96, when no Bearcats were selected.)

      While not all that are picked stick, there still is a fair amount of former Bearcats "representing the C" in the NFL.

      One of those is fan favorite Haruki Nakamura from Mark Dantonio's first recruiting class who was a sixth-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2008. With an injury-depleted defensive backfield in Baltimore, Nakamura stands to gain more playing time this year. Previously, he's made his name as a key reserve and a special teams hustler.

      "It's the 'next man in' philosophy that we have here," said Nakamura reciting a phrase familiar to Bearcat fans. "Regardless of whether you're a starter or a back-up, everybody's ready to play."

      I connected with Haruki at Ravens training camp recently during a lunch break in between practices. At the time he was looking forward to getting a lick on Tony Pike and the Panthers on the 12th, and looking ahead to the "bump and run" with Mardy Gilyard and the Rams September 2nd.

      "Oh yeah, I've been waiting to get Mardy for a long time--I can't wait for that one," said a seemingly salivating Nakamura. "Picking on guys you used to play in college--it's funny. It's fun to see those guys in the league."

      This is year three for Nakamura and he's played all three for Coach John Harbaugh (one of three former UC assistants under Rick Minter with NFL head coaching jobs--Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin and Rex Ryan of the Jets being the others).

      "He's been doing a heck of a job the last couple years," said Nakamura of Harbaugh. "His first year he was building a base, trying to start from scratch. Now, we're basically working for the championship this year. He's kept us even keel, we've been on a steady plane going up. We're extremely excited about this year."

      Nakamura and Harbaugh have shared in the Ravens success with back-to-back playoff years, highlighted by an appearance in the AFC championship game in their rookie season. Still, both coach and player find time to talk UC football on occasion.

      "We've had tons of conversations, especially when they play during the season," said Nakamura. "He's a Miami (OH) graduate, so I'm on him when that week comes around."

      As for UC's new head coach, even though he played for Dantonio and Kelly, Haruki Nakamura is a Butch Jones fan.

      "I had a chance to have a bunch of conversations with Butch this year," said Nakamura. "He's got the right mindset as far as taking Cincinnati to the next level. I think Mark Dantonio brought in a very physical tradition of football. He just wanted to be hard-nosed and wanted to dominate people. Brian Kelly came in with the glamor and that's what we needed at the time. Butch is basically the balance of those two."

      "He knows how to coach an explosive offense," continued Nakamura. "He knows how to coach a different style of football. He's just a nice fit. I talked to a lot of guys that played at Cincinnati and we feel like this year could be a big year. They've got a tremendous amount of talent and it's not like they have a quarterback situation. Zach Collaros has proven himself. He's just got to stay level-headed and just make plays."

      While Nakamura was involved with three bowls at UC (Fort Worth, International and Papajohns.com) none were of the scale that the Bearcats have seen the last two years in the Orange and Sugar Bowls. Like many ex-Bearcats, there's a wee bit of jealousy, but a lot more pride than anything over their success.

      "You're very proud of what those guys are doing," said Nakamura. "My senior year, we won 10 games for the first time in I think 50 years. Just to see it continuing to show promise, you're very proud of the tradition that they're building. Cincinnati has great tradition, people just don't know about it."

      Meantime, while wishing the Bearcats well, Nakamura must concentrate on the rigors of NFL training camp. And, getting ready to face the Cincinnati Bengals on September 19th at Paul Brown Stadium.

      Nakamura usually fields a few ticket requests for that one and plans to oblige--as long as his friends/fans wear their Ravens jerseys.

      "I usually only just do a few," said Nakamura with a chuckle. "A couple of friends, my mother and my sister. The guys, Lamonte Nelms and those guys, I get them tickets all of the time. I'm always staying close with the friends I had when I went to college."

       To see Haruki Nakamura, you may not guess he was an NFL player. But, if you KNOW Haruki Nakamura, you know that being smaller means nothing to him as he can deliver a hit with anybody. Plus, his judo training from his parents gives him a few tricks that many aren't aware of.

      In Nakamura's world, it's the size of the heart and mind that matter (as it should).

      "I finished college around 193, I'm probably about 197 now," said Nakamura. "I don't want to put on too much weight. The way I play, I'm a very intense guy--an effort guy--I don't feel putting on all that weight is all that big of a deal."

      Many former Bearcats that were on the receiving end of a "slobber-knocker" from #13 in their playing days would probably agree.

This is the sixth in a series of looks at the 2010 UC football roster through the eyes of its position coaches. It continues with a glimpse at the running backs with running backs coach Jahmile Addae.  

 

Addae was named running backs coach in May after serving the previous five months as director of player development at UC.

 

Starter - Isaiah Pead, Jr.

 

Backup - John Goebel, Sr.

 

Change of pace - Darrin Williams, RS Soph.

 

Third-string competition - George Winn, Jr., Quentin Hines, RS Fresh.

 

Freshman - Isaiah Nearor, Walk-on

 

Overview: The depth at this position was solidified in the spring when Darrin Williams provided a spark in the place of injured starter Isaiah Pead. But as far as upside goes, Isaiah Pead is enough to make this one of the top two or three position groups on the team. Pead has the speed and 6.7 yards per carry average to change the game as a home-run hitter.   

 

Biggest Question: Everyone knows Isaiah Pead has the speed and vision to be a quality running back, but can he take the next step to being one of the elite runners in the country?

 

Addae: "Isaiah just has to do the small things correctly. The small things on the line, the small things on pass protection, the intricacies of the game. He is physically talented, naturally. But honing your skills in and getting the true detail is where Isaiah and I have been working this camp in order to improve."

 

ISAIAH PEAD

 

Tangibles: 5-10, 193 pounds, Jr.

 

Last year: Started three games, gained 807 yards on 121 attempts for a 6.7 yards per carry average. He rushed for nine touchdowns to lead the team and also caught two more.

 

Addae's take: "I think Isaiah Pead is improving right now more where people can't see which is off the field. Not that he has ever been a hindrance or anything but he is now stepping in to be a leader of this running back corps. He is doing a good job of it. He is pushing the guys as well as pushing himself. For him, work ethic is something that has reached another level."

 

Addae on Pead in pass protection: "Whether or not he spends a bunch of time back there doing it or just a bit, he needs to do it well. It doesn't matter whether we are throwing 75 times a game or running 75 times a game, when he gets his opportunity to get in pass pro he needs to be sound in his technique, his reads, what he has to do. That is something he has been working on and getting better at every day."

 

PDJ Projection: Pead owns all the tools to join the elite in the Big East - and that would be saying something in the company of Dion Lewis, Noel Devine and Jordan Todman. He led UC with 121 attempts last year, but only started three games. Last season at Central Michigan, QB Dan LeFevour rushed 183 times in Butch Jones' offense and the combination of RBs Bryan Schroeder and Carl Volny chopped up 182 carries. It would be hard to imagine Pead not earning 75 percent of the running back carries if healthy. Under those numbers, he would finish with around 136 carries for 921 yards. That would be an extremely conservative estimate of what he can do. I would predict he becomes the 13th UC player to surpass 1,000 yards.

 

JOHN GOEBEL

 

Tangibles: 6-1, 213 pounds, RS Sr.

 

Last year: Played in nine games without a start and gained 41 yards. In 2008, had a career high seven rushing TDs and compiled 286 receiving yards.

 

Addae's take: "I envision him being a leader and encouraging the young guys to come along as well. He is a helluva ballplayer in his own right. He has the special ability to bring others along with him. He is going to be out on the field making some plays for us. No. 22 had some early success and he is ready to get back and get it done."

 

PDJ Projection: John Goebel becomes the biggest back among the group, which is odd considering he was probably the smallest back when he first started as a Mark Dantonio recruit. Goebel is the most polished pass blocker and will be able to fill in there when needed and has shown a capability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He's likely to see some time in that role as the season progresses.

 

DARRIN WILLIAMS

 

Tangibles: 5-7, 180 pounds, RS Soph.

 

Last year: No starts, 11 carries for 32 yards

 

Addae's take: "He brings a little sparkplug. He has a big heart. He goes 100 mph when given the opportunity. He needs to continue to be a high-motor guy. He needs to continue to grow in both the run game and the pass game. He needs to mature in all aspects of the running game as well. But as people saw in the spring, he is a pretty exciting guy."

 

PDJ Projection: Williams caught everyone's eye in the spring game and earned himself an opportunity to contribute this year. It would be hard to imagine him not earning some type of role in this offense. More than likely, he will enter as the third down, change-of-pace back. But, if something were to happen to Isaiah Pead, we learned in the spring that Williams could certainly handle the responsibility.

 

GEORGE WINN

 

Tangibles: 5-11, 202 pounds, Jr.

 

Last year: One game, 5 carries for 12 yards

 

QUENTIN HINES

 

Tangibles: 5-11, 185 pounds, RS Fresh.

 

Last year: Three games, 2 carries, 5 yards

 

Addae's take: "It's ground zero for the rest of these guys. It's open competition."

 

PDJ Projection: George Winn has looked good in the early moments of fall practice, but these guys are being developed to make contributions by the end of the season or into next.

 

ISAIAH NEAROR

 

Tangibles: 5-8, 190 pounds, Freshman walk-on

 

Last year: Starred at Wyoming High School

 

Addae's take: "The guys as a whole have gotten behind him and done a great job with him."

 

PDJ Projection: Being a freshman walk-on in a BCS program isn't for the faint of heart.

Bearcats Breakfast 8.11.10

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The season is only two days old and already the most exciting storyline of the preseason has evolved. The battle at cornerback? No. The transition of the new coaching staff? Nah.

The offense is growing mustaches. Oh yeah.

In honor of a fantastic photo floating around Twitter as Connor Barwin's avatar (since taken down, or I would link the glorious shot), the team will be unleashing their inner Sellecks. Zach Collaros doubts his fullness capablities, but in time it could happen.

Be sure to check back for mustache updates as the season progresses.

--- In more serious news, (sort of) UC was ranked No. 18 in the Sports Illustrated preseason poll. Of any major publication poll, SI provides the highest ranking. UC was at No. 26 in the USA Today coaches poll and back in the 40s in many other publications. SI's poll will officially release today.

--- Isaiah Pead feels all of the disrespect being directed at the two-time defending Big East champs and, not shockingly, Pead refuses to hold back in addressing it.

He did so to Bill Koch.

In many ways, the preseason rankings -- whether it be Pitt ahead of UC in the BE media poll and the Bearcats lacking a single first-place vote -- or any of the numerous 40-something placements circulating the interwebbings, should be taken as disrespect by these players.

It is the national media's way of saying, it wasn't the players that delivered all the success of the football team over the past two seasons, it was Brian Kelly. With so many weapons returning, the only determining factor could be the coaching change. And those pundits are allowed their opinion, but if I were a player who endured the last two years and won two championships and was returning with a similiar cast in hopes of a three-peat and already being counted out, well, I would probably sound quite a bit like Pead.

Considring how this program thrived off the disrespect card the past two years, the coaching staff should be thanking all the doubters at the magazines and websites.

--- The UC blog takes a look at how the freshmen are faring at the beginning of fall practice. Pretty hard to tell much of anything from two games in shorts and jerseys, but there is some good one-on-one clips of Munchie Legaux working on his stance.

--- Kerry Coombs talks with Tom Gelehrter and makes me want to be a better man.

--- The AP takes a look at the new coaches in the Big East and picks UConn to win the conference. The AP is usually pretty conservative down the lines with predictions, so surprising to see them go with the upset.

That said, UConn returns 16 starters from a team that was less than 20 points from enjoying a perfect regular season last year. Not an absurd concept to see the Huskies break through.

--- A UC fan in Brian Bennett's Big East blog points out in his mailbag that one of Kenbrell Thompkins' first games in his return to college football next season will be against Tennessee. Only a small storyline there.

Bearcats Breakfast 8.10.10

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The first day of fall practice came and went. Players were excited, optimistic and ready to go -- shockingly.

There will be plenty that is said in done of the course of the next 25 days until UC his the field against Fresno State. The first day is rarely filled with much more than the first three emotions. We'll check back on those emotions after one week of 99 degree temperates at Higher Ground.

--- There was some big news out of the first day of practice as WR Kenbrell Thompkins was ruled ineligible for this season, but will get two years of eligibility. 

I posted a blog on the fallout from this announcement yesterday.

The bottom line is, if this is the worst news to come out of UC camp prior to the game against Fresno State, they will be pretty happy. Thompkins would have contributed, but he wasn't going to be a starter and only really be relied on should there have been an injury to Armon Binns or Vidal Hazelton. (Knock on wood, altogether now)

--- Elsewhere on the ineligible front, Butch Jones said that tight end Travis Kelce would not be eligible this year due to a violation of team rules, according to Bill Koch.

Last year, running out of the wildcat formation he rushed eight times for 47 yards for a 5.9 average. He scored two touchdowns.

This is not an ideal revelation, but with Ben Guidugli and Adrien Robinson in place and a number of athletes who could thrive in a wildcat type formation, this wouldn't be considered a serious blow to the team.

--- Tommy G talked with Butch Jones after practice.  

--- Brian Bennett continued his Opening Camp series with the Bearcats. Not a ton of new information here, but more solid BB.

--- He also put out his power rankings with UC second behind Pitt.

--- Isaiah Pead and Zach Collaros were both added to the Maxwell Award Watch List of the best player in college football. The list seems pretty subjective and you could argue for a few other players on the UC offense as well, not to mention USF QB B.J. Daniels, who was mysteriously left off. But considering Pead's 6.7 yards per carry last season, it's hard to go wrong.

Also, Armon Binns was added to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List.

--- If you want a feel for the energy of UC's first practice Monday, there is a great video up on Butch Jones' blog. After watching this, I came to a conclusion: I want Kerry Coombs to call me every morning and give me a motivational speech. Pretty sure I would be a 10x more productive reporter/blogger if I could make that happen.

--- USF lost receiver Colby Erskin for the year with a torn ACL. Not necessarily noteworthy on the surface, until you dig deeper and find out it was his fourth ACL tear. Coach Skip Holtz says he was apprehensive about letting Erskin back on the field, but Erskin and his father both understood the risks but wanted to play that badly.

Then, in the first week of practice it happens again. Gutwrenching.

--- Some days are special. Thanksgiving. Christmas. National High-5 Day. And apparently, today is Lazy Day. But today is special for another reason. Today, Madden 11 was released. Though, I think the last two partially go hand in hand. I will be picking up my copy before the day is up. I won't be alone.

I found this interview with some EA Sports folks and almost dropped my eight-legged turkey when I saw how much money they estimated John Madden has made for lending his name/voice to the series.

--- I can't help but share some random internet humor I strolled across. A video of a woman raging against McDonalds employees when they didn't serve her chicken nuggets is pretty funny in its own right. But the conclusion as the next car in line at 6:30 a.m. pulls up left me rolling.

You can almost hear the conversation: "Uh, I'm cool with my McGriddle."  

Will UC change?

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I'm taking the liberty of using UC vs. you see because I can and I thought it was cool. I just had a debate of sorts with my young nephew who thinks because he is a teenager he can misspell words at his leisure, so he's probably saying Ah HA!

The reason I pose the question is typically when new coaches come there are always changes in practice, pre-game and rules. Some good, even great and some questionable. I don't seem much change nor have I heard of much with Coach Butch Jones and I wouldn't expect much. The success he's had prior to coming to UC was in part with Coach Brian Kelly and if it ain't broke don't fix it may apply here.

The only change I think most people care about his now that we have established a presence in football, that we win BCS bowl games and give the Big East credibility for national championship conversation and voting. We are still considered 1A instead of 1 in ranking levels and that won't change until winning happens in big bowl games. If UC gets back there this year, and I think its a tall order, will they get the ghost of BCS games past off their back?
I can't answer that and neither can you but I just hope they stay in the mix; several teams have lots or returning starters and UC is plugging the holes of seniors gone forth. Coach Jones, nor any other coach makes excuses but privately they know it matters. Experience counts and always will but players have to believe otherwise. One of the jobs a coach has to excel at is getting players to play at the required level and to believe in the system. Football is based on that platform more than any other sport I know.

So will UC change and will you see change? either way I love the fact this football program is firmly established as a football power in its conference and in position to be a football power in polls.

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

The first day of Bearcats fall practice opened with a disappointing nugget of news from coach Butch Jones. Upon meeting with the media he announced that WR Kenbrell Thompkins, the Bearcats transfer from the University of Tennessee would not be eligible this season, but will have two years of eligibility beginning in 2011.

Thompkins signed a National Letter of Intent with UT and requested a release from it upon his decision to join the Bearcats. Maggie McKinley, the UC Assistant AD for Compliance, explains the situation as such:

"Kenbrell requested a release from his NLI and Tennessee denied his request. The provisions of the NLI state that if a student does not fulfill the terms of the NLI and the school does not release the student from the NLI, the student is required to serve a year in residency at their next institution and loses a season of eligibility. This meant that Kenbrell came to UC with only one season of eligibility and would be required to sit the 2010 season.

"The  NLI Appeal Committee partially granted Kenbrell's appeal to be released from his NLI. In their decision they upheld the requirement that he serve a year in residency prior to representing the institution in competition but granted relief from the standard penalty of losing a season of competition for not satisfying the terms of the NLI agreement with Tennessee. He will now have two years of eligibility to represent UC instead of just one."

Coach Jones wouldn't say he was surprised by the result, but you have to imagine he was rooting hard for it to go the other way.

"I didn't know what to expect coming in," Jones said. "I think he has done a great job with how he handled the situation and preparing for it."  

On the surface, for this year's version of the Bearcats, it's a disappointing blow. Thompkins allowed depth for an offense that will wing it all around the yard.

In talking with WR coach T.J. Weist for my receivers position analysis he admitted that Thompkins had been as physical of a reciever as there was on the team and he could be a tremendous asset blocking downfield.

Here is the WR position analysis, which also breaks down what Thompkins' role would have been and those now filling in behind him.

Looking deeper, this could be the best thing for UC in the long run. Cracking the starting lineup this year was only going to happen for Thompkins should Binns or Hazelton suffer an injury. So, in theory, having him around for two more years in which he can be a primary target -- including a likely role as a No. 1 outside WR for Zach Collaros' senior season is pretty ideal.

The pros and cons for Thompkins are apparent, but what do we make of those filling in behind him this season.

Step on up Dyjuan Lewis. The super freshman with all the athletic ability will earn his chance to back up Binns and Hazelton. Lewis is one of the best recruits this program has landed and you have to think he will be the guy counted on to make explosive plays in Thompkins' absence.  

Also, Marcus Barnett will be relied upon more. Though, playing more in the slot, the kid with all the potential as a freshman who never could reach the peak that began his career, will earn a chance to end it as it began. The experience he brings would make him a favorite to step in and take some of those catches that Thompkins might have, if only because that is one fewer producer on the roster.

Of course, on the first day of fall practice, it's hard to take anything but optimism from Nippert Stadium.   

"I think it hurts a little bit in the competiiton end of it and the depth end of it," Jones said, "but I am also excited for the future of the program that we have two years of eligiblity with him at that position and have a player of his caliber to sit and wait on his opportunity."

This may only begin the next phase of anticipation and waiting for UC football fans, but it sure beats reading another top 25 returning punters list.

Tha'ts right, football, today, Nippert Stadium.

UC opens practice and will be at Nippert for four days before heading off to West Harrison, Ind to Higher Ground to do the training camp thing.

The buzz has never been higher for this program and the questions have never been debated by so many. The Bearcats are officially on the national radar after back-to-back BE titles -- even if they don't receive the respect from the coaches' poll -- and having to deal with transition while in the bright lights.

As for what we're looking for over the next three and a half weeks? Defense, defense, defense. Nearly every unknown about this team begins on the defensive side of the ball. Five starters return from a defense that couldn't stop much of anybody down the stretch last year.

Depth is an issue. Experience is an issue. This team needs some emerging players on that side of the ball to step up. And do it now.

Walter Stewart needs to become a superstar. Derek Wolfe needs to become an NFL Draft pick. JK Schaffer needs to become the heart and soul of this team.

The offense is the known quantity, but the evolution of this defense that will likely have but one contributing senior, if that, will tell the story of the 2010 Bearcats.

I'll do my best to keep you up to date on the process.

That's enough of my ramblings, let's hit the links...

--- The Enquirer's Bill Koch provides a preview/glimpse at the beginning of fall practice. More good stuff from Bill.

--- In case you missed it on Friday, I put out the latest position analysis and spoke to offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian about the QBs. Of course, the majority is focused on Zach Collaros and I thought Bajakian offered some interesting points about Zach and his development.

Another fun position to watch will be the athleticism of freshman Munchie Legaux, more than likely he is destined for a redshirt this season -- depending on the health of Brendon Kay -- but if he shows off some of the speed and play-making ability that made his the No. 11 dual-threat QB in the country in high school, he may force his way into some special sets with this team. Maybe not, but it will be fun to see him on the field for the first time.

--- Butch Jones was ensconced in velvet the WorldWideLeader on Friday and Brian Bennett has the First Take interview with Dana Jacobson. Luckily, Skip Bayless played no role in his TV work.

Jones was his standard solid self and handled all the BK transition questions for what will probably not be the last time.

--- Paul Daugherty took another look at Butch Jones and the energy he brings to the program.

--- AOL Fanhouse, one of the better sites out there for sports if you didn't already know, is putting out a season preview each day counting down its Top 25 teams. They have West Virginia at No. 24 and here is the story.

--- Dr. Saturday sizes up all the new coaches in the Big East. He also makes his final predictions with West Virginia being the recipient of a Pitt collapse and heading to the BCS.

--- Meanwhile, there are no excuses left for Pitt and Dave Wannstedt, as Pittsburgh Post-Tribune columnist Joe Starkey points out. Wannstedt will either be exposed or annointed depending on the outcome of their games this season. No more excuses. If you read this blog at all consistenly, you are aware of which way I see this going.  

--- If you're a college hoopshead and a stats nerd you will love this piece from SI's Luke Winn. It includes the top five breakout players of 2010 by using all kinds of statistical theories and probably a a few uses of the sine/cosine button I never touch on the calculator. I'm not against stats, in basketball I actually think they are as valuable as in any major sport not named baseball,but there are so many other intangibles to figure out breakout stars, I wouldn't make this a complete slam dunk.

Anyway, kind of interesting. Of Big East note, it tabs Maalik Wayns of Villanova to break out. As Winn points out himself, you probably don't need any numbers to tell you that.

Who of UC would I have tabbed as the best candidate for his list of breakout sophomores? I think Jaquon Parker would be the best bet. When he found his comfort zone he was as indisposible as anybody on the floor last year. With a year under his belt, you would think it would be realistic he could be a 12-point, 6-board, 6-assist type player.

--- What did the fugitive look like officer?

Well, he is about medium build, medium height, and, oh yeah, he has a massive North Carolina tattoo on his face.

--- Anybody who has read my blog back to the CNati days knows all too well about my love of mustaches. And the fact that I am soon to be the owner of a carstache. Anyway, mustaches aren't just for gentlemen anymore. This one is for the ladies...and not in a creepy, you-might-want-to-wax-that kind of way.

PLAYERS FROM THE PAST: Punter Shaun Burdick

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burdick.jpg

(Shaun Burdick on the far right, with father Dick in the middle and brother Tyler on the left.  Photo courtesy of The Cincinnati Enquirer/Ernest Coleman)



      "Shaun Burdick just punted the fool out of the ball!" are the words I remember Head Coach Watson Brown saying shortly after UC's improbable 14-3 upset of Joe Paterno's Penn State Nittany Lions. That came in Brown's post-game radio comments as diehards like me listened in shock.

      It wasn't so much that Burdick was the star of the game (Donnie Goodman might say otherwise) it was that the Bearcats held Penn State to a field goal and Burdick's punts were crucial in the battle of field position.

      He remembers it well.

      "Game number one," explained Burdick. "We went up to Beaver Stadium at Penn State, the defending national champions and we knocked them off. It kind of went downhill from there. I didn't know that would be the pinnacle of my career."

      Neither did Watson Brown, who likewise couldn't have scripted a better beginning for his career.

     Forget that Brown would be gone 10 games later, on that early September afternoon, Cincinnati was the talk of college football.

      "To hold them to three points--that's a huge accomplishment," said Burdick. "If I'm not mistaken, my first punt--at least as my Mom tells it--had me backed up deep in the endzone and she covered her eyes and said, 'Oh my God, they're going to kill my baby!'"

      Fortunately, they didn't and Burdick's adjustment from 840 fans at Anderson High School's Brown Stadium to 84,000 in Happy Valley was successful (and happy).

      From there, the history book shows that 1983 went gradually downhill. They nearly knocked off Jimmy Johnson's Oklahoma State team at Nippert a week later but fell short 27-23. After a 3-2 start, Watson Brown's quarterback was hurt and UC limped to a 4-6-1 finish, with Brown skipping town shortly for the warmer climate of Rice in Houston.

      "Basically, Troy Bodine went down and it kind of all went down from there," said Burdick.

      Bodine ran Brown's pass-friendly, often no-huddle offense and had three receivers who could rival any Bearcat wide-outs to date in Bill Booze, Deno Foster and Jason Stargel. UC historians may recall the group in a poster in an airport control tower wearing leather aviator caps, or the marketing phrase, "Fly Watson Air" on your grocery store bags.

      Replacing Watson Brown was Dave Currey who 1982's coach, Mike Gottfried, had beaten at Riverfront Stadium when Currey headed up Long Beach State. Currey also liked to throw, but a miserable athletic budget led to UC becoming the NCAA's "unofficial designated Homecoming foe".

      "Way too many Homecoming games," said Burdick. "I think the season-high was seven or eight Homecoming games. When you're playing Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Miami (FL), Florida State, Virginia Tech--it can be brutal."

      And it was.

      In Shaun Burdick's four years, UC played #20 Penn State and #8 Miami (FL) in 1983; #10 Miami (FL), #17 Florida and #20 Auburn in 1984; #2 Penn State in 1985; and #5 Penn State, #1 Miami (FL), and #9 Auburn in 1986. Even some of the unranked opponents were perennial juggernauts when you add games against Florida State, Alabama, Virginia Tech, and Boston College to the mix.

      That same formula of scheduling doomed the Dave Currey era teams that Burdick played on for his remaining three years.

      "The first two or three games were competitive, or we'd get through the first half of the game very competitive," said Burdick. "Then, it was over. Whether it was people banged up, or worn out physically--I mean, we had people dropping like flies at the end of the season."

      Despite that, and despite that Burdick led the city in receiving as a senior at Anderson, he was relegated to dropping the ball and booting it skyward during his Bearcat tenure.

      "That's the reason I went to UC," said Burdick. "I knew I'd be kicking the ball a lot."

Burdick's sense of humor allowed him to maintain perspective during those rough Bearcat years.

     It's also what got him into a Sports Illustrated issue in 1986 when he paid $35 to have a chauffeur drive him to practice in a limo and escort him to the field with a bag of balls. It was in that season that his kicking coach left, leaving him alone on the sidelines to enjoy chewing tobacco and his FM radio hidden inside his helmet.

      Not really what the NFL would be after, huh?

      Wrong. Shaun Burdick averaged 42 yards a boot in his last two seasons and spent time in NFL camps with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys. He is second on UC's all-time list in punting yards and third in career punts.

      While he was obviously athletic, fake punts were not exactly on UC's menu during his tenure, although Burdick does admit to the occasional toting of the loaf.

      "I put it down every now and again," he said. "It got to a point in my senior season where I had six kicks blocked. We used to time our long snapper with a sun dial. It got to a point where I told myself I'm not getting anymore blocked so I put it down and paid the price."

      Going on 24 years removed, the only price Burdick pays these days is admission into Nippert Stadium to watch the current Bearcats. Like many that played in the leaner days, he sits in envy of today's larger home crowds.

      "When we went there, we were lucky to pull 10 to 15,000," said Burdick. "I think at halftime the fraternities and sororities (in attendance) were looking for bars."

      Now, the fraternities and sororities don't have an easy way in as even student seats are hard to come by. Sellout crowds are no longer reserved for when a big-time opponent comes in. The big time school IS UC.

      "Absolutely awesome," said Burdick. "It almost takes you to a level of jealousy because you didn't get to experience what those guys are experiencing. It is great. I'm down at every game. My kids go to the game, we tailgate, we go on the road to the bowl games. I've been everywhere I can get to."

      When he's not at games, you can find Shaun Burdick coaching his up and coming fifth-grade quarterback son. Thanks to Play Station, Burdick's Guardian Angel squad has one of the more innovative offenses going, with a 10-year-old calling the shots.

      Other times, Burdick is at his family's trucking and warehousing business that he began with his brother and father. Burd Brothers Trucking is located just outside of the Eastgate area.

      "We opened in '93 and moved out next to the Clermont County airport in '99 and have been there ever since," said Burdick. "It's supporting a number of families. We're 50 employees strong and we just started an expansion phase, so to speak. We're looking to move down South a little bit."

      Burd Brothers has gone from a local operation, to a nationwide truck service. While they accommodate loads to many cities and all 50 states, I'm told they particularly enjoy deliveries to the State College, Pennsylvania area....


This is the fifth in a series of looks at the 2010 UC football roster through the eyes of its position coaches. It continues with a glimpse at the quarterbacks with offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian.

 

Bajakian is a 15-year coaching veteran and was the offensive coordinator with coach Butch Jones at Central Michigan for the past three seasons.

 

Starter - Zach Collaros, RS Jr.

 

Backup - Chazz Anderson, RS Jr.

 

Third string - Brendon Kay, RS Soph.

 

Freshmen - Cody Kater, Munchie Legaux

 

Overview: The reason most fans believe this team can handle the coaching transition and young defense is because of Zach Collaros. He put together one of the most impressive four-game stretches in school history at the QB position and will be counted on to lead a bevy of talented skill players this season. There are capable players behind him, but Collaros is a bona fide star.  

 

Biggest Question: Is it a reality of expect the numbers Collaros put up in those four games playing out over an entire year?

 

Bajakian: "We haven't talked much about those numbers. The biggest thing for him to accomplish this year is managing our offense. We talk a lot as an offensive staff and full staff about understanding the game is offense, defense and special teams. That field position is a part of that. How important third down efficiency is a part of that. Red zone efficiency is a part of that. Keeping us moving the chains, the ball moving and keeping the defense off the field, those are all ways we are going to have success. I don't think Zach has approached this season saying I have to put up these kinds of numbers whether it be touchdown passes or completion percentage or any of that. It is about how am I going to help this team win."

 

Worth noting: Bajakian helped turn Dan LeFevour into one of the best mid-major quarterbacks in college football at CMU. The size, athleticism and style of Collaros matches up similarly on paper.

 

Bajakian: "It's a little bit intangible, but the reality is there are a lot of similarities in terms of their competitive nature. Both guys know they haven't mastered the game. They understand there is room for improvement and they were/are both hungry to constantly improve, constantly understand the game better, constantly understand the position better. Zach is hungry for information, hungry to improve and hungry to prove himself. I don't want to make too many comparisons because they are people unique players and both unique personalities."

 

ZACH COLLAROS

 

Tangibles: 6-4, 209 pounds, RS Jr.

 

Last year: Started four games, threw for 1,434 yards, 10 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Ran for 344 yards and 4 TDs.

 

What Bajakian is working on with Collaros: "We will try to shorten Zach's release up a little bit, but the big thing has been to clean up his footwork; go through his progressions. That comes with general understanding of the offense and more in-depth understanding of the offense. It starts with understanding conceptually what we are trying to accomplish and growing to understand what we are trying to accomplish every play."

 

Where is Collaros' grasp of the new offense: "Getting to the spring, you could see with each step and each practice a better understanding of what we were doing. I think once we get back on the field it will be pretty evident pretty quickly."

 

PDJ Projection: It almost seems unfair to hold Collaros to the standard he set in four starts last season, but with an offseason of work, confidence of being the guy and talented cast around him, it's not impossible. We won't know until Fresno State exactly how far along his grasp of the new offense progressed, but everyone in that building has all the confidence he will build on what occurred last season. It would be hard to imagine his numbers not being among the best in college football should he stay healthy.

 

CHAZZ ANDERSON

 

Tangibles: 6-0, 209 pounds, RS Jr.

 

Last year: Played in four games without a start, ran for 35 yards, passed for 33.

 

Anderson's strengths: "Chazz's strength definitely he is a great leader. His teammates rally around him for sure. I wasn't out there during summer workouts but it is not uncommon to hear teammates talk about what a great job he did this summer to help lead the other guys off the field.

 

"Chazz is very intelligent. He processes information quickly. When you tell him something he works on it to get better. All of that is a process. He's a very headsy player, intelligent. Athletic also, he can do a lot of things with his feet. He's a guy that this team is very confident in."

 

PDJ Projection: If called upon, Anderson has won games for the Bearcats in the past, so it would not be a doomsday scenario. Collaros is a clear step above, but Anderson is capable. With an offense that favors a running quarterback more than Brian Kelly's did, it suits him even better.

 

BRENDON KAY

 

Tangibles: 6-4, 227 pounds, RS Soph.

 

Last year: Played in two games without a start, threw for 27 yards, ran for 24. Suffered a knee injury.

 

Bajakian's take: "He's a guy that is coming off an injury. He's done a great job, he works his butt off. He's done a great job at everything I have ever asked him to do, so I am looking forward to getting him on the field and working with him. He is very intelligent and little bit taller with a strong arm."

 

PDJ Projection: Injuries have clouded Kay's career at UC and his health will be the predominant factor in if he holds on to his position. With two talented freshmen behind him and top QB recruits for next season all behind him, he is battling not only for this season but for a shot at playing as a senior.

 

FRESHMEN

Cody Kater

 

Tangibles: 6-4, 200 pounds, Fresh.

 

Last year: Ranked No. 26 overall player in state of Michigan.

 

Munchie Legaux

 

Tangibles: 6-4, 185 pounds, Fresh.

 

Last year: Rated as No. 12 dual-threat QB in the country by Rivals

 

Bajakian on their impact: "It's hard to say. We haven't been around those freshmen at all. We haven't seen them in practice, we haven't seen them throw a ball or work out. But they both have good arms and can do a lot of good things."

 

Bajakian on Legaux or Kater being used in spot duty in running situations: "To say early on whether that would happen or not would be premature. Both those guys come out of offenses where their ability as athletes were utilized both throwing the ball and running the ball. Our true goal as quarterbacks is they can be effective doing both. They are true dual threat quarterbacks."

 

PDJ Projection: We probably won't see either of these two on the field this year. Barring injuries to the players above them it will likely be a redshirt season for both.

A long week and a joy to finally see Friday here. Final weekend before the season begins in Clifton so I will be enjoying my final hangover of the summer on Sunday. Should be a good one.

First, let's eat...

--- UC barely finished outside the Top 25 in the USA Today coaches poll. They are at 26. Pitt landed at 15 and West Virginia at 25.

--- The triumphant return of Dan Hoard! Looking forward to seeing the voice of the Simpsons/Bearcats when he returns from his summer PawSox gig. But he took some time to check out the well-dressed Bearcats during Big East Media Day.

--- If you aren't busy today, turn on ESPN, you'll probably spot Butch Jones. He is running the gauntlet in Bristol today and will be all over the place. Here is his schedule.

--- College Football Nation provides a sneak peak at Fresno State as the Bulldogs open camp. Once you see the phrase "young secondary," you can stop reading. That's all you need to know when analyzing the mathcup vs. the Bearcats.

--- There is so little experience at quarterback in the Big East this season that two guys who hadn't taken a snap at the beginning of last season are the most tenured in the league. And a guy who started only four games for the Bearcats is probably the most accomplished. Friend of the blog Greg Auman at the Tampa Tribune breaks down the young guns.

--- Brian Bennett caught up with Ben Mauk. If you see him, wish him good luck in latching on somewhere. Then tell him his younger brother needs to be a Bearcat.

--- For those of you not following Josh Schneider's day at the US Nationals, be happy. It was as bizarre as they come. At the end of the day, Schneider was able to race in his event, the 50 freestyle, but he waded through a lot of politics along the way.

Apparently nobody over there cares about the spirit of the rule, only enforcing it.

--- Bad news at West Virginia. As if this state needed another reason to curse Rich Rodriguez. For Mountaineers fans, he's the gift that keeps on giving.

--- Dr. Saturday checks in on Syracuse. Where even three days after the media preseason poll was released you hear on campus echoes of a tribal chant, "We're not the worst! We're not the worst!" 

--- Former Bearcat and current Red Sox slugger Kevin Youkilis received some unfortunate news that his season is over. He tore a ligament in his right thumb and was shelved. Tough break for a guy that has been as consistent as they come for Boston.

--- For the depressing nugget of the day, as if the story that Rosie O'Donnell is going to be on TV again isn't enough, apparently Oprah Winfrey is going to have her own TV network? Ugh. 

I can't wait to watch Stedman Gone Wild.  

--- As you half-ass  your way through Friday at the office and are worried if people notice how bad you are at your job. Just know somebody is way worse at their job than you. His name is Bob Davidson.

ON THE BUBBLE

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(jefferson street.jpg

 (Taken from Scott's handy-dandy Blackberry)


     The e-mail notice from UC's Ryan Koslen gave word of a media tour of the Jefferson Avenue Sports Complex at 11 a.m., Thursday. Seeing as I portray a media guy every now and then, I figured I'd show up and see what all the fuss was about.

      While not every entity in the Tri-State attended, it officially became a UC media event when Enquirer beat reporter Bill Koch appeared, anxious as anyone to don a hard-hat and reflective vest. It's rare for a member of the press to have the opportunity to look like one of the "Village People", so Bill's excitement was understood by us all.

      What was previously the ill-fated Sander Hall lot, the Corry lot, an ugly warehouse and some surrounding shrubs, will soon become another "footprint" of the Varsity Village design. After a couple of groundbreakings (one a Brian Kelly photo op on a bulldozer, then later a tent revival with major donors) serious work on the project began in March, with the initial phase to be finished very soon.

      "With the changes in topography, it's come a long way," said UC Project Manager Barrett Bamberger. "We don't have any of the synthetic turf done yet--that's going to start next week--but you can really see the field taking shape now. Of course the half-field, there's that underground thermal (water) storage tank. That's got to be completed first."

      The storage tank will hold four million gallons of water and will save UC an estimated $500,000 year in cooling costs as noted in a recent Enquirer article. In Cincinnati terms, the thermal tank will hold more water than what is used at Sunlite Pool at Coney Island off Kellogg. Obviously, that part of the project will be completed in the next phase with the 60-yard field on top.

      On the other hand, the green light is on for the 100-yard field to be used soon by Head Coach Butch Jones and the Bearcats.

      "This will be finished by the end of the month," said a confident Bamberger. "It'll be ready to be played on by September 1st and construction on the half-field will continue to the end of the year."

      While the "bubble" is not slated for completion on the project until November, the additional practice space is welcome to a football team that has shared it's stadium with other Bearcat teams, various intramural sports, numerous amateur placekickers (hit one from 40 my sophomore year) and sun worshipers of every shape,size and dimension. Practices were technically "closed" previously at Nippert Stadium, but it was difficult to police in such a central spot.

      Once the Jefferson Complex is complete, public access to practices will be limited, just as they are at most competitive universities. However, the added space will certainly enhance UC in terms of attractive facilities that are becoming more and more essential in recruiting.

      Not only will the Jefferson Avenue Complex give football an eventual indoor practice site, the other sports will benefit and lacrosse will eventually have it's own home complete with stands, a scoreboard and a pressbox. Prior to this, UC was the only Big East school without such an indoor site other than USF in Tampa (where winters tend to be noticeably milder).

      "In Phase Two, we have the completion of the bleachers, a pressbox, some restrooms as a part of that, concession stand, raised decks for filming and between the fields the viewing/filming platform," said Bamberger. "The full field should be ready to play on by September 1st. Phase Two should begin sometime in the fall and we expect to be finished with that around October 2011."

      "I think this is going to be pretty unique," continued Bamberger. "I don't know of any other practice facility quite like this. Late November, we'll see the inflatable dome that's going to go over the full field. It'll be exciting."

      The project for the last five months has employed about 50-60 workers at any one time. Eventually, it will be one of the first things you'll notice as you near the University on Jefferson Avenue with a main entrance planned there.

      While many UC grads might reminisce about the great tailgating lot (Corry), the steep hill you might have tumbled down in celebration of a big win (or lack of coordination) or the incessant fire alarms at the old Sander Hall, you should take pride in knowing those landmarks have now given way to positive improvements in terms of athletic facilities.

      Like much of the construction the last decade around UC, it'll catch you off guard if you haven't been on campus to see the changes. If you haven't been in town in awhile, you owe it to yourself to include UC on your sightseeing list as the Big East influence has dramatically changed the Bearcat landscape.


Looking Good At Big East Media Day

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Now that's what I call, "Representing the C."

 

All eight Big East head football coaches brought several of their top players to Newport, RI for Big East Media Day this week, and no contingent looked sharper that the UC quartet of Butch Jones, Zach Collaros, J.K. Shaffer, and Armon Binns.

 

Bearcats in Newport.jpg 

"I think I'm underdressed," Coach Jones said with a laugh.  "Armon Binns may be the best-dressed person in the Big East.  The thing that you look at is pride, and our kids are wearing Red and Black.  We talk about 'Representing the C' and having pride in your football program.  This is just another example of what's going on in Cincinnati."

 

"We're definitely trying to represent the Bearcat colors," Shaffer said.  "I certainly wasn't going to come in here wearing a blue shirt and a yellow tie."

 

But nice clothes are not the only way the Bearcats are looking good these days.  New strength coach Dave Lawson and his assistant Mike Szerszen and taken the off-season conditioning program to a new level.

 

"It's been brutal," Binns said.  "They ran us a lot and lifted us hard, but I think it's going to bring a tougher mentality to our team.  We'll be able to push for four quarters and keep pressure on teams."

 

"I've put on about five or six pounds of muscle," Collaros said.  "They've really taken us to different levels of work that we haven't seen in the past few years.  No disrespect to Coach Longo - we loved him and his program - but it's a different philosophy that Coach Lawson runs.  Everyone has bought into it and people are in the best condition that I've seen them in.  Our bodies have changed significantly.  They really believe in being the best-conditioned team in the country, and I'd put us up against anybody."

 

"It's been tough, but I love that stuff," Shaffer said.  "Without that, I'm not as good of a player.  That's the kind of workouts that I used to do in high school and I've missed it.  It's been a tough winter, spring, and summer but we're all benefiting a lot from it."

 

"They have a lot of confidence coming from our strength and conditioning program," Coach Jones said.  "Dave Lawson and Mike Szerszen have done an extraordinary job of getting these guys going.  They've all had personal bests - not only in running, but in lifting too.  For us to play the up-tempo style of football that we want to play, they have to be in the best shape of their lives and right now you can see it in their eyes."

 

In their eyes . . . in their bodies . . . and even in their clothes.  It's all about "Representing the C."

 

"To me, it's about how you carry yourself - on and off the field.," Binns said.  "It's about how you work and the demeanor that you have in anything that you do in life.  You're representing the University of Cincinnati and you're a different breed."

 

"For me, it's really special because it's not just talking about our team - it's talking about the city and you know how special the city of Cincinnati is to me," Shaffer said.  "So it's more than just representing the Cincinnati Bearcats for me.  I try to live that every day."

 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

We are officially under a month until Fresno State and mere days away from the first practice. We are almost there.

And if the timetable doesn't have you ready to go, this sneak preview of the Bearcats videoboard open will, via Tommy G. Note: Pat Summerall in the house. 

--- The Big East is "as strong as ever," as Bill Koch relays through commissioner John Marinatto in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

USA Today also takes a look at Big East stability.

The conference's 16-6 record in bowl games over the past four years certainly is a statistic to stand behind, but considering the unknowns still lingering over future expansion and the struggle the conference endured competing at the BCS Bowl level, I wouldn't say its stronger than in the days of Miami, VT and BC when the Big East was winning championships.

And to say it is as strong top to bottom as any in the country would be an unnecessary compliment to Syracuse and Louisville. Those two programs are a combined 24-48 overall -- good for 33 percent win percentage -- the past three years.

And they are 25 percent of your league right now.

Let's not even leave this region and compare the bottom 25 percent of the Big Ten over the past three years. That would be Indiana, Illinois and Minnesota. They were a combined 45-66 over that time for a 45 percent win percentage. Keep in mind, in that time span, Illinois had a second place finish and Minnesota played in two bowl games.  

I'm not saying the Big East doesn't deserve respect or recognition, but let's be real.

--- Dave Hickman of the West Virginia Gazette points out that, even if the Big East is as strong as it has ever been, it's all relative. The Titanic plays a significant role in his analogy. Thankfully, Celine Dion does not.

--- AOL Fanhouse's Brian Grummell takes a look at Butch Jones and compares him to the early years of Pete Carroll. Not sure how fair it is to compare the two considering the difference in recruits the two could pull in, but Jones certainly has made a focus to create a family atmosphere as Carroll did.

--- Dr. Saturday takes a harsh look at the Bearcats this season. He's relatively uninformed, but this is likely a good view of what the national perception of the Bearcats is right now. For whatever that's worth.

--- The USA Today Top 25 poll will be released on Friday. I hate that this actually matters, but as any team that finished behind another at the end of the season because they were ranked lower preseason can tell you, it means something.

--- American Eagle is the new sponsor of the Big East basketball tournament. Mo Egger predicts all the teams will be forced to play with popped collars. My guess would be cargo basketball shorts.

 --- The UC track and field team is smart. They were both named to the national academic teams yesterday. Here's the nuts and bolts from UC athletics:

On Monday, Aug. 2, the University of Cincinnati men's track & field team was one of 73 teams to earn All-Academic Team distinction from the United States Track & Field/Cross Country Coaches Association and the Bearcats made a clean sweep of the award when the women's team was one of 151 teams selected to the same honor from the USTFCCCA on Wednesday.

The men's team was one of four BIG EAST Conference schools to earn the honor, joining DePaul, Rutgers, and Louisville. The Big East led all conferences on the women's side as 12 members notched All-Academic status, including DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Rutgers, St. John's, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, USF, Villanova, and West Virginia.

The Bearcats were also one of 68 institutions to have both their men's and women's squads named to the All-Academic Team. UC's men's and women's programs also earned the honor in 2009.

--- UC Volleyball's Reed Sunahara is coaching with the US National Team in Poland and they will be opening play against the Dominican Republic tomorrow. Reed has been kind enough to blog it up during the trip. Here is entry No. 2.

--- Steve Toyloy got picked up to play basketball in Turkey. I know very little about Turkey except Hedo Turkoglu is from there and they have some pretty nasty prisons.

It's a nice move for Toyloy though, who will undoubtedly continue to push people around in the paint over there. 

--- That's all for today and if you didn't check it out already, I posted up the latest position analysis yesterday, this time breaking down the offensive line with O-Line coach Don Mahoney.  

This is the fourth in a series of looks at the 2010 UC football roster through the eyes of its position coaches. It continues with a glimpse at the offensive line with OL coach Don Mahoney.

 

Mahoney, who spent the last three years as offensive line coach under Butch Jones at Central Michigan, is in his first year in the role with UC.

 

Two-deep:

 

Starters - LT Samuel Griffin, Sr., LG Jason Kelce, Sr., C Evan Davis, Jr., RG Alex Hoffman, Jr., RT C.J. Cobb, Sr.

 

Reserves - LT Sean Hooey, Soph., LG, Austen Bujnoch, RS Fresh., C Jason Kelce, Sr., RG T.J. Franklin, Jr., RT Andre Cureton, RS Fresh.

 

Freshmen: Keith Schloemer, Clint Shepperd

 

Overview: While the skill position players on offense soak up all the headlines, the offensive line deserves a significant amount of recognition. This group will be among the most experienced of any on the team returning three players who started every game last season and another (Cobb) who started one game and played in 12.

 

Biggest Question: With first-year starter Evan Davis taking over at center, will he be able to handle the mental aspect of being the quarterback of the offensive line?

 

Mahoney: "Evan has a grasp of it, but in the spread there is a bonus that there are two of guards, with Evan looking through his legs, Kelce will give him some calls about something that has changed or something has moved and Hoffman is just the same. (Davis) is a very intelligent, smart football player. They can handle that also. For Evan, it is the system being new. As much as all that stuff, it is the first time for Evan in our offense, the terminology, so it is good to have those two guys beside him."

 

LEFT TACKLE

 

Starter: Sam Griffin

 

Tangibles: 6-4, 275 pounds, Sr.

 

Last year: Started all 12 games he played at right tackle

 

Mahoney's take: "Obviously he has the playing experience, he progressed as spring went along. We are sure he can hold down that spot this year. He is extremely unselfish, to make that move is a challenge he looked forward to chasing. I didn't have to worry about that. The biggest adjustment for most of them is the fact that going from right-hand stance to left-hand stance."

 

PDJ Projection: It will be interesting to monitor if Griffin has any problems moving across the line, but Mahoney didn't anticipate there being any. I tend to agree. Griffin proved he can hold his own on the edge last season and while he will see more premier pass rushers on the left side, he's a mature senior with a history of success, he should have little problem.

 

Backup: Sean Hooey

 

Tangibles: 6-8, 296 pounds, Soph.

 

Last year: Played in four games without a start

 

Mahoney's take: "He made some strides in spring. He got a lot of reps, continued to work at it. He is up for wanting to push Sam. He's a guy that we want to work his way into trying to push him.

 

Mahoney on the difference between Griffin and Hooey: "He's got more size than Sam, he is close to 300 pounds, taller and at tackle you like to have that because of their range to block out on the edge and protect the edge. Sam is quicker because of the size. Sam is one that is ahead of the game in a lot of ways, mentally and physically. Sean is a continued work in progress."

 

PDJ Projection: Hooey owns the physical tools to be a dominant tackle with his height and weight. Learning  behind Griffin will be a bonus, but as Mahoney said, he's a work in progress. He appears perfectly groomed to take over the position next season.

 

LEFT GUARD

 

Starter: Jason Kelce

 

Tangibles: 6-4, 290 pounds, Sr.

 

Last year: 13 games, 13 starts

 

Mahoney's take: "Without a doubt our leader up front with the way he plays, his mental makeup and blue collar mentality. As much as we want to teach and coach it is what you learn by what is in front of you and things that Jason provides in teaching and leadership goes a long way

 

Mahoney on Kelce's NFL possibilities: "He needs to play extremely solid this year, we expect him to do that fully. The scouts will come in they will do their evaluation. He has toughness, very good feet. He is extremely intelligent, great football mind, common sense and all that. The lacking thing for him is being 6-5, 6-4, but he makes up for it on the other end."

 

PDJ Projection: Kelce will be in an NFL training camp at this time next year. Whether it is as a draft pick or college free agent is yet to be seen, but considering his production and efficiency at UC it would be hard to imagine a team not taking a chance on him. For this year, he will be the heart and soul of the line and one of those players that would be difficult to replace not only on the field but as a leader if they were to go down to injury.

 

Backup: Austen Bujnoch

 

Tangibles: 6-5, 265 pounds, RS Fresh.

 

Last year: Redshirt

 

Mahoney's take: "He was limited this spring with (hamstring) injuries. He has a very good future ahead of him. He has good size, he's grading. Injuries held him back this spring to let him come along as much as we think he can do. It is critical for him to get as much work as possible this fall. He had a good summer in regards to his injury, there was nothing reoccurring. He is going to be all systems go on Monday. We are excited for what he can do. He is young and wanting to learn."

 

PDJ Projection: This could be the most interesting offensive lineman to watch during fall practice. The Elder grad's development will be a key to the depth of this team and considering his lack of game experience and limited time practicing in the spring, he will need to be on the fast track should anything happen to Kelce or Evan Davis. Since Kelce is the backup center, an injury to either would likely place Bujnoch into the spotlight.

 

CENTER

 

Starter: Evan Davis

 

Tangibles: 6-4, 262 pounds, Jr.

 

Last year: Played in six games without a start

 

Mahoney's take: "He's very anxious to really play and play well for us. He's eager to prove what he is capable of doing at the same time he needs to channel that in the right way. It isn't a matter of proving anything it is a matter of going out and doing what you are capable of doing at the highest level. That will be just fine for us with what he has displayed so far. He worked extremely hard at everything from film to footwork to conditioning, you name it. So, he is fine in that regard."

 

PDJ Projection: There will be plenty of pressure on Davis with a cast of experienced players surrounding him. In the same respect, with Hofffman and Kelce flanking him, the job could be a whole lot easier. My guess would be he will have little problem stepping in at center. If he does, there is enough depth that Kelce could move to center and pieces could fall into place around to stay solid.  

 

Backups

 

Jason Kelce

 

Tangibles: 6-4, 290 pounds, Sr.

 

 

Dan Sprague

 

Tangibles: 6-3, 260 pounds, Redshirt Fresh.

 

Last year: Redshirt

 

Mahoney's take: The center position is new to him, he was a linebacker in high school. His learning is taking a little bit slower, but he is a guy that keeps working in time hopefully sooner than later it will be one where he will get himself in position to provide some depth there.

 

 

T.J. Franklin

 

Tangibles: 6-4, 287 pounds, Redshirt Jr.

 

Mahoney's take: "He did some snapping this summer, but that is really a spot where you can never have too many guys with the ball in their hands."

 

PDJ Projection: It would take a nightmare scenario for Sprague or Franklin to see time at center, but there are plenty of options there should injuries occur. And Kelce's flexibility adds a dimension of depth across the line.

 

RIGHT GUARD

 

Starter: Alex Hoffman

 

Tangibles: 6-5, 293 pounds, Jr.

 

Last year: Started 13 of 13 games

 

Mahoney's take: "He's had a tremendous offseason where his body has really developed and he has gotten stronger. He is bigger. He set out to get upper body strength which he did. His body is different. It was a matter of losing some midsection weight that really wasn't very good and added some shoulders and some chest. He's got a confidence about him he has translated from the weight room to the field. That is really going to pay off for him. He played some tackle in the spring, so he can play tackle, but guard is where he is most suited at. He's going to have a heck of a year for us, I really believe that.

 

PDJ Projection: Hoffman will likely be the most improved player on this line. His dedication in the weight room should turn him into a nasty force on the inside. Mahoney sounded as sure about Hoffman delivering a big year as any topic he spoke about. 

 

Backups

T.J. Franklin

 

Tangibles: 6-4, 287 pounds, Jr.

 

Last year: Played in three games without a start

 

Randy Martinez

 

Tangibles: 6-1, 277 pounds, Jr.

 

Last year: Played in five games without a start

 

Mahoney's take: "They are very unselfish guys. This will be an interesting battle. Those are two guys that are blue-collar, workmanlike attitudes. Their attitude and intelligence is good and intention to help the team. You have to be able to have some flexibility."

 

PDJ Projection: Franklin would have a leg up due to his size advantage, but really this will all come down to performance during fall practice as to who will emerge.

 

RIGHT TACKLE

 

Starter: C.J. Cobb

 

Tangibles: 6-4, 304 pounds, Sr.

 

Last year: Played in 12 games with one start

 

Mahoney's take: "It was unfortunate he had the (ankle) injury he did. He is on target to have what I would perceive to be the senior year that is deserving of him. His attitude and work ethic has been tremendous. He is deserving of a fun senior year for what he has put in to this from before the injury to when the injury occurred. It has been unbelievable. People don't see that. They never will see it, but this guy has worked unbelievably to get himself ready to go for the season. He is actually ahead of schedule because he has worked so doggone hard and is determined to be ready."

 

PDJ Projection: Mahoney said Cobb will be practicing on Monday and is slated as the starter after suffering an ankle injury that forced him out of the spring. His rehab and leadership has noticed by coaches and players alike this offseason. His health will be worth monitoring, but it appears he is full go. And if he is, this line takes a major step in the right direction.

 

Backup: Andre Cureton

 

Tangibles: 6-6, 318 pounds, RS Fresh

 

Last year: Played in one game without a start

 

Mahoney's take: "He dropped a tremendous amount of weight so he has become a guy that we got to count on this fall.  There is no waiting. You would like to be able to say, maybe another year. There is not another year. It has to be now. He will be challenging also at the guard position. A guy of his size, mass and athleticism has to help us. And will. I think he sent that message again with the workload he put in this summer.

 

"From the Sugar Bowl his weight was probably around the 360 mark and he is around 318. I told him, you will not enjoy this offense in the weight you are playing at."

 

PDJ Projection: Anybody who drops that kind of weight in an offseason is ready to play and Cureton will be provided that opportunity. And with some uncertainty surrounding C.J. Cobb, Cureton is a part of the backup plan. I look for him to play a role at either guard, tackle or goal line situations as the year progresses.  

 

 

FRESHMAN CONTRIBUTOR:

 

Keith Schloemer

 

Tangibles: 6-7, 274

 

Last year: Lakota West High School

 

Mahoney's take: "He is one we will look at real early. He has the immediate size and frame that could be workable. If he can answer the mental and physical part he has a chance to contribute."

 

PDJ Projection: There will be other freshman that will have a shot at some playing time, but Schloemer has the body to realistically make an impact.

 

OTHERS:

 

Craig Parmenter, RS Jr., Doug Pike, Fresh., Mitch Kessell, Fresh., Clint Shepperd, Fresh.

 

PDJ Projection: Mahoney didn't see any other players making a significant impact, so a redshirt would be likelihood for these guys. However, Mahoney said he doesn't talk to anybody about redshirts at this time of year.   

No shortage of information came out of the Big East Media Day on Tuesday. So, no long stories about my searches for obscure offensive tackles today.

Let's dig right in...

--- ESPN's Big East Media Day homepage is the home page for Big East coverage. Brian Bennett is joined by Ivan Maisel to crank out good stuff on every topic imaginable in Newport.

It includes a look at the comments of commissioner John Marinatto about securing the league's future. To be going forward on the concept that Marinatto doesn't understand how four 16-team conferences would benefit college football as a talking point, I would say is a mistake. However, anything that didn't involve some type of Big East Network or significant ESPN contract, they might as well just disband. Luckily, it appears the expertise of Paul Tagliabue made a positive impact on the powers that be.

Elsewhere on the page, there is a good quote from Butch Jones -- not necessarily groundbreaking -- but a positive attitude, nonetheless:

"Right now, we're not defending anything," Jones said. "We're not defending a championship; we're pursuing a championship. Any time you win a championship, you become a measuring stick. Everyone's working to beat us."

This may not mean anything in the matter of wins and losses, but Jones is saying and doing all the right things. He successfully manuevered through his first nine months without any real missteps. Doing so isn't exactly solving a Rubix Cube, but it isn't Hungry, Hungry Hippos either. (Has there ever been an easier game to play? You mean I just keep hitting the lever over and over again? Cool.) 

Speaking of Hungry, Hungry Hippos, in two years Pitt's Greg Romeus has put down 10 lobsters at media days. Shouldn't he get a free Clambake bib for that? Methinks so.

--- Apparently the Big East considered adding four teams and sporting a 20-team mega-hoopsstravaganza when the Big 12 was breaking up, according to Zag's Blog. The college hoopster in me just drooled on himself a little.    

--- Bill Koch of The Enquirer has a notebook that includes Romeus talking about how his Panthers have not forgotten the events of Dec. 5.

Which yet again gives me an excuse to link to this.

Plus, he mentions that the Big East will mandate teams publish injury reports, which is great news for reporters that don't want to have to hound players to find out what percentage they are three times a week.

---  Pittsburgh is the pick to win the conference by the media, but they are proceeding with caution, as Brian Grummell points out for AOL Fanhouse. Also, Dr. Saturday delves into the Pittsburgh topic

As proud church festival emcee Mo Egger pointed out in his blog, isn't Dave Wannstedt still the coach?

Yeah, "Caution!" should be the team motto written across the back of their shirts.

I will say the same line I always say in regards to Wannstedt: What has he ever won as a head coach?

--- I always loved the concept of The Toilet Bowl. Perhaps growing up a Cincinnati fan always endeared me to the battles of last place teams. Apparently, the folks at the Big East Network agree with me becuase they tabbed Louisville-Syracuse the Game of the Week for the week of Nov. 6.

The Orioles vs. the Mariners on FoxSports Northwest thinks that's an uninspiring matchup.

There likely will be a lot of talking about how tasty the lobster was while people poke and prod the Big East coaches and players today in Newport. I will hold in my jealousy. I ate some Cheez-Its last night. They were delicious. I will not apologize for that.

I really do wish I was in Newport, not necessarily to hear what the commissioner or coaches have to say, but talking one-on-one with the stars of each team provides great insight into the leadership and that can go a long way to deciding how far each team will go.

My favorite media days story came from the SEC Media Days two years ago when Florida was fresh off a title and brought Urban Meyer, the hottest coach in the country, Tim Tebow, fresh off a Heisman and circumcision tour, and....OT Phil Trautwein. My immediate thought was, poor Phil Trautwein. So, with over 750 media members there prepared to ask Tebow how hard it is to be sooo great, I aimed to write a column on Mr. Trautwein, the other guy.  The standard for every team at the event is for the coach to walk up to a podium, speak and then the two or three players would come in and sit at auxilary tables and field questions.

Well, since Tebow aura would snap a table without certain sturdiness standards, he was the only player ushered up onto the coaches podium for the player session.

I immediately headed for the back corners to find Phil. He was nowhere to be found. So, I went out into the halls and nobody was there. I began to ask around, but everyone had already been sucked into the Tebow healing force and were powerless in responding to mortals. After five more minutes of searching the halls, I concluded Phil must not have made the trip as scheduled.

Later on, a Florida student newspaper writer hears me talking about Phil and says, he actually found him. They placed him in a room on the other side of the hotel lobby where they stored the media guides. Seriously. He said he was the only person who found him there. Just sitting on a stool, reading a media guide, wondering where the reporters were. Just another vicitim caught up in the Tebow undertoe.  

I would link to the column, but my old newspaper in Georgia is still figuring out how this "Internet thing" works and has no archiving system.

Side story: At the same media days, a fellow writer and myself were exiting an elevator in a hurry to grab some food and Tommy Tuberville was walking in, he says, 'hey guys,' and in our haste we walked right past him. Snubbed him. It prompted a term I still use to this day. Snubberville. 

OK, I'm done...and you probably skimmed to this part of the post anyway, so let's move on....

--- The media poll was released this morning and UC and WVU came in a tie for second behind Pitt. UC didn't garner a first-place vote. Nothing new there, though, the past two seasons the Bearcats started further down than this and came away the champs.

 

Rank        Team                                   Pts.

1.             Pittsburgh (22)                  190

2.             Cincinnati                          142

                West Virginia (1)              142

4.             Connecticut (1)                 131

5.             Rutgers                              99

6.             USF                                     79

7.             Syracuse                            41

8.             Louisville                          40

I showed my ballot a few weeks back and am proud to say I nearly nailed it. The only difference was I flopped Rutgers and USF and of course didn't have UC and WVU as a tie.

All of this, of course, means absolutely nothing.

--- While I am not in Newport, Brian Bennett is, so we are covered. He has a video interview with Zach Collaros. Hard to imagine a much better representative of UC. You can almost see the joy coming out of his face when Brian mentions the critics picking UC in the 40s nationally. This may be the best thing to come out of the offseason. You can't beat a team with a chip on its shoulder -- as we learned the last two years.

--- Bennett also talks with Armon Binns. More good stuff.

--- A rumor was floated that Memphis is going to join the Big East. Worse things could happen -- especially for UC fans. The Memphis-UC rivalry from the Great Midwest days was one of the more enjoyable around. The Tigers have a dominant fan base in West Tennessee. And, it would mean a trip to Beale St. every other year. Sign me up.

--- From the "Things You Should Already Know If You Were Reading This Blog Every Day LIke I Told You To" department. The Bearcats WRs are good. National Football Post ranks them at the top of the Big East.

--- A scary team in the Big East this year for basketball will be St. John's. And Steve Lavin is a big reason why as Brett McMurphy points out in this good read at AOL Fanhouse.

--- I linked yesterday to a UC video where the team talks about being in great shape. In related news, Albert Haynesworth isn't. However, Sports Pickle found a test that Haynesworth did pass.

--- My alma mater at Ohio U. was ranked the No. 2 party school in the country. Just thinking about roll I played in building that reputation back in the day makes me wipe my tears with a now slightly less valuable diploma.

--- If you are like me, your farmer's tan colors to a distinct line as we reach the back end of the summer. Granted, it looks a little ridiculous, but it keeps my shirt on, and that makes everybody better.

But it definitely doesn't look as ridiculous as these sunburns. .

We officially one week away from not having to invent stories anymore. That's right, in one week the Bearcats will hit the practice field and begin the defense of their two-time Big East championship. We will get a look at how the players are progressing and I will stop linking to prediction columns. (One of those three is false, if you think you can guess)

But since today is the beginning of Big East media days there should be plenty of fodder flying out of Rhode Island. Though, I am disappointed I will miss the tasty clambake I am not disappointed I will miss hearing about how excited for the season everybody is and how everyone is "really progressing."

Moving on....

--- Many profiles will be written about Butch Jones this week. I doubt any of them will be as good as Bill Koch's in the Enquirer. Worth a read, if you haven't already.

--- Conditioning is finally over for the Bearcats and they believe they are in the best shape they have ever been.

--- Drew Frey and Jason Kelce claim to be excited about filming the pre-game shots and program photos. It's nice for them to humor the folks making this piece like that.

--- Dr. Saturday picks Oklahoma to win the Big 12. The higher people rank and predict the Sooners finish, the better it will be for UC if they were to pull off the victory.

--- Holly Anderson over at SB Nation heard UConn coach Randy Edsall call the Big East "as strong as any conference in the country." She isn't buying it. Nor should she. Of course, I would put the BE in the same conversation with everybody else looking up at the SEC and Big Ten. .   

--- The NCAA is filled with clueless rule enforcers with no sense of reality. Despite that summation of Gene Wojechowski's story, it actually does tell us some information we didn't already know.  

CAPTAIN KIRK WANTS TO RUN MISSION CONTROL

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kirkland.jpg
(courtesy UC Magazine)

      Like many college players who often coached their teammates on the floor, Armein Kirkland is now trying to break into the coaching profession.

      I caught up with him recently at the Deveroes Summer League at Woodward High School, only this time "Captain Kirk" wasn't playing, he was observing. At the ripe old age of 26, and after four knee surgeries, Armein Kirkland is hanging up the sneakers.

      Other than playing some with his AAU team, which he coaches with another former Bearcat, Herb Jones, Kirkland is content to end the playing portion of his basketball life. His new focus is spreading his knowledge to a group of 16-and under young men.

      "Tru Playaz basketball--that's my team," said Kirkland (who was wearing the team logo on his shirt). "We have kids from Anderson to Winton Woods, Northern Kentucky. If kids want to play, we're trying to form as many teams as we can. Depending on how many kids we have, we'll get more coaches."

      The goal is to "travel the circuit" and go to tournaments where youngsters of that age get exposure. Kirkland showed me pictures on his IPhone of a recent trip to Indianapolis. They've also been to Louisville and a trip to Las Vegas is on the horizon.

      There are various avenues to get into coaching and Kirkland hopes this one is successful. However, long term, he wouldn't mind taking a seat on the bench at Fifth Third Arena again, or any D-I arena for that matter.

      "Definitely, definitely," said Kirkland of his career aspirations. "I would like to build this program up, but at the same time, I would like to get into college coaching."

      Often times, making it at that level is more difficult for ex-players than their original recruiting process. They go from being the "recruitee" to the "recruiter" as aggressive networking usually leads to such employment.

      "It's who you know, I guess," said Kirkland of the possibilities. "I wish I did know the secret, but it seems like it's just who you know. You see these new coaches getting hired and it's like a rotation of the same coaches going different places. You've got to get your foot in the door somehow and hopefully I'll get mine in the door sometime."

      I'd venture to say Kirkland's foot is bigger than the average college coach. Plus, it seemingly wouldn't hurt to bring in a 6-8, four-year player with some credentials to meet some new recruits. It's not like staffs don't hire former players, but I does seem like it's not as many as one would think.

      "I guess there is a lot of politics involved," said Kirkland. "Some guys like to have control of their team and it might be a threat having any Division I players come in to help. I think it's a good thing, but at the same time, it might be a threat."

      There's no denying Kirkland knows the game. Plus, he undoubtedly learned a great deal from some of his former coaches who all head up big programs now (Bob Huggins-West Virginia, Frank Martin-Kansas State, and Andy Kennedy-Ole Miss).

      "Three of my coaches are all high major Division One coaches right now," said Kirkland. "I have the contacts, but it's hard to get in. There are only so many positions at each school. Three assistant positions at each school--it's hard."

      One thing that shouldn't be overlooked for college suitors of Armein Kirkland is that he played four of the five positions in his career at UC. At 6-8, he was big enough to go inside, but had the ballhandling skills and athleticism to play at either guard slot (to boot, he at one time was a high school football quarterback in Texas).

      "That's part of what I base my career on--being versatile," said Kirkland. "I think that in due time, something will come along. You never know what can happen. I'm just being patient and hoping something comes along soon."

       Meantime, Kirkland is staying busy with his Tru Playaz squad and not missing being a Deveroes participant. He still is inquisitive of the new players coming to UC though as we stood together on the Woodward balcony taking in the talents of Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson.

      "I think so," said Kirkland when asked if UC could find it's way back to the NCAA tournament. "They've got to get some better recruits in. At the end of the day, you've got to have players. It doesn't matter who's coaching, you've got to have players first and foremost. If Calipari (Kentucky) didn't have John Wall and Cousins, he couldn't turn average players into a Top 10 team, he's not that good of a coach. He's a good coach, but you've got to have players. That's what they (UC) have got to do first."

      That's where Kirkland believes he could help a college team. Having been a top recruit, he knows the process and is willing to offer his expertise.

      "I definitely understand the process," said Kirkland. "I understand what the kids will go through in college, on and off the court. I definitely would be able to advise young kids on what they can expect and possibly take care of them when they did come to my school. I think I have a lot to offer. I've played professionally, I've been through injuries, I know how important education is, I graduated, so I could use that. If I didn't graduate, I wouldn't even have the option to be a college coach."

      In this area, Kirkland is also still recognized. Older fans and younger players, all who have watched Kirkland play at UC, recognize him and acknowledge him when he walks into a gym.

      Perhaps someday, we'll see Armein Kirkland in a suit on the sidelines for someone after a visit to the local "Big And Tall". Until then, he's guiding high school kids in the Tri-State along the same path he traveled in Texas to reach the ultimate destination of a college scholarship.

      If you know of a young man who would like to try out for one of Kirkland's teams and be coached by a couple of pretty awesome Bearcats, you may contact Armein at: Akirkland33@hotmail.com.