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Bearcats search for new offensive identity

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With Isaiah Pead and Zach Collaros gone, the players who Butch Jones distributes the ball to in key situations must change. The Bearcats search for an offensive identity dominates every snap at Higher Ground.

WEST HARRISON, Ind. - There were few secrets surrounding the 2011 Cincinnati Bearcats offense. Isaiah Pead will touch the ball. He will touch it a lot. You probably won't stop him. When Pead doesn't touch the ball, Zach Collaros will pick apart the defense at a better than 60 percent completion clip and run for the most important yards.

Collaros and Pead are now gone.

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Questions remain in their wake. Who will earn those critical snaps? What will be the identity of this offense.

With so many new faces holding important positions, only the Bearcats coaches truly know how they envision this offense looking Sept. 6 against Pitt.

What do we know? It will look much different.

"Our goal going into spring was to identify those guys whose hands we need to get the ball into," offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said. "We had an inclination, but when the lights go on those guys need to step up and make plays. It is ever-evolving. Guys are stepping up. Some guys are a surprise, for sure."

The unknowns and parity of playmakers will likely give this offense a different feel than in previous seasons. From the rotation of running backs to the depth at receivers, touches will be more spread out than in any at UC under Butch Jones.

Last season, Isaiah Pead touched the ball on 31 percent of snaps. Of the non-quarterbacks, no other player touched the ball more than six percent.

As far as receptions go, the passes were distributed relatively evenly between the combination of Anthony McClung, Kenbrell Thompkins, D.J. Woods and Pead.

Catch distribution 2011:

Pead: 17.5%

McClung: 22.0%

Thompkins: 20.0%

Woods: 16.6%

Chisum: 8.5%

The options far outweighed what occurred in 2010 when Armon Binns and Woods dominated the passing game. UC went from four players touching the ball at least 16 percent of the time to only two catching it better than 11 percent of the time.

Catch distribution 2010:

Pead: 10.4%

Binns: 29.9%

Woods: 22.7%

Barnett: 10.0%

Guidugli: 9.6%

McClung: 8.8%

The 2011 model fits better with what Bajakian and Jones prefer. Their philosophy depends on depth. A threat at every corner of the field creates the ideal scenario. As great as Binns and Woods were and as much as they deserved the touches, spreading out the options made the offense much more prolific in 2011.

"The key is to identify the playmakers, to figure out how to get them the ball," Bajakian said, "but at the same time give the quarterback the ability to distribute the ball with what the defense is giving them."

What will that mean for 2012? Without Pead, the ability to distribute still exists. In fact, it would be fair to expect no one non-quarterback to touch the ball on more than 15 percent of the snaps. Indeed, this year could be a power in numbers. Much of distribution will come down to quarterback - at this point Munchie Legaux. He understands how much the identity forms during these two-plus weeks at Higher Ground.

The exciting element of this season in Clifton will be amount of unknown to be unveiled. This will be the first glimpse at the new future of Bearcats football. This will be a clearer focus of the Jones vision. By all accounts, the vision will attack from a variety of angles.

"That's what we at camp for right now to see who is going to be the game-changer for those games," he said. "Who is going to make the plays Isaiah Pead made? We are not just relying on one person to make those plays we are relying on the whole offense. From the receivers to the running backs from tight ends also."



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