Bearcats turn up the heat

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Teams in the past at the University of Cincinnati have been called given many different descriptions.

Upstarts. Underdogs. Champions.

It's still too early to pass judgment on how Butch Jones' team will be described, but at least for one game, "physical" was not a fitting term.

"We are going to be a physical football team," Jones said following Tuesday's practice. "We are not a physical football team right now. If people say we are soft, I take that personally. If that goes back to the Mark Dantonio days, whatever it is, we are not going to be a finesse football team."

Jones took steps toward revamping the image this week as he increased the live drill situations and re-opened all positions back up to competition. In the wake of a Saturday night where the Bearcats weren't fighting nearly enough, Jones returned to what he is calling a "Higher Ground mentality" where every day is a battle. A battle not only to get better, but a battle for playing time. 

Zach Collaros, who was sacked eight times and a victim of the lack of physicality in front of him, observed a change at Jefferson Avenue Sports Complex this week. 


"Today we went a little bit longer in practice," he said. "We hit a lot more than we are accustomed to or did last week. (Jones) is trying to bring toughness to this team we think we lost over the last couple months and I think it's good for us. I think people will really respond to it."


If they don't, then starting positions will change hands. Jones made that possiblity clear. Those who watched Collaros run for his life and heard the words of Jones on Tuesday would infer this came as a direct reflection of the play of the offensive line. That is not necessarily the case. While many problems began up front, the lack of protection was as much a team problem as the final score.


Running backs need to do a better job chipping off defenders. Wideouts ran incorrect routes. Collaros would hold onto the ball to long. Nobody was innocent.


"It's a combination of little things," Jones said.  


But at the end of the day, fair or unfair, the unit under the highest scrutiny from Saturday's effort is the offensive line. They were unable to contain the likes of Chris Carter and Logan Harrell on the Fresno front. 


The reasons for the sluggish offense were all visible on film. They were reviewed and corrected, at least in theory. All parties involved must execute over the course of the coming weeks before they escape the critical eye of the coaching staff.  


"It can happen to anyone," OL Alex Hoffman said. "It's the way we prepare and the way we come out to practice today, our preparation. We need to step it up another notch. Come out every day and prepare like it's the first game."


But the root of all evil within the Bearcats program right now is physicality. It's an image Jones worked to start changing on Tuesday. For now, the journey from "soft" to "scary" will continue to be a work in progress.


"Our young players are going to understand, football is a physical game," Jones said. "You saw that today as everyday we are going to be physical in practice. To be physical you have to live physical on the field each and every day. That's something we take great pride in."


QUICK HITS: WR Marcus Barnett was not available to the media after Tuesday's practice, but Jones did have this to say in comparing the senior WR with injured starter Vidal Hazelton (who was absent from practice).


"They are both very talented players, each has his own different strengths," Jones said. "Marcus has worked himself into great shape. He was starting at every special team for us. He's a very savvy, a very intelligent player. He has played a lot of games here and made some big plays for us in the past."


Barnett was spending much of his time working in the slot during camp, but Jones said he has always been the next man in at both the outside and slot WR position since Higher Ground broke. 


JONES ON HAZELTON: I thought this was an interesting quote on the future of Vidal Hazelton from Jones: 


"Obviously, it's very disappointing, anytime you lose a family member, especially an individual who has paid his dues, sat out, worked extremely hard and had his career at Cincinnati probably come to an end."  

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