UC senior linebacker JK Schaffer knew what was coming when reporters approached him at Big East Media Day in
"I expect to hear, 'What are you guys going to do to not give up so many points?'" Schaffer said.
"We can't just be older - we have to be better," said head coach Butch Jones.
Having experienced players back should obviously help, but Schaffer says having the entire defensive coaching staff back is just as significant.
"This is the first time since I've been here that we've run the same defense two years in a row," Schaffer told me. "In camp, we're going to be able to focus on the little things instead of learning a new defense."
"It's critical," said Coach Jones. "We could go into our meeting rooms this spring and pick up where we left off because we had a knowledge base. The mental part of it is so big."
When the Bearcats hold their first practice on Monday afternoon, Schaffer expects there to be far less confusion than a year ago.
"Sometimes you would be like, 'Hold on...is that the new defense or the old one?' Schaffer said. "You would get a little confused when you were out there on the field. That didn't happen during the games, but it did during fall camp. If that is happening a few weeks before the season begins, you're in trouble. This year, I get to spend a camp focusing on the fine details instead of learning new lingo, new signals, and new schemes."
One player to keep on eye on in pre-season camp is junior Walter Stewart who dropped from 4.5 sacks in a part-time role as a redshirt freshman to 2 sacks while starting as a sophomore. After playing outside linebacker last year, Stewart is moving to defensive end in 2011.
"Walter Stewart has added 38 pounds and he's going to be a force," said Coach Jones. "We didn't have much of an edge presence last year and I think he is going to help us in that area."
There are obviously going to be skeptics until the Bearcat defense proves that it is improved in 2011. With first team All-Big East quarterback Zach Collaros and second team All-Big East running back Isaiah Pead back to lead the offense, doubts about the defense were clearly a big reason why Cincinnati was picked to finish 5th in the Big East.
"Bring it," said Schaffer. "I love being the underdog and underrated. The driving force behind my whole life is going out and proving people wrong, so I wouldn't want it any other way."
"We're hungry and excited to get things started and if we put our heads down and focus on the bull's eye every day, we'll like our body of work by the end of the season," Jones said.
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By now, I'm guessing that most of you know that I'm headed back to
There is no truth to the rumor that I was traded from New England to
One of the best things about the new opportunity is that it will allow me to continue broadcasting UC football and basketball. It looks like I will miss one Bearcat football game (Akron), but the schedules line up favorably and I'm extremely grateful to UC Athletic Director Mike Thomas, WLW President Chuck Fredrick, and WLW VP of Sports Marketing Joe Fredrick for allowing me to remain with the Bearcats while broadcasting NFL games.
It's going to be crazy at times, but in the words of Jets linebacker Bart Scott: Can't Wait!
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