Hoffman takes helm of young offensive line

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Alex Hoffman will be a three-year starter for his senior year and depended upon to help lead the development of a young front five.


CINCINNATI - Alex Hoffman never shied away from coaching up his younger teammates. Giving instructions and assisting came natural to him last season as he held a starting role at both guard and tackle.


Still, he ceded his leadership role to reigning senior rock Jason Kelce.


One year later, surrounded by three new starters, the leadership position is his. Whether Hoffman wants the role or not. Luckily for the Bearcats, he's the ideal candidate.


"He's our vocal leader and leader by example," offensive line coach Don Mahoney said. "Just does everything right, from school, first and foremost, sets an example where freshman are looking up to him. He's just the model Bearcat. He really is, he does everything right. He's the voice."


A voice this team desperately needs.


Next to Hoffman and Randy Martinez, who earned 23 of 24 possible starts at their positions last season, there will be three new starters manning the offensive front Sept. 1 against Austin Peay.


"This year is my turn to come around," Hoffman said. "I have always been the guy to kind of coach guys up well on second team, this year I am going to really get guys to focus on getting the whole unit together and help those young guys develop a little more, because we need them, you know?"


Oh, they know. The offensive line endured growing pains consistently protecting Zach Collaros, particularly early last season. UC allowed 33 sacks last year, 96th in the country and only better than Rutgers in the Big East, who led the nation allowing 61 sacks.


Hoffman feels the pressure to progress, but believes with his leadership as a three-year starter and continuity of a second year in the system, this unit will handle the pressure.


Last year at this point, the same topic about pressure protecting for a talented group of skill players held the line of conversation. Dealing with pressure to perform comes as standard as stretching out the black No. 59 jersey.


"We are used to it," Hoffman said. "We have big shoes to fill this year. We struggled last year with sacks and protecting Zach. That is the main focus this year to get our line under control and really focus on protecting Zach and running the ball with (Isaiah) Pead and Darrin (Williams) and all them."


How to accomplish that?  Replacing three members of the line while also improving on their individual performances began Tuesday with spring practice No. 1. Hoffman took time between reps to find teachable moments with Evan Davis, Austen Bujnoch or any of a number of young players competing for the open spots. When practice moves form inside the Sheakley Athletic Center bubble to the film room, the teaching continues.


"The main key is footwork, eyes, general getting the job done," Hoffman said. "They'll ask me if they did it right and if not I'll coach them up. So, just general stuff they are not really familiar with like certain game situations that will happen."


Butch Jones preaches the value of competition at every spot creating champions. It's been mentioned in each of the dozens of media appearances he's made over the past week. Nowhere will that be more evident than the offensive line where there are frontrunners like Andre Cureton, Davis and Bujnoch lead the way, but almost any of the 14 listed on the roster could earn a starting spot.


"We got guys that are competing for spots every day," Mahoney said. "From meetings to in practice with attention to detail all those things. It's a great challenge, but I like the mentality of that (competition)."

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