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April 2011 Archives

One final reminder to everyone that tonight is UC Night at the Reds game. Events in the fan zone and UC dignitaries on the field are all part of the festivities. There will be a pregame shindig at BlackFinn from 4-6 p.m.

Let's eat...

--- Bill Koch caught up with former Bearcats TE and current Philadelphia Eagle Brent Celek. Apparently, Celek's wife was a rower for UC and recently picked up boxing. If your wife throws a mean jab, I'm not sure that's good news for you.

--- Brian Bennett talked about Big East bargains in the draft and included Jason Kelce. We'll find out who grabs the deal on Saturday.

--- The Big East landed one player in the first round of the NFL Draft in Pitt's Jon Baldwin going No. 26 to KC.

--- The SEC landed five of the top six picks, the No. 1 overall and a high of 10 total in Round 1. Oh, and they've won five consecutive national titles. It's not really fair anymore. 

--- How does the Panthers' selection of Cam Newton affect Tony Pike? Well, it's not good. We can start there. At least, not for Pike's chances of hitting the field in Charlotte. Perhaps, it could grant him an eventual release and allow him to grab on with another team willing to develop him. (He's as desirable as Dan LeFevour if you want him back in town)

Regardless, Pike was among a handful of players to be the first to arrive at the Panthers compound Friday.  

--- The language from the Bob Huggins roast was so colorful the WVU folks aren't releasing it as of yet. (There was a roast of Huggs from last year that is out there, if you'd like to see Chuck Machock in a yellow suit). However, a few bombs Mick Cronin slipped out serve as a glimpse of why Mick was so excited to take the podium.

Here's an interview with Mick before.  

Eamonn Brennan posted a blog about it, but here's a great Mick quote:

"There's a few things that people don't know in the state of West Virginia about their basketball coach. He holds more Best Western points than any coach in the history of college basketball. We were No. 1 in the country at Cincinnati, and we stayed at Best Westerns all year because Coach Huggins was trying to get a free tractor trailer through their points system from John Deere. It's an obscure fact...And he still records his Delta miles personally because he thinks that he gets cheated."

--- Much ballyhooed JuCo transfer God's Gift Achiuwa chose to attend St. John's next  year, from a final list that included UC and Washington. Gift averaged 22.3 points and 11.2 rebounds last year for Erie (NY) CC. The moment the Bearcats signed Cheikh Mbodj, Gift's likelihood of attending UC diminished greatly.

Cronin couldn't pass up a player like Mbodj for the hope of Gift. Signing one or the other was too much of a neccesity for next season. At the end of the day, it's probably best Gift went elsewhere (though, out of conference would have been nice -- have you seen the class Steve Lavin built at St. John's?!?). Finding a spot on a roster with all 13 scholarships taken would have created some tough decisions nobody wanted to make. There's oodles to like about the group coming back next year, with each player slotted into an important role. Cronin has a great collection of vets, depth and talented youth to make a tournament run. Not messing with a good thing probably was a gift in itself.  

--- The deadline for withdrawing your name from NBA consideration and to be done testing the waters moved closer to the end of the NCAA season. Many people thought the day already was too close for players to make an informed, accurate decision on where their stock would be. Many aren't thrilled with the latest decision, to say the least.

--- A concerning study about the increased risk of Sudden Cardiac Death among D-I basketball players. The risk is 14x more than that of other athletes. This from Rush the Court:

"According to the authors of the study, there is one incident of SCD for every 3,124 men's college basketball players in Division I per year. This is an alarming number for many reasons, especially when compared to the incidence of SCD among ALL college athletes that was measured at a much less frequent 1 in 43,770 athletes in a given year."

In an age where a risk of something affects every sport played, this does cause a double take in my book.

--- Sad to see scheduling get in the way -- even if temporarily -- of a great event honoring Skip Prosser, who meant so much to this city's basketball landscape.

Some Friday randomness...

--- Flowchart! How to tell if your NFL Draft pick is a bust.

--- Don't hit Reply to All when the email contains the personal information of 20,000 season ticket holders.

--- It's Flying Pig Marathon weekend in Cincinnati, so in honor of the Pig and keeping up with the 80s music magic on the blog, Flock of Seagulls to spice up your Friday. Have a great weekend.   

Lacrosse Legacy

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This weekend wraps up the regular season for the UC lacrosse team as the Bearcats face BIG EAST foe Notre Dame to close out the home schedule. After that, it's the conference championships in Washington, D.C.

As the program wraps up its fourth season, it's the end of one era of lacrosse, and the beginning of another, as the team prepares to move to its new home at the Jefferson Avenue complex. And while the successes of the lacrosse team might not be measured in wins and losses, there are signs that the sport is growing here locally.

The last home game against Rutgers was youth lacrosse team day, and throughout Nippert Stadium were scattered a number of local lacrosse players, dressed in their uniforms. Let's face it, we probably wouldn't have seen that many teams four years ago, before the Bearcats started playing. Every coach knows that your recruiting starts in your back yard, and to have youth players take up the game bodes well for the UC program.

Speaking of players in your own back yard, one senior certainly has shown her commitment to the UC lacrosse team. Natalie Starvaggi from Mount Notre Dame in Cincinnati, wasn't going to let anything like a knee injury keep her from finishing her last year of eligibility. Through rehab and determination, Natalie is back on the field when most athletes would have had the surgery and settled for the sidelines for six to nine months of rehab.

But when you're a senior, you don't have the luxury of six to nine months. So Natalie is back on the field, braced knee and all, for her Senior Day this Sunday at home. It's an example of the type of student-athlete UC brings in, but it's also an example of the passion these players have for the game.

It's a good sign of how this program has the opportunity to succeed and grow in the coming months. Congratulations to Natalie and all the seniors who have helped set the foundation for great things to come.

Bearcats Breakfast 4.28.11

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Can't help but start out today by wishing the best to all those affected by the tornadoes that ravaged the South yesterday. Some of the pictures, like this one from the front page of the Tuscaloosa News, are tragic. Incredible devastation.

Hopefully, none of you knew anybody directly hurt by the disaster. You can help out victims by visiting the Red Cross web site.

And this may be the dumbest, most incredible thing I've ever seen on YouTube, and that is saying something. Not sure I would sit in a parking lot and watch a funnel cloud miss me by a matter of 100 yards.

Let's eat..

--- The GoBearcats.com folks pointed out that UC is second in the Big East for most players drafted since 2005. Here's the list: Louisville 21, UC 16, Pitt 15, Rutgers 13, Syracuse/WVU/UConn 11, USF 9.

Surprised by USF's low numbers. You always think about the athletes they recruit down there. That's probably the biggest indictment on the ranking of recruiting classes meaning little as far as turning out quality football players.

Take a look at some UC draftees since 2007 and where they went (numbers according to pro-footballreference.com):

2007

John Bowie/DE/Raiders/4th round/No. 110

Brent Celek/TE/Eagles/5th round/No. 146

2008

Haruki Nakamura/DB/Ravens/6th round/No. 206

2009

Connor Barwin/DE/Texans/2nd round/No. 46

Kevin Huber/P/Bengals/5th round/No. 142

DeAngelo Smith/DB/Cowboys/5th round/No. 143

Brandon Underwood/DB/Packers/6th round/No. 187

2010

Mardy Gilyard/WR/Rams/4th round/No. 99

Tony Pike/QB/Panthers/6th round/No. 204

Ricardo Mathews/DB/Colts/7th round/No. 208

--- Seven players drafted the last two years, including a second-round pick. Not bad at all.

--- Bill Koch touched on what I wrote about the last two days in the Breakfast, with an outlook on UC's draft hopefuls. Saturday will be the day for UC's prospects to live the dream.  

--- Brian Bennett touched on Zach Collaros' outlook entering the season. He talks efficiency, turnovers and being remembered as winners. Collaros' mantra comes as consistent as can be.

--- Bennett also mentioned JK Schaffer as No. 2 on his list of likely 100-tackle players next season. Schaffer touched 100+ each of the past two seasons. There's no reason to expect anything less in 2011.    

--- Rivals concluded its final Top 150 rankings for the 2011 basketball class. Shaq Thomas landed at No. 81 and Jermaine Sanders at No. 131. Those were the only Bearcats in the class.

--- Another reminder that Friday is UC Night at the Reds. Pregame festivities at BlackFinn from 4-6 p.m.

--- Mick Cronin roasted Bob Huggins last night at a charity event for cancer and had a great line on Twitter.

"Roasted coach Huggins last night for charity. Easiest thing I have ever done. Had to edit my material, i had about 3 hours worth!"

Huggins was roasted prior to the season at WVU, but Cronin wasn't a part of that one. He also mentioned on Twitter that he bolted early using the old bathroom trick. I like his style.

--- If you aren't following Cronin or any of the other UC coaches/staff on Twitter, here is the complete list

--- Some randomness...

--- Today is the 47th birthday of my favorite athlete ever, Barry Larkin. Still wear No. 11 to this day for any recreational team I play for.

--- To all the college and high school students reading this blog, you should already know my feelings on this topic, but now it's official.  Journalism is the most useless degree out there. What's more concerning? I wasn't surprised by this at all, but was surprised the pricetage they placed on the median starting salary. In a word: False.

--- Would you boo Roger Goodell tonight? I think I would. But I wouldn't hiss.

--- My favorite part of the NFL Draft is watching the reaction of frustrated Jets fans. MONTAGE! (With 30 percent more mullets!)   

Spent much of yesterday's Breakfast discussing Jason Kelce, his draft status and the size question. Most of the mockers out there have him going in the sixth or seventh round. I wanted to use today to talk about the other primary UC draft prospects.  

Most predictions have Armon Binns going about the same time. Binns brings big-play capability that teams love, but the knock appears to be the top speed. His 4.53 40-yard dash time at the combine was middle of the pack, but scouts seem concerned. That said, Binns continues to live off of what Bearcats fans love about him: he's a playmaker. Game film dictates somebody take a shot on Binns and likely somebody will Saturday.  

Jake Rogers performed well at pro day and at the combine, but kickers/punters tradionally don't get selected. Not once since 1993 have more than three kickers been selected in the entire draft. And only once since 1993 (5 in '99) have more than three punters been selected. He probably owns the strongest leg in the draft, but critics will point out accuracy issues (13 of 19) last year. He could warrant a late-round selection, but more than likely will be brought into somebody's camp as an undrafted free agent to compete for a job.

Vidal Hazelton remains the other UC draft prospect and the biggest unknown quantity at wide receiver. He's made visits to teams and they know he's healthy. They also know his raw physical ability is undeniable. He's a high-risk pick, but at the very least, if he doesn't get drafted, you have to believe his hometown favorite team, the Atlanta Falcons, who are searching for big-play wideouts, would love to see him in their training camp.

Let's eat...

--- Brian Bennett talked about filling Armon Binns' shoes and the progress at the receiver position. For right now, the three-wideout set would be Kenbrell Thompkins, Orion Woodard and DJ Woods. Of course, how fast Dyjuan Lewis picks up the system will play a major factor in if he can crack the starting lineup. My guess would be that won't happen early, but by the start of Big East play could be a real possibility.

--- Justin Riddell may be the hottest hitter in Cincinnati not named Joey Votto. After making the Big East Honor Roll last week while hitting .462 with seven RBI in a sweep of Villanova, he notched four RBI Tuesday in a 7-5 win against Xavier.

His three-run bomb in the first set the tone for the victory.   

The two teams play again today at 6:30 p.m. at Marge Schott Stadium.

--- In case you didn't know, Friday is UC Night at the Reds game. Should be a fun night with Provost Ono throwing out the first pitch and a good chance the Bearcat will come to shovies and pushies with Gapper. Plus, you receive a UC discount. Make it happen.  

--- The NCAA released attendance rankings and figures for the 2010-11 men's basketball season. UC finished 71st at 7,344 a game.

--- Congrats to Eric FinanBig East Outdoor Track Athlete of the Week.  

Some randomness...

--- This UNC-MSU Aircraft Carrier game is one of the most exciting gimmicks college basketball has come up with in a while.   

--- Kobe Bryant's ankle is fine. Sweet sassy molassy. 

--- Trying to blow a baseball foul is always funny.

--- If any of you were big Mitch Hedberg fans like I was, his web site is relaunching and features never before seen material. Here is some of his old stuff.   

Hard to think about baseball during the wettest month we've ever had, but the Crosstown Shootout revives itself the next two days. UC will host Xavier at 6:30 p.m. tonight, though the Muskies will be the home team since the game was supposed to be played off Victory Parkway.

Head on out to the Marge Schott Stadium and enjoy some baseball.

Let's eat...

--- Butch Jones spoke at Paul Brown Stadium last night to boosters and other UC folks about two games moving downtown. I didn't attend and we've discussed this topic at length multiple times, so I won't repeat tired content. Bottom line: Packed NFL stadiums do wonders for recruiting and pocketbooks. The End.

--- Speaking of NFL stadiums, UC players are currently sweating out what will happen in this weekend's draft. Fox19 caught up with WR Vidal Hazelton and C Jason Kelce earlier this spring and chatted about their draft prospects.

Kelce makes fantastic points against those saying he's too small to play center in the NFL. He stands 6-foot-3, 290/295 pounds as he regains weight lost following his appendectomy. He mentioned Olin Kruetz and Jeff Saturday. I'll mention one of the great centers of the modern era, Dermontti Dawson. The 7-time Steelers first team All-Pro stood 6-2, 288 pounds.

Let's take a look at centers drafted in the last seven years that became consistent everyday starters in the NFL.

2003

Jeff Faine/Cleveland/No. 21              6-3, 303

Dan Koppen/NE/No. 164                 6-2, 296

2004

Nick Hardwick/SD/No. 66                6-4/295

2005

Chris Spencer/Seattle/No. 26           6-3/309

Jason Brown/Balt/No. 124                6-3/313

2006

Nick Mangold/NYJ/No. 26                6-3/295

2007

Ryan Kalil/Carolina/No. 59                6-3/299

Samson Satele/Miami/No. 60           6-3/300

2008

John Sullivan/Minn/No. 187               6-4/300

2009

Alex Mack/Cleveland/No. 21             6-4/312

Eric Wood/Buffalo/No. 28                 6-4/304

Max Unger/Seattle/No. 49                6-4/299

2010

Maurkice Pouncey/Pitt/No. 18          6-4/304

J.D. Walton/Denver/No. 80               6-3/299

--- Of the 14 "success stories" among centers on the list, six are listed below 300 pounds and another two listed right at 300. Many would consider Nick Mangold the best center in the game, he's a two-time All-Pro and three time Pro Bowler. He's listed at Kelce's exact height and weight of 6-3, 295.

Kelce's also a replica of the Patriots' Koppen, a late-round center success story Bill Belichick uncovered. Belichick worked out Kelce recently. Possible passing of the torch within a year or two in New England?  

Point being, to criticize Kelce for a "lack of size" more indictes teams who didn't do their research on why Kelce was so slim at the combine. Somebody will give Kelce a chance and he has an opportunity to be a difference-maker early on. That's really all you can ask for.

--- Some randomness...

--- Here's a fascinating NY Times read on Title IX deception and gender equity in college athletics.  

--- Ken Griffey Jr.'s son Trey and Barry Sanders Jr. are among the brightest stars of the 2012 class. When did I become an old man?

--- That's picture is about right.

--- New Beastie Boys album, live streaming here. Whatcha whatcha whatcha want?   

--- Ben Crane is known as one of the most boring golfers on Tour. Turns out he's hilarious. And can grow a sensational mustache.

After this month, I'm convinced UC will benefit if they could play every football game in the rain next season. They've been forced to practice all spring through what could be the wettest April we've ever experienced. All these wet reps will have this team ready to slop it up come the fall.

Saturday's final practice brought spring ball to a close. The team now moves into the summer strength and conditioning program and won't re-emerge publicly until August. There will be some position battles and freshman to evaluate, but a great majority of that time will be spent preparing for Austin Peay, Tennessee and a football season.

Until then, I'll bring as many offseason football stories as possible, but obviously, regular commentary is tough to come by with no real new information. No worries, I'm sure I'll find plenty of statistical tables and pie charts to make your head spin.

Let's eat...

--- Spring football is over, but here are the sights and sounds, courtesy Tommy G and the great folks at GoBearcats, along with direct comfirmation that the Bearcats employ the shortest trainer in the BCS in Bob Mangine. Funny stuff.

Pop over to Spring Football Central one final time and roll back through all the great coverage over there. Another fantastic showing by the crew.

--- Scott Springer spoke with Butch Jones and Zach Collaros about the spring, fall and Chazz Anderson experimenting at wide reciever.

--- Bill Koch wrote about concussions and UC being one of seven schools in the country to use the Dynavision D2 machine for baseline testing. Good read on a very important topic.

--- San Diego's Mike Windt and the Bengals' Kevin Huber returned to work with the Bearcats. Great of them to return. Let's be honest, they've got some free time on their hands.

--- Butch Jones will speak tonight with UC donors and other folks associated with the program during an informational dinner at Paul Brown Stadium. If it's like the meals I've had at PBS before, it should be tasty.

--- Bearcats baseball swept Villanova this weekend. Nice series for Coach Cleary and the crew.

--- On to some randomness...

--- Can we stop giving Colin Cowherd platforms, please?

--- Great read from Jason Quick of the Oregonian on the wild 48 hours this weekend for Portland's Brandon Roy. A interesting glimpse into the player and reporter.

--- A short film about a man and his mustache. Upper lip hair can change lives, people. And in this case, attract the attention of Amy Smart.

--- Apparently Paul Reiser has a new show....and it's already been canceled.

--- Boston Barstool points out a hilarious conversation explaining Easter to Hideki Okajima.      

SPRING FOOTBALL FINALE

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After Saturday's final practice (April 23) I caught up with with quarterback Zach Collaros and head coach Butch Jones for a spring wrap-up.  In Q&A form, here's the spring ball sign-off:

Collaros.jpg
How does it feel to wrap up spring ball?


BJ:  "Tell you what, these last four practices have been absolutely invaluable. You're able to revisit some of your problem areas that occurred throughout spring and in the spring game in particular. You also identify who some of your key back-ups are coming into practice and special teams are critical. To get all of these live reps today and get it on film and teach on it, again, it's invaluable."

ZC: "It feels kind of weird. It's kind of bittersweet. After all, spring ball starts becoming a drag. I feel like we did a good job pushing through. I wish I had another one (spring) but this is my last one, so I have to make the most of the rest of my time here."

What now from here?
Butch Jones.jpg

BJ: "We hit the ground running for spring recruiting on Tuesday, and obviously we'll be out and about meeting all of our great fans and gaining supporters to come watch us play both at this great venue in Nippert and also at Paul Brown (Stadium).

ZC: "One more (Camp) Higher Ground. When we get to Higher Ground it's going to be critical to get better every day."

Did you like the set-up of the spring, with the early Bearcat Bowl?


BJ: "I love the format. Pretty much, the spring game, a lot has been said about it, but it was pretty much the same as it's been in the past, give or take some of the one-on-one's which our kids love. It lets a coach see when the lights go on how they compete. I really like the format. The only disappointing thing was maybe the weather. Today (Saturday April 23) was a great day and we accomplished a lot."

ZC: "I liked it. The (spring) game is really for the fans. I'm not saying it's a wasted practice, but we're not doing as much. We're not showing as much because it's on TV and we have fans here. I think getting back out here four more times gave us a chance to really hone in before we're off for the summer."

How do you see the back-up quarterback situation shaping up? (Note: in the last spring
practices senior Chazz Anderson lined up as a wide receiver.)

BJ: "Well, we're just experimenting. Chazz is going through that phase in his life right now where he's graduated, he already has his degree. He wants to help the team and he's a competitor. We'll sit down and we'll see how this goes."
(On the other quarterbacks)
"The thing I'm excited about is our quarterbacks have been 'live' this spring. There's so many things when you want them to be able to escape the pocket and make plays and have a pocket presence about them when everything's coming at them and they know they're going to take a hit. The exciting thing too is that it's been a physical spring and the only major injury was Shaq (Washington--freshman wide receiver) and we get him back in about a month. I'm excited about the way we ended spring and we'll move on to the next phase this summer."

ZC: "I think they've all done a great job. Munchie (Legaux) has really done a great job throwing and running. What he really needs to focus on is managing the offense--not just the play calls, just making sure it's running smooth. I think Jordan (Louallen) has done a great job as well. He'll continue to get better in the throwing game. I think he likes running the ball more than I do. I kind of like to scramble and throw. He's more of a downhill runner. The longer you play this position and the more reps you get, it's not bad to punt the ball sometimes. There's times you have to throw the ball away and let your defense play. He'll learn that with time."

(For Butch only) Anyone catch your eye that you didn't expect?

"Some guys on the offensive line. It's going to be a race between Sean Hooey, Andre Cureton and Austen Bujnoch.  The reps that Cameron Beard gained were invaluable because he's got to help us and give us some reps. On defense, our young corners and linebackers are going to have to play this year. In no way, shape or form would they be game ready if they didn't graduate high school early and been here for spring practice."


(For Zach only) Do you miss baseball at all?

Not in this weather (overcast and rainy most of April). When it's sunny outside, I do miss it. I do miss being out there. I just like being active.  With a week off next week, I'm not going to know what to do. I'm going to have to come in and continue to get better in football."


Happy Good Friday to those of you who celebrate it. Hopefully some of you are enjoying the day off work. For those of you who aren't, well, at least you can blow off 10 minutes by reading this blog. Wish I could offer something better.

I do have this video of Cookie the baby penguin from the Cincinnati Zoo showing off. (Scroll to 1-minute mark) 

Let's eat...

--- UC football winds down spring practices on Saturday. They move on to the next phase of the program, which is the summer conditioning program. The players move back into the hands of stength guru Dave Lawson.

Tommy G caught up with Lawson on Thursday.

--- Earlier this week, I posted some musing from OC Mike Bajakian on Zach Collaros. Of course, another hot topic of conversation with both Bajakian and Butch Jones has been the backup QB battle. Jones mentioned it in the first press conference of the spring and will likely monitor it into the fall. Yet, as he fills out his post-spring depth chart, it's clear the competition level for the spot hit a productive high.

"You can throw all you want in the summer, when you put a live rush in front of people and they have to think spontaneously and show functional intelligence, it's huge," Jones said.

Muchie Legaux, Georgia Tech transfer Jordan Luallen and Chazz Anderson played at full speed all spring and each showed flashes of brillance.

Here's some information on where each of them are at through the eyes of Jones and Bajakian.

Munchie: He's shown how his athletic ability could provide a significant asset in the running game. Legaux still lacks the precision and accuracy necessary, but as he continues to understand the system and anticipate throws that will improve.

Butch Jones stated adamantly that Legaux will not be a wide reciever. He is a quarterback. Last year he went to the coaching staff hoping to help a position group in disarray. Jones has no interest in seeing him back there again. The practice reps lost during the season slowed his development as a QB.

"You can't look back," Jones said. "It is where we were at in the program. He came to us, which is a tribute to him. I also think that year playing receiver can prove to be a great benefit for him as well as understanding what goes on in the perimeter."

 

As far as what he needs to improve:

"His overall management of the offense," Jones said. "That is the big thing where he needs to step up...is the overall knowledge from functional intelligence -- applying the board to the field."

With Jordan Luallen, he played well in the Bearcat Bowl showing a combination of quick decision-making, accurate throws and running ability. 

Luallen played in a run-oriented offense since his high school days. He ran a Wing-T attack in HS and moved to Georgia Tech's option before transferring. Attempting to shift his skills into a spread attack takes time. He's on his way.

"Really, he had the farthest to go from a mechanics standpoint, from a comfort level of being in the pocket and throwing the ball and running this style of offense," Bajakian said. "Every day he gets better and better and better and will continue to improve."

As for Chazz Anderson, he's the known quantity. The incumbent who everyone has seen play and for the most part knows what they are going to get. He's a solid leader and knows the offense as well as any player in the building.

I wouldn't dare handicap the race at this point because I'm not privy to those meetings, but certainly each of them brings an added element to the run game, Munchie moreso than the others, and could be an asset back there in certain situations.

--- I also had a chance to talk with Isaiah Pead this week. We chatted about a number of things, including his role as mentor to a high-profile back such as incoming freshman Jameel Poteat. Turns out, Pead hosted Poteat's visit. Coaches likely envision a passing of the RB torch from Pead to Poteat once this season ends and Pead will gladly make that happen.

Here's a transcript from Pead on the subject:

"He's got a little bit more hype than I had coming in. I thought about when I was in his shoes. I was actually his host. I told him to enjoy what you have right now because you are starting all back over once you reach this level right here. He's probably a star in his hometown or high school, but you have to start over at the University of Cincinnati. I just told him to keep a humble head, level head and come to work every day.

 

"I'm the only senior in the group, so I am pretty much a mentor to everyone and have the most playing experience. Coming in everyone wants to play. Coming in like me when you are behind two upperclassmen, you have to win in some type of way, whether on the field or the sidelines. Learn why aren't you playing? If you aren't, why not? And how can I? Once you are playing, how can I continue to stay playing and not lose my job?"

Last season played out oddly for high profile Big East running backs. The undeniable stars were supposed to be Dion Lewis and Noel Devine, with RBs like Pead and Jordan Todman also on the radar.

Both Lewis and Devine saw their carries cut into as the season went along by younger backs. Devine only broke the 20-touch mark twice in his final nine games of the year and didn't even break 1,000 rushing yards for the first time since his freshman year. (Injury played a role)

Lewis played well, but shared carries with sophomore sensation Ray Graham. Lewis finished the year with 219 rushes for 1,061 yards. That was 106 fewer carries than his junior season. Graham contributed 148 carries for 922 yards.

Pead enters his senior year in a similiar position as those two, he's highly-touted and expects to produce his greatest season to date. But does Pead look around at what occured in the Big East last year and stay humble knowing how quickly the game can change?

Not necessarily. Pead's always talked about Big East championships rather than 1,000-yard seasons, so don't expect the end of his career to be any different.

"I'm a team person. As much as the individual stats may matter or have some type of perspective on someone I am a team person and I want to win the Big East championship every year," Pead said. "Last year we didn't get to. Individual stats is really something I take a look at the end of the season. During the season, I may look and see what type of pace I am at, but end of the day I am a winner."

 

--- Bill Koch with some nuggets of gold, including an update with Mike Mickens, whose joining the staff.

--- Brian Bennett takes a look at who he thinks will finish last in the Big East next season. That's a tough question, without doubt. My early money would be on Louisville or Rutgers, but that label is really anyone's game.

--- Some randomness...

--- Friday Night Lights is holding an auction of props from the show for charity. You better believe I'll be bidding on the Buddy Garrity coffee mug.

--- Time unveiled its list of the 100 most influential people. How did Tommy G get snubbed?

--- When writers bicker we look really pathetic.

--- Free coffee at Starbucks today!  

--- If you are a 30 Rock fan like me, you'll love this list of the 15 funniest moments from the first 100 episodes.

--- Big weekend trip planned to Keeneland which makes me so pumped I want to dance like James Brown. I suggest you join me. Have a great weekend.

In case you didn't know, today is one of the greatest holidays of the year. The High-5 provides one of the great celebrations of the modern era. Many variations have broken out from this institution: the low-5, the side-5, the skin slip, the double-5 the rock, the blown up rock, the blown up rock with fireworks, the forearm bash and even the flying shoulder bump owns roots in the High-5 tree.

But nothing beats the original.

That's why today we celebrate National High-5 Day. And these guys put together a fantastic song commerating it. So, give out your high-5s in high quantity today.

Let's eat... 

--- The weather hasn't exactly cooperated with the UC football team this week. They had to break Tuesday's practice up into a second Wednesday session due to inclement conditions. Rain didn't show up Wednesday, but a wicked chill in the air sure did. It probably wasn't as bad for the players and coaches as it was for us weak scribes. All we look for is something to complain about and the weather is always scapegoat No. 1.

None of you will likely be giving me any sympathy, so I'll just move onto the story I put together with Mike Bajakian talking about the development of Zach Collaros.

Collaros is chasing down some of Gino Guidugli's records, as Bill Koch mentions in this blog.

This spring, Zach spent a majority of his time developing chemistry with a slew of new receivers. Specifically anyone who thought Collaros looked off during the Bearcat Bowl, should understand how many new wideouts are running routes right now.

"Zach is throwing a lot of routes to guys that he wasn't throwing to last year," Bajakian said. "We got a lot of guys moving around playing different postitons and trying to figure out where our best guys are going to fit in the best spots."

 

Apparently, Wednesday was Mike Bajakian Day at the Nip because he also spoke with Tommy G and the Butch Jones Blog folks. So soak up all the Coach Jake you can right now.

--- If you haven't been to Coach Jones Blog in a while, I recommend stopping over, there are a load of new videos up including Jason Kelce at the combine talking about being a walk on at UC, Letterman's Breakfast, alumni returning, Connor Barwin in Texas and much more.

The latest video is an analysis of the speed of practice with LB coach/co-DC Jon Jancek and OL coach Don Mahoney.

That topic was brought up when I asked Butch Jones about the specific things he's targeting this week after going through the Bearcat Bowl on Saturday.

"It's been refreshing to come back and work on some of the nuances as our team gets ready to head into the next phase of our identity," Jones said. "Our tempo on offense lining up. Fit things here and there. It gets us some good momentum."

--- Vice President of NFL Engagement Troy Vincent showed up at practice to talk with the Bearcats yesterday about life after football. First, he spoke with Tommy G, whose making the most of his life after athletic stardom*.

*Stardom may or may not have included actual athleticism.

--- Marshall announced UC hoops will partake in the Global Sports Shootout in a home-and-home series with the Herd over the next two years. Marshall will come to UC next year and UC will head there for 2012-13.

Marshall is now a member of Conference-USA and has made a habit of playing Big East teams over the last 5-10 years. They have not, however, made a habit of beating them.

Here is Marshall's record against power conference teams the last four years:

2011

@Louisville, L, 80-66

vs WVU, W, 75-71

 

2010

@UNC, L, 98-61

vs WVU, L, 68-61

 

2009

vs Ole Miss, L, 82-78

vs WVU, L, 87-76

 

2008

@Louisville, L, 85-75

vs WVU, L, 66-64

Marshall was 22-12 last season and lost in the first round of the mighty CIT tournamentn to my even mightier Ohio Bobcats.

--- Today will be a beautiful day. Let's play two. The Bearcats will oblige with a doubleheader at Marge Schott Stadium beginning at 4 p.m. They also play Friday at 3 p.m.

--- On to some randomness...

--- Minor league ballplayers and entrepeneurs are allowed to be in one package, apparently.

--- HBO may be developing a series based on the UC basketball bench of Darnell Wilks, Larry Davis, Sean Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson and Biggie McClain. Or it's based on the Pulitzer Prize winner: "Visit from the Goon Squad"  

--- Tim McCarver in autotune might be the only way he's tolerable.

--- Brian Scalabrine wins an award! And it's not best supporting ginger.

--- The Phillies robot which threw out the first pitch on Wednesday one-hopped it to the plate. Fittingly, the Philly fans booed. Philliebot complained about dead arm after, stating in translated Morse Code: I blame Dusty Baker.

--- Feel free to celebrate National High Five Day like Rob. I'm thinking the escalator at today's Reds game would be an ideal location.

 

Zach Collaros put up impressive numbers in 2010, but struggled with turnovers. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian believes there's little reason to be concerned about his senior quarterback this fall.  

 

[Click here for a conversation between Tommy G and Collaros from GoBearcats.com]

 

CINCINNATI -- Hard not to laugh when message board threads show up with the headline: Concerned about Zach Collaros.

 

It requires a special brand of pessimism to point at the unanimous first-team All Big East quarterback returning for his senior season, and utter the word "concerned."

 

A few stats to digest from 2010:

 

Yards per game: 263.8 (1st BE, 20th country)

 

Rating: 137.49 (2nd BE, 39th country)

 

Touchdowns: 26 (1st BE, 19th country)

 

Yards/attempt: 7.6 (1st BE, 33rd country)

 

Collaros may not have delivered on the lofty expectations many bestowed upon him when extrapolating his 2009 numbers out over a complete season. Many within the program expected Collaros to jump into Butch Jones' system and play even better than he did as a fill-in starter during the perfect regular season. In retrospect, those expectations were probably unfair.

 

The junior was forced to adjust to far too many new variables all at once. Playing from behind much of the time didn't help, either.

 

As Collaros progressed through a spring season where his position as the No. 1 quarterback was never in question, the next step in his development has been clear for offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. One scroll through the stat sheet makes it obvious.

 

"Looking at the numbers, Zach was the most productive quarterback in the conference," Bajakian said. "The one thing we focused on this offseason as an offense was the turnovers. I think making that number go down both in the way of interceptions and fumbles will be a critical indicator of the success we can have offensively."

 

If you break the season down into conference play, Collaros' rating was fourth in the conference despite throwing for far more yards per game (287) and touchdowns (14) than anybody else. Collaros' 14 touchdowns were offset by 13 interceptions in conference.

 

A small piece of the turnovers can be attributed to dealing with more pressure than he's used to, but Bajakian pointed toward challenging situations and the decision-making within those.

 

"We spent a lot of time this offseason talking about situational football, what it means to protect the football in situations. If it is third-and-18, we talk abot the chances of converting the first down is less than five percent. Don't make a bad thing worse by forcing the ball into coverage. Let's get a completion, add 10 yards to the punt and let our defense play the field-position game."

 

Under this pretense, expect more checkdowns and throwing the ball away in the red zone this fall from the senior QB. The fine line for his offensive coordinator has been measuring Collaros' play-making instincts against conservative, veteran decisions.

 

"One of the things he does very well is his improvisational skills," Bajakian said. "He can scramble and make a play as well as any quarterback I have ever seen, so you don't want to coach that out of him. We don't, and he does that great, at the same time as an offense as a whole we want to make sure we protect the football better."

 

What would be the most optimistic statistic to ponder when analyzing the potential of Collaros in 2011? That would be the number he refers to whenver asked to evaluate his performance last season: 4-8.

 

Collaros views quarterback through the lens of wins and losses and little else. His relentless pursuit of knowledge regarding the game and leading his team to victory is unparalleled among the Bearcats. That's why anybody stressing about Collaros this year needs to pay closer attention.

"He's a football junkie," Bajakian said. "He approaches the game mentally and physically exactly like you want a quarterback to do. He is sharp, he processes information quickly. He understands the offense in and out, he understands protections inside and out. For him this spring is just a matter of timing with all the different receivers."

Due to last night's tornado warning debacle and a rescheduled morning spring football practice media availablity, today's edition of the Breakfast will not be seen at this time. It will return early this afternoon with more from Nippert. Instead, enjoy an episode of Cosmo Kramer's Merv Griffin Show! It's animals and scandals week!

Even though the Bearcat Bowl flashes in the rearview mirror, the practices still continue at Nippert Stadium. On Monday, the team took to the field again. They'll do so, barring thunder and lightning complications, again today.

Practices wrap for the spring later this week.

Let's eat...

--- Tommy G caught up with TE coach Mark Elder following Monday's workout. Elder discusses the Travis Kelce emergence, Blake Annen and Adrien Robinson. Heavy expectations are placed upon Kelce to help the team and Robinson will likely play significant snaps, as well.

The Bearcats didn't utilize the tight ends in the pass game as much last year. Ben Guidugli had 24 receptions for 197 yards with a touchdown and Robinson caught six passes for 65 yards and a score.

In 2009, Guidugli contributed 27 receptions for 364 yards and three touchdowns. Robinson added 10 for 174.

With the rise of the spread, five-wide formations, declining TE stats are occuring more and more across college football -- not saying the spread was the reason here. More often, these players stand on the sidelines for a high percentage of the snaps while wideouts fly across the defensive backfield.

For example, of the leaders in receptions last season, only three of the top 100 in the country were tight ends. Even as recently as 2007, the same group of 100 yielded nine TEs -- that included two of the top 31.  

Butch Jones likes to use the TE as one of the spread wideouts in his system. We saw Guidugli lined up off the tackle in the slot many times last year. WIth an athletic wonder like Kelce, you'll likely see a similiar concept.

--- Brian Bennett breaks down the potential for a 3,000-yard passer in the Big East. He ranks Zach Collaros No. 2 behind WVU's Geno Smith.

Barring injury, Collaros will reach 3k. He hit 2,907 last year missing a game and with no bowl. Where Collaros prefers to be judged is wins and losses. He stated that after nearly every game last season. He views a quarterback's job to win games. That's that bottom line.

More precisely, Collaros' improvement will be judged on continuing his consistency overall, but minimizing turnovers. Making smarter decisions under pressure and not forcing passes(which he unfortunately was forced to do playing from behind much of last year, accounting for many picks/fumbles) will be the key.   

--- Filed under "Sounds great, means nothing," comes the first Bracketology of the 2011-12 basketball season. For the record, UC landed as a No. 4 seed.

The better news for the fan base who didn't already know the regional sites, there are plenty within reasonable driving distance next year. Louisville, Columbus, Nashville and Pittsburgh are all among the options for the first weekend. Fifty percent of possible desinations are within a five-hour drive. And for anybody who hasn't taken a weekend trip to Nashville, well, just hope the Bearcats land there and win their first-round game. My favorite aspect of Nashville is you don't go out downtown, you "go honky-tonkin." I knew the Honky Tonk Man and am still unsure what honky-tonkin was, only know I enjoyed it immensely.

Unfortunately, Joey Brackets has UC in Portland playing Harvard, so book your flights now.

--- Social media and rabid fans provide the latest gray area in recruiting violations. Great read from the NY Times.

--- CBSsports asks if anyone can explain the rash of players deciding to stay in school. Uh, yes, the same reason everyone jumped ship last season. The NBA lockout. Everyone last year wanted to get in before it happened and changed the pay scale. Now, everyone wants to wait a year because the league probably won't be paying anybody or allowing them to play until January or beyond.   

On to some randomness...

--- Mascots performing human tasks always makes me laugh. Though, watching the Winthrop University Eagles mascot Big Stuff, "giving away" the groom at his wedding mainly makes me want to...actually, that really makes me laugh too. 

Winthrop? Really?

--- I'm not exactly a charter member of the John Calipari fan club, but it's about time Bob Knight stayed out of it.

--- If you woke up today and thought, "I'd like to know more about muppets," then this is the link for you.

--- We are supposed to want our kids to go outside and play. Videos like this make me think I'd rather they stayed in and played Grand Theft Auto for 10 straight hours.

--- This guy probably won't be on Wiz Khalfia's next CD, but this is still pretty cool.

Mother Nature, like many football coaches, not a fan of spring games. At least, not Butch Jones' spring games.

For the second consecutive season, rain and wind blew through Nippert Stadium during the team's event. Unfortunately for UC fans, that meant huddling under the upper deck to take in Bearcat Bowl V.

Outside of the weather, Jones sounded like the night was productive and the new format allowed to observe how players reacted in pressure situations.

If you want a general recap of what went down, here's my story from Saturday night. Cliff's Notes: Walter Stewart looks ready, the defense took a step forward, Danny Milligan owns spring games and Kenbrell Thompkins didn't play with a bum back/hamstring.

Let's eat...

--- Scott Springer, a savvy spring game veteran, placed Milligan in his Spring Football Hall of Fame. Milligan playing well in this game has become as much an annual rite of spring in this community as reminders of Akili Smith and David Kilngler.

Springer also jumps into the Jordan Luallen conversation. Jones thought Luallen played well Saturday. To say who leads in the QB battle would be premature, but Luallen looks more in the mix than I anticipated.

--- Bill Koch wrote a recap as well. At some point were all sharing the same limited storylines here, but I will always promote reading Bill's stuff.

--- Somebody mentioned to me on Twitter during the Bearcat Bowl that Walter Stewart could be the Defensive Player of the Year in the Big East this season. Stewart's offseason success has been obvious and the kid can make plays as we witnessed his freshman year. I think it could happen, but I'd also contend he may not be the best defensive lineman on his own team. I love where Derek Wolfe is right now.

Wolfe will benefit most from the replenished depth at the d-line positions and playing less snaps per game. Jones, right now, plans on playing a 10-deep rotation on the line. Guys like Brad Harrah, Roney Lozano, Jordan Stepp and Cameron Beard will be among those thrown in for a play or two in order to keep Wolfe, Brandon Mills, Walter Stewart and Dan Giordano fresh.

UC ran more plays per game than any team in the Big East last year. That also meant more plays for the defense as well.   

Wolfe will be playing around a group that took major strides last season and receive more one-on-one coverage with weapons around him. He's in the best shape of his life and feeling the urgency of his senior year. 

If this defense takes the strides they hope to in 2011, Wolfe will be the anchor.

I spoke with Wolfe earlier in the spring, but didn't have the opportunity to post anything on it. He's an excellent interview. Here were some of his comments:

Wolfe on the defensive line improving as the year progressed:

"It was enough is enough and it was a learning curve. When you are in a defense, especially third defense in three years. Me and JK (Schaffer) were the only ones who had started on defense before that. We had been through camp, but that is not like the game. You throw a little adversity in there when the game is on the line people handle things differently. We know how to handle each other now."

  

Wolfe on his physical condition by the end of a season where he was taking 80+ snaps a game:

"I didn't realize it until the end of the season after the Pitt game. It's like a roller coaster with a train that is not attached. It keeps going, going, going and once it gets to the end, it's like, 'Pow!' it all hits you at once. It all hit me at once. That next week I was out of commission. I felt like every bone was broken. But then I got right back to lifting."

 

Wolfe on his personal expectations:

"I changed my whole mentality. I want to be the best in America. Everybody out here has the mentality to be the best. You have to win your one on one battles. You have to be accountable to each other. We are going to be a lot different team this year."

 

--- Along the same line as Wolfe and Stewart, people forget the most productive defensive lineman during the second half of the 2010 season was Brandon Mills. Over the final three games he averaged 7.3 tackles and 2 sacks per game, while adding a forced fumble and pass breakup.

Mills believes the image of UC's defense being a footnote to the powerful offense is about to change.

"Surely changing," he said. "We are about to be a defensive known team."

Also, during a recent practice when the defense secured a victory over the offense, Mills broke out some wild arms flailing in the air, flexed knees dance that could only be described as concerning to the untrained eye. Mills later informed me it was inspired by a move martial artist Tony Jaa does. For the record, Jaa appears to be a bad ass. 

 

--- Did you see the Music City Bowl between UNC and Tennessee? Then you understand college football's rule change to utilize the NFL's 10-second runoff in the final minute before halftime and the conclusion of the game.

--- I'm really late on this, but Rick Pitino was closer to retirement than we ever realized. His wife helped talk him out of it, apparently.  

--- Great news for UNC, terrible news for anybody hoping to contend for a national title next season. Harrison Barnes is returning to Chapel Hill.

--- On to some randomness...

--- The only thing worse than Nic Cage's mugshot from this weekend was his 2007 flop Ghost Rider. (Picking which of Cage's flops to use for the punchline without doubt the toughest decision on the blog today).

--- I still remember seeing Pearl Jam in 2000 when Eddie Vedder strolled out for the first encore with a ukulele strapped to his shoulder and played Soon Forget. Apparently, 10 years later we're in the middle of a "ukulele craze." The Ukulele works a bit like talking to your pets: Doing so in small doses can be effective and cute; extended use makes you appear legally insane. (See Tim, Tiny)

--- Apparently, but not shockingly, Arcade Fire killed it at Coachella.     

--- On that note, how about some Fire from the show to kickstart your week. The buildup lasts until about the 2-minute mark.

SPRING FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME

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I have seen a lot of them.

Not as many as some, but more than most.

At this point, I'd put my number at 17.  That's 17 spring football games since the early 90s when I first was assigned to be on UC's radio team.  Even since my departure from that particular job, I've been a regular viewer of spring practice and spring games.

That's why I feel I have as much knowledge as anyone when I nominate UC redshirt junior Danny Milligan as a charter member of UC's "Spring Football Hall of Fame".

milligan.jpeg



After making the scene in his early years in the Bearcat Bowl, the 5-9, 174 pound former St. Xavier standout has done it again.

In Bearcat Bowl V, not only did Milligan crush the game's longest field goal (52 yards in a controlled setting) he also caught a pair of touchdown passes.  Once again, the ex-Bomber seems to know how to "land the plane" in spring competition.

Now, it's just a matter of finding the opportunity to play in the regular season at Nippert (a stadium where he's had many success stories).

If you don't pull for this "Wes Welker"-like local to succeed at UC, you're really not human.

"Well Danny just needs to keep fighting," Jones said of Milligan's chances to see real playing time. "We talk every day and his thing is just coming to work with a mentality every day. If he does that, he can help this football team."

Even since his Brian Kelly days, Milligan has been a "travel team" guy because of his versatility. Because he can punt, kick and receive, Milligan's always a nice "ace in the hole".

His problem has been, the ace has pretty much been kept in the deck by both Kelly and coach Jones.

"I'm biding my time," Milligan said. "Just one or two good years and you can do something special. I still luckily have two more years."

Despite his lack of regular game playing time, Milligan seems to thrive in spring games. He's made noticeable plays in each that he's played, which usually results in those familiar with his high school career to wonder why he's not been in the mix.

"I've done it in high school and for three years that I've played here, I've been able to do it here," Milligan said. "If I can get that trust from coach Jones, I'd be happy to do it."

Based on a quick glance of the receiving, Milligan was productive as any.  Factor in the kicking and Elder's Tony Miliano having an off day and it's tough to figure how Milligan wouldn't be in the plans.

Did he enjoy the 52-yard boot or the touchdowns more?

"Either way, that puts up points," Milligan said. "It depends on the situation. 52 is a long for me since I've been here at UC.  It's always nice to catch a couple touchdowns from Jordan Luallen and Munchie (Legaux)."

The bottom line for Milligan is that he's local.  His family is able to cheer for him here as well as those that followed his stellar high school career.

"It's great to play in front of the family," Milligan said. "It's all about family. If I can put a smile on those parents' faces, it makes me happy."

Also with a happy face after Bearcat Bowl V was Georgia Tech transfer quarterback Jordan Luallen. After Zach Collaros, it's a toss-up as to which quarterback got the most reps, sophomore Munchie Legaux or Luallen.

jordan luallen.jpg

(Courtesy espn.com)

From a production standpoint, both did good things.  From an impression standpoint, it would be tough to ignore how Luallen caused a decent Bearcat defense a few fits with his scrambling and scripted runs.

"I though Jordan took some major, major steps," coach Jones said. "I thought he managed the offense. With the ball in his hands, he can make things happen. He needs to continue to progress in the throw game. I'm very encouraged by his performance."

Luallen was also encouraged.  Like most transfers, it had been a long time since he was able to play in front of any fans.

"I'm doing alright, it's an acclamation process," Luallen said. "I understand the offense a lot better. I've spent a lot of time in the film room to prepare myself."

Luallen is a bigger quarterback than either Collaros or Chazz Anderson and it's tough to avoid the comparison to a previous Butch Jones quarterback.

"That was one of the things I was attracted by," Luallen said. "I'd obviously seen the production that (Dan) LeFevour put up at Central Michigan. I was really interested because that's a big part of my game.  The way they've implemented that with me, running those quarterback powers, I really like that."

With coach Jones declaring the back-up quarterback job open, it's safe to say Luallen made a favorable impression on the coaching staff with his elusiveness.

"I'd like to believe so," Luallen said. "There's still a long way to go and I have a lot to improve on. I did some good things."

What stood out with Luallen, Legaux and Milligan on offense, and Derek Wolfe, Walter Stewart and juco transfer Malcolm Murray on defense, was their ability to rise up and make plays in "showtime".

"You find out who can handle distractions when the lights go on and there are people in the stands," Jones said. "I thought it was a productive night overall."

The defense and Walter Stewart frustrated the offense during Saturday's night's scrimmage at Nippert Stadium.  

 

CINCINNATI - Bearcat Bowl V didn't play out much like a game at all - even by traditional spring standards.

 

One-on-one drills, kicking against no rush and scripted situations littered a night purposely shaped to resemble a glorified scrimmage. Only, for one second, Zach Collaros rolled toward the sideline and experienced a slight dose of reality from newly beefed up defensive end Walter Stewart.

 

"Walt!" Collaros spouted over a herd of players and media following the 63-53 victory for the defense Saturday. "You got a little piece of me!"

 

Stewart charged Collaros' blind side and drew more contact than anybody on the Bearcats sideline was comfortable with against the no-contact, red jersey of the team's star quarterback. Collaros lay on the ground, slightly in shock following what would have been considered a tame touch five months from now against Austin Peay.

 

"I was kind of caught off guard," Collaros said, flashing a smile. "I was like, God, I haven't been hit in a long time, since the Pitt game. But it kind of felt good after while."

 

Of course, the play typified a night where the defense - Stewart, in particular - stole the show from Collaros' crew, the standard flag-bearers for UC football. Stewart blew up the first play from scrimmage, a reverse to D.J. Woods and never left the backfield all night. He finished with three sacks and appeared as comfortable at his defensive end position as he did with his new 245-pound frame.

 

"It's just a lot more natural," Stewart said of moving from linebacker. "I can play in space, but I prefer to be on the line of scrimmage. It definitely felt like I was getting back to getting after the quarterback."

 

Combine Stewart's effort with an interception from sophomore DB Adrian Witty and fumble recovery by DT Derek Wolfe and the rumblings of a defense who spent much of the spring having its way with the UC offense, exposed the current truth of the program to the thousand or so onlookers at Nippert Stadium.

 

This group returning all 11 starters looks to change the image and national conversation surrounding it.

 

"We've just preached being better than we were last year," Stewart said. "Even though we are experienced, we have to be better."

 

That motto filters throughout the program. Progression is demanded of receivers like Anthony McClung, who broke a wide receiver screen 43 yards early in the practice. Even 1,000-yard back Isaiah Pead needs to take the next step and showed off some midseason form despite a disappointing fumble deep in his own end during a drill driving out from the 2-yard line.

 

The night never began for Kenbrell Thompkins, who never loosened a nagging back injury in the cold and the coaches decided to take precaution and hold him out.   

 

Few made a greater impression than Danny Milligan, who in what's become an annual rite of spring, turned heads in the Bearcat Bowl with two touchdowns and a 52-yard FG to boot. The former St. Xavier star hasn't cashed in on the potential he carried since enrolling at UC, but certainly made the most of Saturday's opportunity.

 

"It takes one or two years and you can do something special," Milligan said. "It starts with practice. It starts with me working every day and coming out with a positive mentality. Once I can do this consistently I can earn the coach's trust."

 

From Jones' angle, Milligan represents a work in progress. Any ascension won't stem from two hours in April.

 

"Danny just needs to keep fighting," Jones said. "His thing is playing with a mentality every day and coming to work every day. If he does that he can help this football team."

 

Jones believes the entire football team will benefit from Saturday - and not only because of what occurred on the field. Being able to revert back with one more week of practices allows a chance to analyze what transpired.

 

"It's a great teach tool," Jones said. "I love the format because now we can catch our breath, come back and refocus, finishing strong."

The defense and Walter Stewart frustrated the offense during Saturday's night's scrimmage at Nippert Stadium.  

 

CINCINNATI - Bearcat Bowl V didn't play out much like a game at all - even by traditional spring standards.

 

One-on-one drills, kicking against no rush and scripted situations littered a night purposely shaped to resemble a glorified scrimmage. Only, for one second, Zach Collaros rolled toward the sideline and experienced a slight dose of reality from newly beefed up defensive end Walter Stewart.

 

"Walt!" Collaros spouted over a herd of players and media following the 63-53 victory for the defense Saturday. "You got a little piece of me!"

 

Stewart charged Collaros' blind side and drew more contact than anybody on the Bearcats sideline was comfortable with against the no-contact, red jersey of the team's star quarterback. Collaros lay on the ground, slightly in shock following what would have been considered a tame touch five months from now against Austin Peay.

 

"I was kind of caught off guard," Collaros said, flashing a smile. "I was like, God, I haven't been hit in a long time, since the Pitt game. But it kind of felt good after while."

 

Of course, the play typified a night where the defense - Stewart, in particular - stole the show from Collaros' crew, the standard flag-bearers for UC football. Stewart blew up the first play from scrimmage, a reverse to D.J. Woods and never left the backfield all night. He finished with three sacks and appeared as comfortable at his defensive end position as he did with his new 245-pound frame.

 

"It's just a lot more natural," Stewart said of moving from linebacker. "I can play in space, but I prefer to be on the line of scrimmage. It definitely felt like I was getting back to getting after the quarterback."

 

Combine Stewart's effort with an interception from sophomore DB Adrian Witty and fumble recovery by DT Derek Wolfe and the rumblings of a defense who spent much of the spring having its way with the UC offense, exposed the current truth of the program to the thousand or so onlookers at Nippert Stadium.

 

This group returning all 11 starters looks to change the image and national conversation surrounding it.

 

"We've just preached being better than we were last year," Stewart said. "Even though we are experienced, we have to be better."

 

That motto filters throughout the program. Progression is demanded of receivers like Anthony McClung, who broke a wide receiver screen 43 yards early in the practice. Even 1,000-yard back Isaiah Pead needs to take the next step and showed off some midseason form despite a disappointing fumble deep in his own end during a drill driving out from the 2-yard line.

 

The night never began for Kenbrell Thompkins, who never loosened a nagging back injury in the cold and the coaches decided to take precaution and hold him out.   

 

Few made a greater impression than Danny Milligan, who in what's become an annual rite of spring, turned heads in the Bearcat Bowl with two touchdowns and a 52-yard FG to boot. The former St. Xavier star hasn't cashed in on the potential he carried since enrolling at UC, but certainly made the most of Saturday's opportunity.

 

"It takes one or two years and you can do something special," Milligan said. "It starts with practice. It starts with me working every day and coming out with a positive mentality. Once I can do this consistently I can earn the coach's trust."

 

From Jones' angle, Milligan represents a work in progress. Any ascension won't stem from two hours in April.

 

"Danny just needs to keep fighting," Jones said. "His thing is playing with a mentality every day and coming to work every day. If he does that he can help this football team."

 

Jones believes the entire football team will benefit from Saturday - and not only because of what occurred on the field. Being able to revert back with one more week of practices allows a chance to analyze what transpired.

 

"It's a great teach tool," Jones said. "I love the format because now we can catch our breath, come back and refocus, finishing strong."

Bearcat Bowl V will take place Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at Nippert Stadium. The procedure will be much different than in the past. So, as you prepare to head down to Varsity Village I'll offer up 10 things to look for.

I) Young linebackers:

A significant area of development is necessary at the linebacker position. The Bearcats suffered through the lack of depth there and moving Walter Stewart to DE further exposed the area. Yet, by all accounts thus far a trio of young linebackers have shown the potential to not just fill the position but become breakout performers there.

Jones raves about early-enroll freshmen Dwight Jackson and Nick Temple at every opportunity. In practice, they've digested all the information thrown at them and performed at a high level. All we haven't seen from them is how they perform when the stage grows. Some young players struggle with that. Granted, this is only a glorified scrimmage under the lights, but the presence and pressure of fans in the stadium changes the game.

Along with Jackson and Temple will be redshirt freshman Solomon Tentman. The Roger Bacon product was expected to contribute last season, but tore his ACL during fall practice. He's back now and his development will be a huge part of the Bearcats defensive capabilities.

II) Wide receivers:

The Bearcats search for depth at the WR position involves D.J. Woods and a bunch of guys with little experience. Anthony McClung owns 22 career receptions. OJ Woodard owns two. After that, nobody has caught a ball at the Division I level.

 Anybody who attended last spring game knows Kenbrell Thompkins, who took part before eventually being ruled ineligible. But this will be another opportunity for fans to see what the Tennessee transfer brings to the table. Thompkins leadership and maturity have been remarkable, so nobody expects him to be overwhelmed by a spring practice, but his reaction to game atmosphere will be fun to watch.

Unfortunately, early enroll freshman Shaq Washington injured his ankle during camp and won't be participating, but McClung, Woodard and the cast of other receivers will all be attempting to catch the coach's eyes with spectacular plays.

III) One-on-ones:

I enjoy some of the unique elements this practice format will bring to the spring game. At the top of the list is the institution of the 1-on-1 matchups. This will be DB v. WR and OL v DL. Particularly watching the competition of the skill guys on the outside going at it will provide an interesting glimpse into the personnel on both sides. I look forward to watching Cam Cheatham, who everyone I've spoken with has said is playing his best football and become the team's top pure cover corner at this point.

Also, look for situational football like overtime scenarios, offenses being buried deep in their own end and kickers forced to make pressure field goals.   

IV) Youth clinic (2:30-4 p.m.) and autograph session (4-4:30 p.m.)

If you have kids, there are few opportunities to come this close to the players and coaches as you'll see Saturday. Players will be directly interacting with kids during football drills and then after signing autographs. It's an experience few kids will forget and one of the cornerstones of the day from Butch Jones' perspective.

V) Decent weather:

This clearly jinxed the entire day, but reports are claiming the 24 hours of rain the city is supposed to endure will be clearing up by the time registration for the youth clinic begins at 2 p.m. A night in the mid-50s at Nippert Stadium with the lights on will feel a lot like Saturdays in the Fall. Should be a festive atmosphere. Of course, I think I still have wet socks lying around somewhere from last spring's soakfest, so whatever happens almost has to be an improvement from Jones' Nippert debut.

Thursday became an unexpectedly busy day for UC basketball. Just when you think nobody will be paying attention to the program for a while, they sign a 6-9 F/C to fill the final scholarship.

His name is Cheikh Mbodj, a huge win for Mick Cronin, a huge loss for my spellcheck.

Cronin has been searching tirelessly for a big man to fill the holes in the front line since the other five members of the recruiting class were announced last year. Specifically, he needed a player to replace Ibrahima Thomas in the middle. Mbodj, a long (7-foot-4 wingspan), athletic big appears to be a Thomas replica -- all the way down to the home of Dakar, Senegal. In fact, Thomas played a significant role in landing Mbodj, according to Chad Brendel.

"Cheikh is a great addition for us," said UC head coach Mick Cronin. "We lost three seniors on our front line and we needed to add a veteran player. Cheikh is a perfect fit. He is the nicest young man I've ever recruited as well as a gifted frontcourt player. We have developed a very close-knit basketball team and Cheikh will fit right in with his positive attitude."

To be fair, I've never watched Mbodj, from Grayson County (Texas) College. Yet, from all accounts, he will be much like Thomas, only less raw offensively. In fact, his coach at Grayson, Pat Rafferty, said his offense was less like typical African players and more European. This from a post by Adam Zagoria.  

"He's kind of a hybrid four," Rafferty said. "He's become really solid and versatile. He's got a nice skill-set. There are some things that he can do with his back to the basket. He's really good in space. He has good skills, is a good passer. He's just solid. He's a nice fit for the guys that they've got coming back in terms of his ability to pass and defend and effect the game with his length.He's got some qualities about him you might expect from a European-type player."

Mbodj averaged 14.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game for Grayson last season. The team went 20-11. Mbodj may be slightly thicker than Thomas on the inside and Cronin told Bill Koch he hopes Mbodj will put on 10 pounds or so of muscle once he arrives.

Most of the questions I received following this was on the status of signing other recruits with Mbodj taking up the final spot. All 13 scholarships have now been filled. The only way another player could be added to the roster is if a current player/commit transferred or was declared academically ineligible.

Those situations aren't without precedent. As one Twitter follower (follow me) pointed out yesterday, just look at Aaron McGhee and Dermarr Johnson back in 1999. When Bob Huggins landed Johnson, McGhee transferred to a community college with the concept that he would return as soon as a spot opened back up for him. Of course, eventually McGhee moved on to Oklahoma to have an extremely productive career. Point being, creative things can happen if a top player decides to jump aboard at the last moment. To speculate what any of those things would be at this point would be wrong and unnecessary. As would insuiating Cronin would attempt any creative moves to fit in a possible new recruit. Nobody truly knows the situation except the coach himself.

Bottom line, this signing makes the class of Jermaine Sanders, Shaq Thomas, Ge'Lawn Guyn, Jermaine Davis and Octavius Ellis not only impactful but well-rounded. The same can now be said about the 2011-2012 Bearcats.

Let's eat...

--- Butch Jones and unanimously beloved coach Brian Kelly (*searches for sarcasm font*) attended the roast of Jeff Ruby last night. The roasters also included Brent Musburger (emcee), Nick Lachey, Marty Brennaman, Dusty Baker, Marvin Lewis, Cris Collinsworth, former NFL players Paul Hornung and Phil Villapiano.

Shockingly, Lachey delivered some of the best lines of the night. Not shockingly, that was because he asked hilarious comedian and noted Cincinnatian Josh Sneed to help him with the jokes.

I'd imagine most Bearcats fans will give this one the winner:

Lachey on why Kelly attended: "He's here because he thought Carson (Palmer) was going to be here. He wanted to trade notes with Carson on the best way to stab a community in the back."

Here's The Enquirer's list of other jabs taken by the roasters and Ruby. Also, apparently Marvin Lewis put on quite a show. As someone whose endured plenty of Marv pressers and would prefer to have my finger slammed in a car door than transcribe it, I can only call this the biggest upset since Gordon Bombay's ragtag collection of kids took down Jack Reilly's defending champs in Mighty Ducks.

Of course, anytime I hear about amateur roasts I can't help but remember the episode of The Office where Michael Scott roasts his employees. Boom! Roasted.

--- Back to the field, Jones spent the afternoon taking part in spring practice No. 10 on Thursday. Tommy G tracked him down and used the phrase cou d'etat. Jones talks specifically about what will be happening at Bearcats Bowl V on Saturday.      

--- TG also caught up with co-defensive coordinator Tim Banks who talks about the progress of the defense this spring.

--- Defensive line coach Steve Stripling was mic'd up for a recent practice. The results were predictably cool.

--- This is NBA Draft declaration season, as far as we can tell no Bearcats are even testing the waters. However, UC's chances of taking the next step in the Big East could be increased or diminished depending on the decisions of Terrance Jennings and Carleton Scott, who both are testing.

--- Certainly, UC's chances of defending the Crosstown Shootout title would be greatly increased if Tu Holloway ends up in the draft. My gut says Tu returns because his size probably keeps him out of the first round, Jeff Goodman agrees, but if Holloway goes it will be a brutal blow for the Muskies. When Jordan Crawford left, Holloway was there to take over as the go-to scorer. I don't know where they turn if Holloway goes pro.   

--- On to some randomness...

--- Met a guy from Orlando last night who is a Gators fan and when the first topic I brought up was jorts he was shocked that it was even a big deal up here. Jorts may have spread everywhere, and will be helped by Kentucky's Josh Harrellson pulling off this sweet "Jorts Tour," but Gainesville will always be the Grandaddy of the jort.

--- Fantastic episode of Community (the best sitcom on television) last night. "My mind is as open as Mona's bedroom door." Ned Ryerson (Needlenose Ned, Ned the head) even showed up to play a genius character. Then he wrote this essay about it.

--- This high schooler puts in all the hard work of acquiring a college girlfriend and can't even show her off at prom? America can kind of suck sometimes.

--- The Verizon "Can you hear me now?" guy thought that commerical would be a nice break. Turns out it ruined his life for nine years.

--- You poor folks without DirecTv get to enjoy the first episode of Friday Night Lights final season on NBC. I wish I could go back in your shows and watch for the first time again. Fantastic final season.

Congratulations go out to the Bearcats baseball team on winning the Joe Nuxhuall Classic with a 7-4 win against Wright State last night. Tuesday and Wednesday both turned into dramatic contests and more great bang for your buck at Marge Schott Stadium.

As a reminder, Bearcat Bowl V will be Saturday. There's a youth clinic prior to the game and great opportunity for kids in the community to interact with the UC football players. Registration begins at 2 p.m.

OK, let's eat...

--- When Mick Cronin first mentioned Jermaine Sanders to me last summer, he called him the best player in New York City. I wasn't sure if that was just blowing smoke about a player Cronin was hard after recruiting or reality. Well, the coach wasn't lying, at least according to the New York Post.

The paper named him All Manhattan Player of the Year.

Recruiting NYC has always been a point of emphasis for Cronin and this becomes another feather in his cap there. Lance Stephenson and now Jermaine Sanders give him the POY two of the last three years.

When discussing the recruitment of Kemba Walker, Cronin said one of the first things he wanted to do when he took the job at UC was sign a player from Rice (NYC). It was one of the premier programs in the area and held water with every kid in the city. He went to their coach and asked who they had, that was when he mentioned Walker. As much as Cronin loved Walker, it was also about establishing UC within the city as a destination school for great prep players.

The Stephenson signing delivered all the credit he would need, even though Lance was from Lincoln High. It likely went a long way to delivering Sanders and Shaquille Thomas.

--- Random tidbit: Lance's HS career ended at the hands of Sanders and the Rice Raiders in the NY State semifinals in 2009.

--- Bill Koch points out that 10 players on UC's football team this season will already own an undergrad degree and be doing graduate work.

--- Not a ton happening today. I'll have more later in regards to the Saturday's spring game.

--- On to some randomness...

--- If I go to New Orleans, some feral chickens are the least of my concerns.

--- Mike Tyson fixed the gap between his teeth, next he's working on the one between his ears.

--- Phil Mickelson is suing Krispy Kreme. Too.....many.....jokes....can't....compute.

--- Jeff Pearlman with an interesting Q and A with former MLB P Russ Ortiz. Unique point of view on baseball and life.

--- Happy birthday today to Ritchie Blackmore, guitarist for Deep Purple. He grinded out one of the most famous guitar riffs of all time for Smoke on the Water. Pretty sure for about a 20-year period it was the first song every kid played when first learning guitar.  

Bearcats Breakfast 4.13.11

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As Robert Tepper and Rocky IV taught us so well, many times, there's no easy way out. Of course, not always are we avenging the death of a friend at the hands of a roided out Russian killer.

Sometimes, there is an easy way out. I took it yesterday. At UC's spring practice, I opted to catch up with Kerry Coombs and chat about the defensive backs. The man produces writer's gold with every conversation. He did so as we talked about JuCo transfer Malcolm Murray, RS JR Drew Frey and JR Cam Cheatham, among other topics.

Here's the link.

Also, one extra from Coombs I couldn't squeeze in, besides him joking around with me for interviewing Reuben Johnson, who he claimed only played seven snaps this spring while working through a knee injury.

Not that this motivational tactic comes as a surprise, but Coombs and his staff clearly are confronting the possibility anyone leans on 11 starters returning defensively as a crutch.

"Because we are a year older doesn't make us better," he said. "We have to make sure we are working every day to make the experience of last year pay off for us. We need to learn from our mistakes to feel a little bit of an edge about us because we didn't play well. Everybody knows that. It goes for me, too. Every day we got something to prove. When you have something to prove that helps you work and our kids have worked really hard."

 

Let's eat...

--- Bill Koch delved into the lost recruiting class of 2009. Of the 29 players in that class, only seven are currently on the spring two-deep chart. Only 12 are even a part of the program. That type of attrition can happen with a coaching change, where Bill points out five left when Brian Kelly announced his departure. But a hole in the program that large can be difficult to overcome.

The projected starters for this coming season are:

LB Maalik Bomar, P Patrick O'Donnell, OL Austen Bujnoch/OL Andre Cureton and DB Reuben Johnson. Other significant contributors will be whoever loses the battle between Bujnoch and Cureton, DB Chris Williams, DL Jordan Stepp and TE Blake Annen.  

To advance the story even more, take a look at the 2008 class and compare contributions. To be fair, we'll look the 2008 group three seasons later (2011), just as we project the 2009 group three seasons later (2012).    

Of 24 freshmen commits that season, nine were every week starters when healthy last year:

Player/GP/Starts

Dominique Battle/3/3

Cam Cheatham/12/10

Dan Giordano/12/11

Brandon Mills/12/9

Isaiah Pead/11/10

J.K. Schaffer/12/12

Walter Stewart/12/12

Derek Wolfe/12/12

DJ Woods/12/10

DB Pat Lambert (12/2), RB Darrin Williams (4/3), Sean Hooey (10/2) and OL Evan Davis (6/1) also started at least one game.

Granted, leaving the program becomes easier when a player is only a year in and their position is secure. Still, the differentiation between 10 every game starters vs four is beyond significant.

For the sake of argument, let's project on the low end and say the 2009 class produced even three more starters, not even the six it would take to match 2008 class. With that conservative metric, you'd displace three current young players forced into action early in their career before they are ready.

So, fill in the third LB spot with another Maalik Bomar. Fill in the offensive line with another Alex Hoffman. Go ahead and toss in another Dominique Battle at corner. Now think about how many points/missed opportunties were a product of a blown coverage by a young corner, missed tackle at linebacker or missed block from a lineman last year.

The game changes quite a bit. I'm not contending UC would have won the Big East title, but in a season where one or two plays seemed to make all the difference, it's hard to believe the final record wouldn't have been affected.

--- Speaking of that class of 2008, Brian Bennett places Isaiah Pead atop the list of most likely back in the conference to reach the 1,000 yard mark. He compiled 1,029 last year, while missing two games due to injury.

Hard to imagine his 6.6 yards per carry average not yielding another huge season, barring injury.

Freshman Jameel Poteat along with Darrin Williams are likely to steal some carries from Pead, but even last year, of the non-QB carries, Pead recieved 60 percent of them. And that percentage would have been even higher had he played against N.C. State or Indiana State.

--- Tommy G's daily interviews continued on Tuesday as a conversation with much-talked about TE Travis Kelce along with OL coach Don Mahoney.

--- A come-from-behind and walkoff victory against Xavier at home? Yeah, Tuesday at Marge Schott Stadium was a rewarding one for the UC baseball team.

The Cats host Wright State at 7 p.m. tonight in what by all accounts should be a clear, if a bit chilly, night to conclude the Joe Nuxhall Classic.

--- Some more interviews about playing at Paul Brown Stadium from Butch Jones Blog.

--- A very interesting argument from Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel for why adding UCF should be a no-brainer for the Big East if they really cared about football.

Every sentence in that column I agree with. Though, that doesn't mean it will happen.

--- On to some randomness...

--- I've heard the same thing causes power outages at Frisch's.      

--- Why I have tried and failed many times to play fantasy baseball.

--- The complete history of Celebrity Jeopardy! on SNL. You didn't want to do anything with the next hour anyway, did you?

--- Today is Al Green's birthday, 65. I suggest you use this opportunity to play his music and woo your lady. By woo, I mean play his music loud enough to drown out the dumb things we say that make them not want to stay together with us.     

About his point in the spring football, I start making bad decisions. Stretching for stories, drawing conclusions from practice performances and, undoubtedly worse than any of those, quoting the Barenaked Ladies: "It's all been done." (Shaking head and cursing self) 

 

We've touched on most of the position groups, talked to players stepping into leadership positions, introduced ourselves to freshman allowed to talk for the first time and found analysis of all the newcomers.

 

Around the circles us media types huddle in at the corner of the Nippert Stadium turf, there's always a solution for lulls such as the end of spring practice story death zone: An interview with Kerry Coombs.

 

The man's a quote machine and always a pleasure to talk to. Plus, there's quite a smorgasbord of competition throughout his defensive backfield right now. The primary name Bearcats fans are interested in has been JuCo transfer Malcolm Murray. Finding help at safety immediately became a top priority after struggling mightily there last season. A hope exists Murray can step in and immediately become part of the solution. An injury to Wes Richardson pushed him to the top of the depth chart and loading up on reps in a hurry.

 

Initial reviews weren't glowing.

 

"Our biggest concern, we put him right in with the 1s," Coombs said. "Wes was hurt and we said, 'Let's find out,' and that was overwhelming. Trying to learn our defense, sitting in the staff room and he is not playing as fast as what we saw on film, that's not his fault. You never are going to play fast if you don't know what you are doing."

 

Coombs and company opted to move Murray back with the second team and allow him to focus more on learning the system. As spring ball progressed, so did Murray. Some of the speed and playmaking coaches bought into from his junior college tape started to peak through.

 

"He's getting better every day," Coombs said. "That is mostly coaching. The more comfortable we can make him back there, the better we are going to be. He is going to play a lot of ball for us. I really like him as a kid, he's a good learner."

 

--- Reuben Johnson has been slowed by a knee injury that's hampered him since the beginning of last season. He had it scoped prior to the 2010 season and cleaned back out after. Butch Jones said he's been moved more exclusively to the nickel spot to ease some of the pressure on his knee.

 

He's expected to play a significant amount of nickel while growing into the corner role in the Fall. Johnson's physicality in the slot on bump coverages and ability to recover makes him a nice fit inside when called upon.

 

For Johnson, he's all about changing the conversation inside the huddle for the coming year and placing his own easygoing touch the defense's personality. .

 

"Just being loud with the guys, being vocal, leadership," Johnson said. "We are here to have fun, we let the outside be the outside, we only can control what we can do. We are going to be much better, being more physical, we know the defense, we are loving football right now, playing for fun."

 

--- Numerous players and coaches alike spoke to the emergence of Camerron Cheatham as a cover corner. Cheatham showed glimpses of brilliance last year - the win-clinching breakup against Louisville chief among those - but struggled like many of the young players on the UC defense.

 

So much of the redshirt junior's development relies on learning the position. Cheatham's starting to grasp the more advanced strategies of the position.

 

"He's playing really well," Coombs said. "The other thing people don't always understand is that Cam was a running back in high school and never played a snap of defense. It's not something just because you are a good athlete or a fast kid you can just go do it. It's been a process, getting him better and better and he took his lumps last year. He didn't like it. God bless him for not liking it. So, he's really taken some ownership, not just of his position but of the group. Really good offseason, really good spring, I think his summer is really going to propel him into a good season next fall."

 

Cheatham, like many young players forced into action on defense last season, probably wasn't ready for the assignment. Just because they gained experience and survived doesn't assure the defense will benefit, according to Coombs.

 

"Because we are a year older doesn't make us better," he said. "We have to make sure we are working every day to make the experience of last year pay off for us last year."

 

--- Drew Frey has been Mr. Consistency for the Bearcats (and impossible to believe he's only a RS junior). The thought process on him, along with JK Schaffer at MLB, is you know what you are going to get.

 

Coombs believes we may not know what UC will get from Frey this year. He anticipates him taking some significant steps forward.

 

"We have really improved his open-field tackling and man-to-man coverage," Coombs said. "Which are two areas he has never really had to do a lot of or focus a lot on. Every day we are watching his cutups and talking about how to play things and get his chest on people."

 

--- Coombs sweats optimism and intensity, but he reverted to a simple fact when talking about the state of the defense this year in comparison to last.

 

"For me, I have been here five years and only twice run the same system in the spring that we ran in the fall," he said. "For the kids, this is the first time for any kid on this team. Just to be able to walk in and call a duck a duck makes a huge difference for our players and for me."

 

Coombs, the lone holdover from the Brian Kelly era, adjusted to a new staff taking over his home. Finding chemistry not only on the field, but in putting together gameplans endured growing pains. Not as much anymore.

 

"I've got a good feel for what it is (co-defensive coordinator Tim) Banks expects for our defense as a whole," Coombs said. "It's not as easy as it looks. When you put strangers in a room together and they have to put things together and communicate to players who are used to doing something different, that is all challenging. I think that just being in the same system. You look at teams that are consistently good across the country, they have continuity in their staff. We have that as well."

Headed out to spring football practice again this morning. So, the standard brief Tuesday Breakfast in the works.

Despite the constant flood of rain onto the ground and into my basement over the past two days, we're actually talking baseball a little bit today. I mentioned the Joe Nuxhall Classic here yesterday.

There was a press conference down at UC yesterday (you can view it here) and it's always emotional to hear Joe Nuxhall's son Kim Nuxhall talk about the life of his dad. There just aren't many more beloved figures in this city.

Again, UC is set to play Xavier at 7 p.m. tonight at Marge Schott Stadium (weather permitting, but the rain is supposed to break).

Let's eat...

--- While still in the baseball spirit and, for those who stayed up to watch the Reds, are still uncrossing their fingers from the CoCo Cordero experience, wanted to pass along UC's Scholar-Athlete of the month: Justin Riddell, of the baseball team.

Also, P Nick Johnson and 1B Nic Spence were named to the Big East honor roll for their play last week. Spence batted.533 (8-for-15) with one home run, seven RBI and four runs scored in four games. Johnson, who did not allow a run until the ninth inning to lead Cincinnati to a 5-2 win over UofL, is now 4-1 on the season with a 3.44 earned run average and 31 strikeouts in 43.0 innings pitched.

--- UC football hosted Family Day on Saturday. Establishing the family atmosphere from all angles has always been a signifcant part of Butch Jones' mantra. Here's a video from the coach's site documenting the day.

--- Jason Williams with 10 facts about Butch Jones.

--- The Big East issued a statement on the delay of Villanova's decision on joining the conference for football. The league wants Nova to proceed to D-I to help with scheduling and a number of size-related advantages. Brian Bennett speculates it's because the conference had some problems with Nova's proposal. As always, I'll keep you posted here.   

--- BearcatsBlog provided his pros and cons of the Mick Cronin extension. I don't agree with all the points, but the post stirs up conversation.  

--- Filed under, "Things we knew were coming but are still ecstatic to hear": Kemba Walker announced he's going pro. By the way, that is filed right next to "Little Fockers DVD commercial onslaught scaled back since the actual release."

--- CBS college hoops blog deployed a Year in Photos post which beyond being a cool recap of the year, answers a question that had been bothering me lately: Do the Evansville Purple Aces still play in sleeve jerseys?

--- Some randomness...

--- The "jilted girlfriend crushing her boyfriend's car" is cliche, but videos like this always remind me of the scene from Barbershop: "This isn't Malcolm Brown car?"   

--- Among the list of "places a lost 7-year-old would be", I think playing video games should be in the Top 5, no?

--- I like ice cream. I like things that are free. Ben & Jerry's goes for the win-win today! 

--- Dan Wetzel with a unique view of Sunday's wild Masters from the Augusta National Grill Room where the families and golfers awaited their fate. Another great read from him.

--- Last Friday I posted "Renegade" by Styx much to the delight of UC Sports Information star/Pittsburgh Steelers fan Jeremy Martin. (For this reason) But, I felt like I didn't do justice to my favorite band of that genre, Journey (coming to Riverbend Aug. 3, see you there). So, here's a lesson in how to play the keys on a wall and how a band can look just creepy enough to apparently get women. Thank you, Seperate Ways.

Only five more days until Bearcat Bowl V at Nippert Stadium.

Although Butch Jones made it clear this event will be more of a glimpse into a UC scrimmage/practice than typical game, the event will still serve as a fun celebration of Bearcats football.

There will be events in Varsity Village, with youth clinic registration starting at 2 p.m. and the actual scrimmage/practice beginning at 5:30 p.m. Last year, the rain ruined much of the celebration and my socks, but hopefully a clean forecast. Right now the weather folks are calling for low 50s and showers. They are never wrong, so consider it fact.

And remember, much like love, admission to Bearcat Bowl V don't cost a thing.

Let's eat...

--- Cool event for local baseball fans on Tuesday and Wednesday down at Marge Schott Stadium. Even cooler for UC folks who never miss an opportunity to boo Xavier. The Joe Nuxhall Classic will be happening at UC. Xavier, Wright State and Miami will be there. The Cats take on the Muskies at 7 p.m. on Tuesday and will play either Wright State or MIami at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

--- UC took practice down to Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday. The trip provided an opportunity to enjoy the NFL surroundings the program will be experiencing twice next season.

Scott Springer provided some insight for us GoBearcats.com folks.

We've talked about the decision to move games down to PBS before, plus Jones and AD Mike Thomas spoke openly about the benefits of playing twice downtown.

To reiterate, from a strictly football perspective, recruiting college football is all about selling the NFL. If you can prove that players will be prepared for the NFL and show a track record of graduates who've made it there from your school, the players will come. Period. 

Playing two games in an NFL stadium adds to that concept.

Playing on NFL turf isn't revolutionary, particularly in the Big East where Pitt and USF play all their home games at those of their NFL affiliates. Don't think it's completely coincidence those two schools recruit as well or better than any in the conference.

Obviously, UC won't be alone. Here's a list of some games that were played in NFL stadiums last season.

--- Whether The Nip or PBS, the guys were excited to be outside and in the elements, from Butch Jones blog.

--- I understand the NCAA's concern here, but not sure how you police coaches viewing video on Rivals.com and other related recruiting sites. Here's some information into the latest battle waged against recruiting practices.

EDSBS suggests turning off the Internet here.

--- Great statistical research from the folks at Yahoo! here. The conversation is about the advanced metric of pass efficiency as a predictor of success in college football. The numbers provide a convincing argument. By absolutely no secret, the teams with the most efficient quarterbacks were the best in the country nearly across the board.

In fact, Zach Collaros was the only QB ranked in the Top 40 in the category (39th) whose team didn't make a bowl game. Most of that can be attributed to the defensive woes and turnovers.

In the bigger picture, however, that should serve as an encouraging prospect for this coming season. Collaros by all accounts will not only be as good as last year, but should be better. Owning a Top 25-type pass efficiency rating nearly guarantees success in college football according to the numbers.

In 2009, Tony Pike ranked 12th in the country in the statistic. In 2008, he ranked 35th.   

Establishing those numbers is still a matter of quality over quantity and a big reason Jones' spread attack with heavy doses of run game proved effective over the years.

--- In case you missed it Friday, here was my story on WR Anthony McClung.

--- Great piece from Bill Koch on the rough background of Kenbrell Thompkins , if you haven't seen it yet.   

--- An update on the up and down rookie season of Lance Stephenson, from the Indy Star.

--- On to some randomness...

--- File this under: Creepy, Photoshop.   

--- If you watched the Pirates 81 times a year, you'd be a little unruly, too.

--- You know, I just worry about people.

--- This is what those in business would call a "tough sell."

"C" TOUGH PRACTICE AT PBS

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In preparation for upcoming games this fall at Paul Brown Stadium, the University of Cincinnati football team held a Sunday workout at PBS, April 10.

The day was blessed with temperatures in the 80s for the nearly two hour workout.  A pair of Croswell buses drove the Bearcats down the hill into town for the practice on the Bengals field.

"We're going to be playing here twice this coming season," coach Butch Jones said. "It was a great workday today. Very valuable for our football team."

UC is slated to play Louisville, October 15 along the Ohio River and then West Virginia on November 12.

Adding two Big East games to the bigger stadium instead of what would be a jam-packed Nippert Stadium is somewhat controversial (depending on whom you speak to).

As with most things that people find puzzling, the answer is usually money.

This was Coach Jones' response when asked if he anticipated more games being moved to the professional structure.

"We'll continue to progress," Jones said. "They way I look at it, we have two great venues. We have Nippert and we have Paul Brown. Tell me another school in America that has that option."

So far, UC has only played Ohio State and Oklahoma in PBS.  This will be the first time the Bearcats have hosted a league game at someplace other than Nippert. (In the Riverfront Stadium days, they were not in a league.)
pbs.jpg

"I'm excited to play our games in Nippert," Jones said, "But also, to venture downtown, the atmosphere we had for Oklahoma (last year) was electric. We need the city to come out and give us a home field advantage. We're playing two football programs that traditionally travel exceptionally well (Louisville and West Virginia), so we have to do a great job of putting a product on the field that our fans want to come support."

As far as Isaiah Pead's concerned, he doesn't mind the bus ride downtown.  Last season against Oklahoma, Pead ran for 169 yards on 21 carries against the Sooners. That's not counting a run that was called back when a portion of Pead's glove touched the turf and he was ruled down.

"This is home," Pead said with a smile. "Our fans love this atmosphere. We love the atmosphere. Same for Nippert Stadium. The fans love the Bengals stadium, we can use it as a home field advantage as long as our folks are here."

For some of the guys, it's a rare chance to play in a pro stadium.  Occasionally, the Bengals will draft a Bearcat, or bring a few in for a free agent look, but most UC players won't play another down at Paul Brown Stadium beyond their college careers.

"It's always a good feeling to be around a pro facility," Pead said. "It makes you that much more hungry."

Hungry is a good thing for these Bearcats.  At 4-8 last season, coach Jones didn't think they were hungry enough.  Or tough enough, for that matter.

"We use a term in football called, 'soft'," Jones said. "We were a very soft football team last year and football is a tough game. We use a thing called 'C Tough'. When you were the C-Paw, you're going to play the way football should be played."

To remedy that, toughness has been emphasized and the day prior to being at PBS, the Bearcats banged pads with great intensity (much to the delight of their coach).

"It's the most physical we've been since we've been here," Jones said of a 95-play scrimmage in the rain.

The 2011 offense looks to still feature quarterback Zach Collaros, but early indications point toward a little more emphasis on ball control.

Translation?

Well, not exactly Big 10 style football, but probably a little more grinding than in years past. While Isaiah Pead has been the feature back, others will have opportunities to "tote the loaf" or "slobberknock" someone so another guy can get a yard.

"You can never have enough running backs," Jones said. "I'm excited not only with Darren (Williams) and Isaiah (Pead) but with George Winn. He's really had a very consistent spring."

It's clear Jones wants to make use of his backs abundantly more than his predecessor Brian Kelly did.

"They've figured out how to run behind their pads and run with a physical presence," Jones said.

With that, Jones walked toward Isaiah Pead as he was taking his pads off and said,"See this guy? He's learning how to be a real running back!"
pead.jpeg

How does the senior Pead describe a "real running back"?

"Not just a runner, sometimes you've got to get nasty, you've got to get dirty," Pead said. "Stick your nose in the line and get back to the line of scrimmage to live to play another down. Everything's not going to be a home run ball."

Pead was on a roll at that point, effectively recreating a Butch Jones lecture on offfensive backfield play.

"Getting reads, learning where to stick it up, using your athletic ability to get to the outside and make a guy miss," Pead continued. "Same thing with blocking. Help with the lineman, pretty much the dirty business."

Pead has bulked up a tad for these important responsibilities and knows these skills are the make or break things that could land him an NFL job a year from now.

"I should've picked up on this a little bit sooner, but better late than never," Pead said. "It's what I've been told scouts look for. Above all that, that's what the team needs. They need a physical running back."

Adding more physicality to a game that racked up 1,029 yards rushing and 26 grabs for 190 yards through the air can only help both parties.








Few expected Anthony McClung to own the second-most receptions of any wideout on this spring roster, but his fast-tracked freshman performance proves invaluable amid an inexperienced receiving corps.

 

CINCINNATI - During the first quarter at Paul Brown Stadium, Anthony McClung stood on the sidelines rooting for his teammates, as he had for the first three games of his freshman season. To that point, he never crossed the white line.

 

Then it happened. D.J. Woods temporarily went out with an injury. McClung sprinted to the huddle. The first play call from Zach Collaros on third-and-11 from the Oklahoma 32-yard line spouted out.

 

Who was the No. 1 target? McClung.

 

"I was definitely shocked," he said.

 

The Bearcats fan base returned the emotion after McClung jumped into the air to snatch a 25-yard reception.

 

He entered UC as a 157-pound freshman project expected to compete for playing time once graduation cleared positions. Suddenly, four games in, he caught four passes for 58 yards in a near upset of the Sooners. 

 

From that point forward, a new standard took hold for a recruit originally recognized for being Dyjuan Lewis' teammate in Indianapolis. Injuries to Woods, Vidal Hazelton and ineligibility with Lewis and Kenbrell Thompkins fast-tracked McClung's development.

 

He caught at least four passes in each of the final four games of the year. By season's end, he finished with 22 receptions for 217 yards with two touchdowns. Those numbers came despite working his way through a turf toe injury.

 

"The coaches told me they would travel me (when I was recruited), but I didn't know I was going to get in because, DJ Woods, you know, he's the man," McClung said. "I would just look up to him follow his footsteps and try to do what he do."

 

McClung learned by more than osmosis. He learned by fire. In the process, his coaches learned to trust him.

 

"It did more for us because we had the confidence he could step in a big game and high pressure situation like that," receivers coach T.J. Weist said. "The moment DJ went down, he stepped right in there and we threw the ball to him. For him to make that play in that circumstance gave us the confidence to put him in more and play him without hesitation."

  

In the moment, many aspects of his freshman campaign overwhelmed. As McClung prepares for his sophomore season, however, it's invaluable.

 

"The thing you can't put a pricetag on is experience," Butch Jones said. "Anthony gained valuable game experience and made plays. He made some bigtime plays in big games. Look at his first career catch against Oklahoma. It's about going back and using those experiences and continuing to get better."

 

Such begins the second phase of McClung's unexpected rise. Questions at the receiver position leave playing time for the 2011 Bearcats for the taking.

 

Amazingly, McClung returns as the only wideout on the spring roster not named D.J. Woods with more than two career receptions.

 

"There are a lot of expectations that are placed upon his shoulders for next year," Jones said of McClung, currently running being Woods on the second team. "We need some individuals to step up."

 

When it comes to football, McClung will pay whatever price necessary to rise to the occasion. The game is his life. When his qualified ACT score was flagged near the end of his senior season, his commitment to UC was jeopardized. McClung was forced to start talking to junior colleges.

 

The stress not only wore on him mentally, but physically. He lost eight pounds stressing over the concept of seeing his dream temporarily derailed.

 

"I wasn't eating," he said. "I thought my life was over; I need football in my life."

 

Eventually, McClung scored with three points of his original ACT to green light his eligibility with the Bearcats. He arrived on campus in August, less than 24 hours after learning of his test score.

 

Eight months later, he's taking advantage of his first offseason on campus. His 157-pound frame now consists of a chiseled 172 pounds. Speed and quickness willed him through his freshman year, but building strength to compete against bumping linebackers in the slot demands more strength.

 

In the immediate future, McClung won't look like Wes Welker, but even being a slightly stronger version of Anthony McClung goes a long way toward continuing his rapid ascent up the depth chart.

 

"He's got a consistency in technique," Weist said. "That is critical for a receiver. We are always talking about attention to details, but it comes down to consistency with technique. He just needs to build bulk to compete in the Big East, especially at slot receiver."

 

The one characteristic McClung doesn't need which everyone thought he would this year would be game experience. Now, instead of being shocked when he hears his number called next time UC takes to the Paul Brown Stadium turf, he'll only be shocked if he doesn't.

 

"The reps, the game experience is the most invaluable thing," Weist said. "He works his routes with the quarterbacks, he understands. We talk about it and say 'Remember when you did this against Louisville. Remember when you did this against Oklahoma.' He understands attention to detail and that makes a difference."

Spent some time out at spring practice again on Thursday. I've been wanting to talk to Anthony McClung for a while because we haven't had the opportunity until now. Freshman and newcomers were ineligible to talk to last season (Mick Cronin utilizes the same strategy on the basketball side).

Between trouble he had with NCAA eligibility to his unanticipated pertinent snaps relatively early in the season to the amount he's being counted on entering next season, I thought talking to him would be interesting. I was right (Mark it down, 10:32 a.m., April 8).

McClung was a great kid to talk to and sports some great tattoos -- almost certain to make an Ink of the Week appearance in the Fall. He has the name of his stepfather and mother running down each of his biceps and a memorial to his biological father near his roatator cuff. He said his biological father passed away two days before he turned two years old. The kid loves football like you wouldn't believe. He actually lost eight pounds because he couldn't eat when his NCAA status was in jeopardy in his senior year of high school.

I'll have more on him coming soon, but wanted to relay some of those tidbits that likely won't make it into the story. He's got at least one more fan after yesterday.

Let's eat...

--- Not the best day for the defense yesterday as the offense had their way during a goal line drill. That's about the first time this spring the offense has dominated the defense. The black shirts that signify who won the scrimmage the day before hadn't moved from the defense to this point.

Probably as good of news that the offense is beginning to click rather than the defense "taking a step back," as Butch Jones said.

--- Plenty of love for RBs coach Jahmile Addae over at the Butch Jones Blog recently. He was mic'd up recently and it produced this video.

--- Dyjuan Lewis was working voluntarily on his own at Nippert as I left the stadium. The kid is a physical freak. Right now he can't work out with the team until summer. Then, he can't be under coach supervision, but can be a part of the team programs.

Considering the depth situation at receiver, he will be counted on to make a contribution in the Fall despite not playing a down yet in college football. A big game for him will be the Austin Peay game. If UC can jump out to a big lead and get Lewis a load of live reps, he would be much more comfortable contributing against Tennessee.

And if Lewis is comfortable, look out. He is physically ready to play at a high level in the Big East right now.

--- Here's an INCREDIBLE interview with Kerry Coombs after Thursday's practice. He attempts to displace Tommy G and makes me want to be 25 percent more productive today.

--- I had a Q and A with the always quotable Connor Barwin a few months back talking about his return to class, injury rehab and some ridiculous topics.

He's since been to Nigeria and the folks at the Enquirer caught up with him recently.  

--- Luke Winn is as respected a national hoops writer as exists. In his Top 32 for 2011-12, he places UC 12th with some kind words.

--- On to some randomness...

--- I bet I know this woman's favorite movie. Let me guess, a lovable young blond boy and two muckracking burglers get your goat?

--- How do we not know who killed Notorious BIG yet?

--- The Beastie Boys made a short film. I doubt it will be better than Sabotage, but I'll still watch.

--- Top athlete taunts. Nothing beats the Dikembe wag of the finger.

--- Jeff Pearlman talking with Tommy Shaw. Great read.

On that note, how about this to get your Friday pumping....

   

THE WISDOM OF SOLOMON

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No one needs to tell Bearcat fans of the losses from last year in football.

4-8 honestly was the last thing most expected coming off an Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl, particularly coach Butch Jones.

However, there were underlying reasons.

Sure, no one likes excuses, but the truth is UC envisioned having USC transfer Vidal Hazelton and Tennessee transfer Kenbrell Thompkins as starting wide-outs in 2010.  Out of those two, coach Jones got one game from Hazelton before a torn ACL effectively ended his season.

Thompkins was forced to sit a season out. (Again, thanks to the curious rule that allows coaches to jump ship without penalty, while players must miss a year.)

Add to that, back-up/change-of-pace/kick returning back Darren Williams missed some time. More importantly, Zach Collaros missed time.

In an offense that relies on a multi-faceted quarterback as much as Jones', losing a top quarterback is a devastating blow.

Those are just some of the injuries and mishaps that brought misfortune in and around "The Nipp".

However, one that stands out happened sadly before the season began at Camp Higher Ground.  Freshman linebacker Solomon Tentman from Roger Bacon was having a great August and was looking to make an impact on the Bearcat defense right away.

tentman.jpeg


That was until a serious knee injury robbed Tentman of his inaugural season.

Tentman is now back on the spring practice field, about eight months removed from incident. Early on, he's worn a green jersey, which indicates that he's being "worked back in gradually".

"They're just holding me off," Tentman said. "They just don't want me jumping right back in. I just have to take things slow right now. I'm getting back in the flow of everything."

Outside of the jersey color, the biggest difference in Tentman is that he no longer looks like an incoming freshman.  He's one of many Bearcats who have bulked up under strength coach Dave Lawson's watchful eye.

"I put on about 10 pounds," Tentman said. "I lost a lot after surgery (knee reconstruction) but I'm back about 230 right now."

Tentman, a three-year starter at Roger Bacon, figures he's put on a total of 15 pounds since changing from Spartan to Bearcat last summer.  Most of it appears to be muscle. He thinks he can eventually play at 245, which puts him in the (new) "Walter Stewart category".

The worst part of his injury is over...missing an entire season of football. Despite the difficulty, it was a learning procedure.

"It was the toughest thing by far, it wasn't fun," Tentman said. "Watching the other guys, watching JK (Schaffer) and Maalik (Bomar) play, I learned your eyes need to progress, you can't play slow, you've got to shift your eyes and play physical."

Tentman now looks forward to teaming at linebacker with Schaffer and Bomar, making it an all Tri-State trio (La Salle, Winton Woods and Roger Bacon). He thinks he can fit right in with the style of play mandated by the Bearcat staff.

 "Play physical and fast," Tentman said. "That's the thing the coaches always reiterate."

Playing fast is usually not a problem.  At UC's offensive pace, there's little time for the defense to exchange pleasantries with the opposition.

"The linemen climb on you fast," Tentman said. "You've got to be real physical. If you're not, you'll be blown off the ball for sure."

One gander at Solomon Tentman and it's hard to imagine him ever being blown off of anything.

While Tentman progressively mends, two new prep players have also caught the eye of Butch Jones.

"Dwight Jackson and Nick Temple--I couldn't be more ecstatic about these youngsters that graduated high school early and they're running with the 'twos' right now," Jones said.

Temple is from Indianapolis Warren Central, while Jackson is from Miami (FL) Central. Jackson has the workman-like quote of the spring among newcomers (which will wisely not be published).

When Tentman does return full-time, he'll be locking horns with these two youngsters for playing time as Coach Jones believes they will see the field.

"We have to, we have no depth," Jones said. "It's hard to say, but the way they're progressing they're going to play for us. Them being here for spring football means so much for their development."

It's always kind of a "fallback" comment to say, "The defense is ahead of the offense", but thus far that's been the case.

A quick review of last year's scores will show you that's not necessarily a bad thing.

A little groggy and a little foggy this morning, but nothing wakes me up better than a good, old fashioned season highlight video.

Here's the UC hoops season highlight from the banquet last night. My personal favorite play was in there, but only seen briefly. It was the Cashmere Wright diving steal against Rutgers which turned into a Rashad Bishop layup. I thought that play symbolized the spirit of this team and this season.

Oh, and I forgot how nasty the Dion Dixon dunk against Dayton was. In the words of Bill Walton, throw it down, big fella, throw it down.

Let's eat...

--- Classy move by UC splitting the Team MVP award seven ways among the six seniors as well as senior manager Scott Ratterman.

Without doubt, this senior class drove UC back to prominence and their leadership was evident all season. I know I made the argument for Bishop here yesterday, but this probably fits better for the theme of the season. This was all about team and when so many players contributed, it's difficult to pick only one.

Of course, Bishop did recieve the honor for best defensive player.

--- Mike DeCourcey places UC 18th in his preseason hoops Top 25, pointing out that 2011-12 was supposed to be this program's breakout year.

--- The seat selection process for games at Paul Brown Stadium has been announced by UCats. Check it out and act soon so you don't end up riding the long escalator of death like so many broken-hearted Bengals fans CBS shows at the end of every loss.

--- Dave Lawson talks about his strength and conditioning program the team endured over the last few months. Obvoiusly, with cases like Walter Stewart putting on 25-35 pounds and numerous others changing body shapes, it's working.

Almost every player I've interviewed this spring mentioned Lawson's program and how it's improved their game. The guy does phenomenal work.

--- Speaking of Stewart, his permanent move to D-line has been one of the hottest storylines of spring ball. Bill Koch takes his turn with this piece.

--- UC baseball game: $1 admission if you follow one simple step. Seriously, no better deal in town.

--- Some randomness...

--- Alec Baldwin says 30 Rock is ending next year. Love the show, but that's probably about right.

--- I showed you guys the new Hangover II trailer last week. Well, it was pulled from theaters for the nibbling of a promiscuous monkey. (BTW, Promiscuous Monkey, the less popular B-side of Nelly Furtado's hit Promiscuous Girl. Focus groups decided it didn't have a wide enough appeal)

--- Wait, so dogs can bark at us, but we can't bark at them? Frustrating.    

--- Justin Bieber is not a slumpbuster. (Calm down, it's not what you think)

--- I think we finally have an explanation for the illogical rise of Chris Berman.

After the Mick Cronin extension, most of the feedback was positive. For anybody who reads this blog -- or even read my past blogs at CNati -- knows, I've always been a proponent of Cronin as the coach of this team.

The job he's done here has been and likely will always be underrated. Not only for wins and losses or turning around a gutted program, but the cleaning up of off-court transgressions and academic standards.

Yet, after the extension was announced some negative feedback showed up on Facebook, Twitter and other outlets.

Maybe I'm too close to properly understand where people are coming from here, but what could the issue possibly be anymore? The guy beat Hall of Fame coaches, doing so with less talent for years, and when finally able to build the talent level back up, ended up in the upper half of the league.

Ask South Florida, Rutgers, DePaul, Providence and Seton Hall about the difficulty of that climb. 

Older players matured, younger players improved, UC returned to the NCAA tournament and is set up to make a deeper run next season. I heard some say we shouldn't be excited about an "average season." You know how many times since 1994 under Bob Huggins UC won more than one game in the NCAA tournament? Two (1996, 2001).

So, call this season where UC was still working on a rebuild "average" all you want, I'm not sure what you are comparing it to.

--- For some comparison, I would like to take a look at all the coaches from major conference schools that were hired five years ago along with Mick Cronin and analyze how they performed.

Coach/School                     OvrRecord  NCAAs  2011Record   Status          

Herb Sendek/Arizona St.            88-73         1           12-18         Coach

Mick Cronin/Cincinnati             87-76         1           26-9          Coach

Kelvin Sampson/Indiana              43-15         1            ---             Fired (NCAA violations)

Greg McDermott/Iowa State        59-68         0            ---             Fired (4 seasons)

Bob Huggins/Kansas State         23-12         0            ---             WVU

Andy Kennedy/Mississippi         105-64        0           20-14         Coach

Mike Anderson/Mizzou              111-57        3           23-11         Arkansas

Sidney Lowe/NC State               86-78          0          15-16         Fired (5 seasons)

Doc Sadler/Nebraska                 89-70          0          19-13         Coach

Jeff Capel/Oklahoma                  96-69          2          14-18         Fired

Sean Sutton/Oklahoma St.         39-29          0           ---             Resigned (2 seasons)

Fred Hill/Rutgers                        47-77         0            ---             Fired (4 seasons)

Bobby Gonzalez/Seton Hall        66-59          0           ---             Fired (4 seasons)

--- How do you feel about the hire now?

Of 13 major conference coaches hired in 2006:

FOUR are still coaching at the schools that hired them.

TWO were promoted or chose to leave (Huggins/Anderson). 

SEVEN were fired or resigned.

TWO have been to more NCAA tournaments than Cronin.

NONE had a better record at the school which hired them this season.

ONE was in the tournament with the team that hired them this season. That would Anderson at Missouri, which UC beat in the first round before the coach bolted for greener pastures.   

--- Take those numbers into further consideration. If you asked ANY college basketball expert which of these jobs offered the situation most conducive to winning at the time, likely all of them would place Cincinnati last on that list. You know the story, no scholarship players, living in the Big East, etc, etc.

--- Now, all of these coaches weren't fired/resigned for on-court reasons. There was text-happy Sampson, pressure-packed Sean Sutton and legitimately insane Bobby Gonzalez. But, guess what, as I believe most you know (or maybe you don't and that's why you have time to read this blog every day), getting along and working effectively with your bosses/surroundings represents a significant part of your job description.  

--- What did you desire when Cronin was hired? Winning? Loyalty? Playing by the rules? NCAA tournaments?

Find me a better combination of these among this group. You can't.

Now, please, please, please, stop any complaining about this extension. And if you hear somebody questioning it, forward them the link to this blog.

--- As AD Mike Thomas told Bill Koch in his piece from today's Enquirer, extending and giving a $350,000 raise to Cronin was the right thing to do.       

--- Moving on....The basketball banquet is tonight. I'll have a full report on who won what awards and who cleaned up the buffet in tomorrow's Breakfast.

The Oscar Robertson Award (Team MVP) may be a tough riddle to solve considering the depth and distribution of play this year, but I'd expect Rashad Bishop to walk way with the award. For a team built on defense, Bishop became the catalyst. Games like his 44-minute lockdown against Providence and Marshon Brooks, as well as offensive breakouts like he had against UConn in the tournament come to mind. Yet, his leadership and willingness to take the big shot, accept the big assignment, probably meant as much as any bucket or steal.

Imagine reading that last paragraph exactly one year ago.

Just a fantastic turnaround for Bishop.

--- Gary Parrish placed UC No. 18 for next season in his way-too-early Top 25.   

--- Tommy G spoke with RBs coach Jahmile Addae after practice Tuesday. Addae talked about Isaiah Pead in his senior year, Darrin Williams' return to health and instantly snapped off the name George Winn upon being asked about a player sticking out for significant improvement.

Don't forget, top recruit Jameel Poteat will add to the mix come June. It would be a serious upset if he didn't end up in the rotation somewhere next season.

--- Also, an interview with co-DC/LBs/Recruiting coordinator John Jancek. Some more talk about Dwight Jackson and Nick Temple adjusting to UC.

--- After spending some time out at spring practice yesterday, I can attest to a few facts:

The defense has made significant strides (story coming soon in that area).

The competition level is through the roof (or bubble, more fittingly) for spring ball.

--- Some chippiness broke out as the final scrimmage took place on Tuesday, both in extra-curricular fisticuffs in blocking on the outside and playfully taunting celebrations following the defense's victory. 

Regardless, it's clear the coaches have done a great job of creating a pressure-filled, competitive enviornment.  

"We want to compete and challenge each other within the team concept," Butch Jones said. "I like the competitive spirit. I like the intensity in practice. I like our leadership right now. I like our demeanor."

--- As Jahmile Addae and Tim Banks point out in this video on hitting and intensity from Butch Jones blog, the philosophy of the coaches is it's better to say "whoa, whoa, whoa" rather than "sic 'em, sic 'em, sic 'em." No doubt that's been the case this spring.

--- Favorite moment: After throwing an interception and watching a linebacker sprint toward the end zone with the pick, Zach Collaros, wearing the untouchable red jersey, grabbed a hold of the LB and slammed him to the ground out of bounds near the edge of the bubble.

I guess the red jersey doesn't work both ways.

--- On to some randomness....

--- Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins owns about 500 percent more fans than a week ago. They are mostly 18-24-year-old males. Another is Lil Wayne.

--- Do I want to know more about Jerry Seinfeld's sneakers from his show? Absolutely.

--- I love lists. And Iove mockumentaries. A list of the top 17 mockumentaries lobs a softball in my wheelhouse. Although, I think Best in Show would have been my No. 1.

--- To be honest, I enjoyed some Oasis, but this Onion headline still cracks me up.  

---  I'm a big fan of random, wierd comedy. But this serenading unicorn video with Sarah Silverman toes the line between wierd and dysfunctional.  

Brief Breakfast today since I'm headed out to practice this morning. But, we'd be remiss if we didn't discuss the news of the day, which is Mick Cronin's three-year extension that runs his contract at UC through 2017.

The length of these deals mean very little. Coaches sign these long-term extensions all the time and end up leaving only a few years later. Also, coaches with even 5-10 years left on deals have been given extensions/raises because of performance. Shoot, coaches have been let go with several years left on their contracts. So, to think this contract won't be touched until it expires in 2017 is crazy. However, the great news is, probably more than any other coach with a long-term deal such as the one Cronin signed, he's at the spot he wants to be.

He's said that since Day 1 and officially backed it up Monday. Just as important, UC showed a committment to Cronin and the basketball program everyone's desired since the day the coach was introduced -- or at least enough to Cronin's liking that he signed this deal.

Stability and positive momentum own this program right now. Those are two incredible attributes to possess.  

Of course, Bill Koch was all over this story and here's his synopsis of the extension and Mick's take. He also has the terms of the deal.

Let's eat...

--- Nothing moves forward faster than college football/basketball the day after a championship game. Time for the absurdly too early preseason polls. If you want to know how much stock to put in these, I'm pretty sure UConn and Butler were nowhere near these polls last year at this time.

That said, UC is ranked No. 13 in this one from Lost Lettermen. Being a Top 15 or 20 team preseason isn't a terrible concept to think about.

--- As for UConn, they finish the year undefeated on neutral courts while winning the Maui Invitational, Big East tournament and NCAA tournament. They win an unprecedented 11 games in 27 days, all but three against teams that spent March in the Top 25 -- and one of those was Butler. What else can you say? They were best team in basketball. Period.

--- The two best in the game met in Houston: ESPN's Dana O'Neil and UConn's Kemba Walker.

Love this graph in the lede of her column talking about how Walker cooked for his teammates all the team: And so to the litany of Kemba Walker's talents, we now can add chef. The player whose combination of will and skill hijacked college basketball's postseason apparently can mix up a mean batch of tacos and macaroni and cheese. 

--- Does it make you feel better that UC lost to the national champion? Does from my seat. Not only to feel like your team lost to the best in the tourney, but to see the Big East earn the elusive first title since expansion means quite a bit.

--- I don't think these statistics hold water considering the defense in championship games would be considerably better than the standard output during the season. That said, I'm intrigued by the concept that these football domes are part to blame for the poor shooting we have seen in national title games.

--- George H.W. Bush and Dennis Rodman. Just old buddies catching up, I'm sure.

--- Jim Nantz went with, "The Huskies are the top dog..." It's no "Simon Says: Championship!" on the cheese meter. I had my theoretical money on "Crown Kemba King."  

--- Of course, as promised One Shining Moment. UC was represented as they inserted Yancy Gates crying on the bench into the depressing portion of the song. I had a feeling that would happen, but you can't hate on CBS, Gates provided the definition of compelling television and the unfiltered emotion college basketball carries with it.

Anyway, here it is.

Battle back

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Cornerback Dominique Battle saw his season ended with a knee injury in September, but returned to practice this spring with a renewed sense of what playing football means to him.

 

CINCINNATI - Dominique Battle heard the phrase many times. Like so many clichés, it floated in one ear and out the other.

 

Until, during one unfortunate Saturday in September at Paul Brown Stadium, the cliché slammed him square in the left knee.

 

"You got to play every play like it is your last, for real," Battle said. "I hear a lot of people say it. I never quite understood it."

 

The cliché never made sense, because it never hit home for the soon-to-be-senior cornerback. A minor ankle sprain his sophomore season was the only physical setback to sideline him in two years of play.

 

A healthy, athletic body lifted him to the position where he started 12 of 13 games at corner the 2009 team that went a perfect 12-0 and played in the Sugar Bowl. He returned as one of the few returning pieces of a unit without a senior starter.

 

Then, in one instant he went from saving a touchdown on kickoff coverage to wondering when he'd be able to play again. Battle stood up limping after making the tackle and felt the pain inside the knee. He thought something was wrong. When he tried to cut and the knee didn't respond, he knew something was.

 

He arrived at the doctor days later expecting to hear he needed a few weeks away. The news didn't cooperate with his expectations. He tore his LCL and MCL. It would require surgery. The full rehab would take 6-9 months. His season was done.

 

"Going in I am thinking I am about to miss three games of the season," Battle said. "Then to find out you are having surgery and done for the year -- it really hurt."

 

The pain stung worse as Big East teams began lighting up the scoreboard. In conference games, UC allowed at least 27 points and gave up an average of 34.

 

Where the secondary needed an experienced starter to lean in during tough times, Battle could only lean on his crutches. 

 

"I was supposed to be the vet coming back," said Battle, whose starting spot was handed over to Cammeron Cheatham. "Cheat came in and took over, he progressed nicely during the season, now he is probably one of the best cover corners on the team. I was proud of them, but it was tough watching my team go out there every day."

 

Six months following his injury against Oklahoma, the first real taste of relief arrived for Battle. Hours upon hours of rehab finally delivered a reward.

 

When spring practice opened, Dominique Battle rejoined his teammates on the field. Battle hasn't been fully cleared yet. He still wears a knee brace and green jersey limiting his contact. But he's out there. That fact means more than ever before when the ability to cross the thick white line has been revoked.

 

"My motivation was treatment and getting in the weight room and getting back on this green," Battle said. "(Returning) felt good."

 

The good vibes flowed up to Butch Jones, who sees Battle's return adding to his favorite component of building a football program: Competition.

 

Battle jumps into the mix with a contingent of young players who developed while filling in for him. Cheatham, Reuben Johnson, Devan Drane and Adrian Witty, among others, fall into the mix for the starting spots.

 

"The experience he brings to the table is invaluable; also the overall competition that is going on in the back end is another piece to that puzzle," Jones said. "It elevates everyone else's game."

 

No starting spot is guaranteed for Battle, but considering the journey, being part of the game again became more than enough.

 

"The first practice was hyped," Battle said. "Eventually I'll get out of the green jersey. I am taking it slow right now."

RUN ON COACHES

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One thing about winning in college sports is that is makes schools that have underperformed look at other schools and declare war on their staff. Xavier just lost their women's basketball coach and the only thing I am left to conclude is that he couldn't do any better than he did with the wealth of talent he possessed. So to go to the Pacific Northwest and do what he did here would make him a saint and I guess that was the allure. Arkansas went after Mike Anderson who cut his teeth there but was initially content to stay at Missouri; but when they came back with something he couldn't turn down he left and with the blessings of his players.

So now word is other schools may be looking at Mick Cronin and some of his staff because of the 5 year job he has done with a program that was lower than a basement to start. They are thinking what could he do in 5 years with a program that has some stability and better facilities and/or the commitment to build them? I hope it's a question that never gets answered because UC might be wise, contrary to some public opinion, to secure his services at the going rate; or something close to it.

People get spoiled so quickly now they think what Mick did was no big deal because its been done and they're on to the next complaint. What I don't want to happen is another rebuilding period to set the school back yet again in the very competitive Big East aka Big Beast. While UConn is the only school left in the tournament, it is still the best basketball conference in the nation hands down. Any other team playing that schedule would truly understand.

So I know we are talking to Mick and I hope a deal would come sooner than later. In the world of coaching, money and length of contract speak volumes. Followed closely behind is the financial wherewithal to take care of your family. Selfishly, feeling appreciated is the trump card. I hope those who are inclined to decide the fate of UC basketball look at where we were when Mick arrived on campus and ask the obvious questions: Was it an easy job? NO and secondly did he get it done? YES

I think with those answers in tow, the negotiation process should happen rather quickly. What you do in these negotiations will set a precedent mid-court.

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

 

Enjoyed spending some time out at spring practice Saturday. UC moved out of the bubble for the first time this spring and into Nippert. In the sun, sitting in the bleachers was even tolerable.

The concept of being excited by plays made in scrimmages/practices always make me chuckle. Even when something good happens, it almost always means something bad happens.

For example, Chris Williams made a nice play stepping in front of a Munchie Legaux short crossing pass for a 60-yard interception return for a touchdown. Great play by Williams, but not the best decision by Legaux or the receiver who could have knocked the ball down (couldn't catch his number in the hubub).

Sophomore Arryn Chenault also grabbed a pick on an overthrown pass.  

"We did force some turnovers with some interceptions, but we got to take care of the ball at the receiver position, and at the quarterback position, but a lot of times too it stems up front with pressure," Butch Jones said. "I am excited because we have not fumbled the ball yet this spring, yet that is disappointing from a defensive standpoint as well. It's a double-edged sword. The thing you don't want to do is be sloppy. We haven't been sloppy to date and that is encouraging."

The defense dominated most of the day. Of course, once Zach Collaros stepped in under center (remember, he's the only QB wearing the untouchable red jersey) the big play occured with a 40-yard crossing pass that went for a touchdown.

Elsewhere, kickers Danny Milligan (St. X) and Tony Miliano (Elder) were thrown into some tough spots in their GCL competition. Both had attempts from at least 47 yards out. Both had a miss, with Milligan converting the final kick of the day.

As for where the competition stands, well, it's a work in progress with what sounds like reinforcements on the way in June, according to Jones.

"Tony and Danny are extremely competitive," Jones said. "We put them in some difficult situations with some longer field goals and wind conditions and all those things. That's kicking."

 

If you'd like more analysis from Jones, here is an in depth interview on those topics plus some others here with Tommy G from the end of practice Saturday.

Of course, you should all be visiting Spring Football Central for all the specifics and updates from each day of practice. If you're not, well, I'm not mad, just disappointed.

Let's eat..

--- This is from Friday, but didn't get an opportunity to post it in the Breakfast. If you are reading this blog, you care at least a little about UC athletics. And if you care at all about UC athletics, you must read this Q and A wiith Mike Thomas by BearcatLair. Stop now. Click link. Read. Return.

--- Butch Jones talked glowingly about the five freshmen early enrollees, but specifically pointed out linebackers Nick Temple and Dwight Jackson. He says they are currently running with the second team. Considering the lack of depth at the position (exascerbated with Walter Stewart's move to DE), their contribution will be a necesity.

"I couldn't be more ecstatic or excited about these two youngsters that came in," Jones said. "We are throwing a lot at them and they are handling it quite well. We have no depth at that position. The way they are progressing, they are going to have to play for us next year. Them being here for spring football means so much to their development."

 

--- I've got an update story with CB Dominique Battle in the hopper. Battle was supposed to be the veteran holding down the young secondary last year. When he tore up his knee, the pressure become overwhleming for the cast of kids.

Battle's wearing the green shirt right now, but is playing and expects to be full strength this summer.

Keep an eye out for that posted soon.

--- Scott Springer pointed out some possible impact Cats and focuses on Kenbrell Thompkins and Walter Stewart.  

--- Can't help but think about UConn being in the national title game and how close UC was in that game. The margin between good and legendary seasons is much thinner than you think.   

--- If you're interested in a little blast from the past, Andy Kennedy and Bob Huggins sat down on WVU Illustrated for about seven minutes and shared stories with some UC talk. Also, Frank Martin stopped by with a great story about scouting the Kentucky NCAA tournament game where Rajon Rondo dropped bombs from the outside. (BTW, Martin should be No. 1 candidate at the U of Miami open).

--- On the outskirts of things UC is concerned about, Dayton hired Archie Miller (Sean's younger brother) as head coach. He's only 32 and been a top assistant under his brother, Thad Matta and Herb Sendek. UD obviously in search of the next Brad Stevens, or next Sean Miller, for that matter. Or really anybody who could beat Xavier in Cincinnati.

--- I'll be at spring practice tomorrow and have some more then, if you have any questions or players you would like to hear more from feel free to send an email to me (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com) or hit me up on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr).

Some randomness...

--- In what will be the first time anybody ever says this, Charlie Sheen should have learned from The Situation.

--- Not sure how anybody could argue Zack Morris had a better high school athletics career than AC Slater at Bayside. It's proposterous. Slater was a state wrestling champion. Zack's cross country career doesn't compete. These are the facts.

--- Why did Carmelo Anthony want to join the Knicks? Because his team can lose 9 of 10 games and he'll still be asked to come on SNL. For the record, I would have paid more to attend the afterparty than the taping.  

--- If you read this blog regularly, you're aware of my love for One Shining Moment. We get to see the 2011 version tonight. It will be the main reason I watch the game. Here's a poll asking what you will do when you watch the song (Luther Vandross version this year, people! Win!) You will see it here tomorrow. 

IMPACT 'CATS

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When you've covered spring football practices for 17 straight years, you learn how to pick out a player fairly quick.

It's not from the jersey number (as those mysteriously switch practice to practice sometimes). It's usually one sudden move that differentiates the person from someone else.

It's the extra gear, the extra effort, the higher leap, or anything in the category of, "Wow!"

This year there's a number of those players in and around that category. Some have been here, some are recent or new, If you want a couple that weren't on the practice field a year ago, I give you Travis Kelce (TE) and incoming receiver Shaq Washington (former high school quarterback).

The two I've selected both practiced a year ago, but only one played.

A difference-maker on offense for this year's 'Cats will be receiver Kenbrell Thompkins. On defense, it's a guy many of us have been "chatting up" for years in lineman Walter Stewart.

Starting with Thompkins, he's the kid who transferred from Tennessee after their VOLuminous issues in the football program. A year ago, it was believed the Bearcats could have had starting wide-outs that transferred from storied programs, USC (Hazelton) and ex-"Rocky Topper" Thompkins.

As it was, UC fans saw a total of one game from Hazelton of that tandem (the Fresno State loss where he tore his ACL).

That's why the Bearcat staff is trying to be extra careful with this year's prized receiving jewel Thompkins.

"The big thing for him is him taking care of his body and being healthy through a 13-game season," coach Butch Jones said.

That said, as much as the coach would like to "play it down", the anticipation and excitement surrounding "KT" has many looking forward to seeing No. 2 run for "six".

"I think both of us are," Jones said. "He's a young man that's paid his dues. Now, there's light at the end of the tunnel. Now, it's for real. Last year, it was up in the air whether he would play or not. Now, he knows he's playing."

While not knowing the offense in depth, Thompkins still turned heads last year with his knack of finding the ball and doing something with it once it was in hand. Unfortunately, even though Lane Kiffin was allowed to move from Tennessee to USC and coach right away, players that opted for the same treatment weren't.

Thompkins had to bide his time as a practice player.

"I kind of learned from the veterans," Thompkins said. "Vidal Hazelton went through the same situation, He told me the year would go by fast, be patient and my time will come."

He also learned from Hazelton how quick a season can be cut short. Though one can never guard against a quirky injury on a kick-off return (like Hazelton's) Thompkins is doing all he can to keep his valuable legs on the field.

"I just have to get in the training room, get in the ice tub," Thompkins said. "Treat my body right and hopefully, I'll have a good season."

Though college football coaches tend not to want to "show their hand", Butch Jones is well aware of what the speedy Thompkins can accomplish. He has all the tools to become a "go to" guy much like Mardy Gilyard and Armon Binns were.

"I think he's one of those individuals," Jones said after a recent practice. "Some others have to step up like DJ Woods and Travis Kelce and Adrien Robinson. OJ Woodard and Anthony McClung did some good things. And, I'm excited about Shaq Washington. He's everything right now that we thought he would be."

While all of those players Coach Jones mentioned have admirable talents and are potential big playmakers, it's Thompkins that stands out with circus catches and separation.

Separation is probably a receiver's best talent.  They separate from the defender before the catch and the good ones separate AFTER the catch.

Thompkins does both and feels he can't be caught.

"I don't think so," Thompkins said with confidence. "I just try to score every time I get the ball. Whether it's a hitch or a slant, I just try to get to the endzone as fast as I can."

In the bubble or at Nippert Stadium, Thompkins can make plays. Like a "gym rat", he's honed his skills with quarterback Zach Collaros thanks to the new facility.
kt.jpeg

"Zach and I have a good chemistry," Thompkins said. "During the winter workouts we had a great run that will hopefully roll over into the season. We would get the keys (to the Sheakley Athletic Complex) and come and get our extra workout in by ourselves sometimes."

Also getting in extra workouts for the Bearcats this past winter was Walter Stewart.

Many of us have sung the praises of Walter Stewart for some time, but this season the once-gangly kid from Teays Valley High School in Asheville, Ohio looks like a full-fledged "enforcer".

That's good as he's been moved to the defensive line full time.  No more "hybrid", no more linebacker. Much like other Bearcats that came in with a similar build and went on to the NFL (Andre Frazier, Antwan Peek) Stewart looks like a "Combine" athlete.

"Coach (Dave) Lawson's had us in there moving the weight around," Stewart said. "I had to get my weight up".

That weight a few years ago was maybe 190.  That was some 60 pounds and four years ago.

"I could've easily been a safety when I came in," Stewart said. "I was tall and skinny. I was recruited as a D-lineman, so I knew I was going to have to gain weight regardless."

60 pounds on most of us over that span would have us looking for elastic waist pants or wearing the baggy sweats that appear so popular in Tri-State buffet lines.

There's no flab or multiple chins involved with Stewart.
walter stewart.jpeg

"I put on about 15-20 pounds this offseason to get to about 250," Stewart said. "I plan on playing around 255-260. I feel good, If anything, I feel a little more explosive because I've got a little more power behind me."

Big East quarterbacks, consider this fair warning.  No longer is Stewart the occasional pass-rusher.  As of now, he has a Bearcat GPS focused on the signal-caller across from him.

"I'm excited to be back on the defensive line full-time now," Stewart said. "It's a little bit easier to master those techniques. It's more of an every down thing and I can get in a groove."

An added extra, is Stewart gets two more years to work at this position.  Thanks to a wise redshirt choice.  Stewart will only get bigger and better as he's only a junior.

By then, you can see him as an attractive NFL option, much like the guy that was working out indoors on the day of this interview, Connor Barwin of the Houston Texans.

Fortunately, because of the rise of Bearcat football, Stewart has many brains to pick in order to reach his ultimate goal.  He already has someone he'd like to emulate in "the league". It's someone who has a similar build and has done wonders with it.

"I have a lot of favorites," Stewart said. "I like Julius Peppers just because he does more than get sacks. He's down the field tackling and getting interceptions and stuff like that."

Offensively with Thompkins and defensively with Stewart, these are guys to watch for the next couple of years.  They've done the work and now they hope to reap the rewards.

"I'm just excited to catch up in terms of development with my body," Stewart said. "I was fortunate enough to play as a sophomore, but I was still under-sized. I'm just glad I'm up to par with everyone else out there. I'm excited to see what I can do out there."

So are many faithful Bearcat fans.





Yeah, that was fun. For all those who watched or attended Opening Day, I hope you took some time to soak in the moment, because there won't be many better than that.

It was just a great day to be in Cincinnati.

By the way, listening to Kerry Coombs talk about what makes Cincinnati and Opening Day great could be one of the coolest things you do today.  

Let's eat...

--- Loved Darnell Wilks rocking the UC throwback at the slam dunk contest last night. Also loved the show he put on. Wilks went pogo stick hops on his three dunks.

Here was dunk No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 thanks the good guys at BearcatLair.

Personally, I'll vote No.1 the best dunk on hangtime alone. Half Man, Half Amazing, indeed. Love to know how many followers @SilkyWilks15 gained after posting his Twitter address on the backboard. He's got crazy hops and marketing skills! 

All that said, Jacob Tucker stole the show. The kid is 5-10. Those are some unreal dunks for a kid whose almost eye to eye with Mick Cronin.

--- Spring practice still going in the bubble. Tommy G has you covered at Spring Practice Central. He chatted with DL coach Steve Selleck, er, Stripling. Legend status on that stache. And the guy can coach some defensive line. If he gets the same development this year he did last year from guys like Brandon Mills and Dan Giordano, this could be a formidable force up front.

Stripling also talked more about the development of Walter Stewart. The underrated aspect of his position and body change is he will be working every day with Stripling. Having the continuity of the same coach and constantly drilling the same position can expedite his progress.

--- I had this story on Alex Hoffman earlier in the week. Tommy G spoke with the senior lineman Thursday. More good stuff from Alex.

--- For those of you watching all these UC videos, I know you are now DVRing Swamp People. Don't be ashamed.

--- Brian Bennett put odds down on who would be the Big East Offensive Player of the Year and UC had two in the running:

Geno Smith: 3 to 1
Zach Collaros: 4 to 1
Ray Graham: 6 to 1
Isaiah Pead: 8 to 1
B.J. Daniels: 10 to 1
The field: 15 to 1

--- Good stuff from the UC baseball team visiting Walter Camp Army Medical Center. Everyone wants to focus on the negative aspects of college athletics, but stuff like this happens all the time with no recognition. Wish that wasn't the case, but understand the reality.

I'll at least do my little part here.    

--- On to some randomness...

--- Pete Rose knocked out more hits than any player in MLB history. And now, he juggles! (Seriously, what is this circus jacket? Did he lose a bet? Too soon?) 

--- 25 best baseball mullets. Incredible plumage. Unfortunatley, no skullets -- one of my favorite species of mullet.

--- The Hangover II trailer has me concerned this will be a huge letdown.

--- Poking fun at the Chicago Cubs is a tradition unlike any other.

--- However, the Cubs fan did deliver this gem.

--- Chris Rock is still the best stand-up out there. I enjoy listening to him talk about anything. I love listening to him make fun of the Mets.