April 2014 Archives

Annen Sprinting Toward NFL Shot

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Who is the fastest tight end in this year's NFL draft?

Would you believe UC's Blake Annen?

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The 6'4", 247 pounder is not even among the 29 TE prospects listed in the USA Today's NFL Draft guide, but after running the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds at UC's pro day, the former Bearcat is definitely attracting interest from NFL teams.

"There's a difference sometimes between playing speed and timed speed," an NFL scout told me.  "As a receiving tight end, the question will be, 'Can he play to that timed speed?'  He hasn't always done that on tape.  But now you know he's capable of it so that's intriguing."

"That obviously opened everybody's eyes," said UC head coach Tommy Tuberville.  "He's a little undersized but there are not a lot of tight ends out there like him.  He's physical, he can block, and you can also flex him out and play him as a receiver.  He did great in almost everything that he did as his pro day so his stock went up.  I'm excited for him."

Annen showed good speed on a 49-yard grab against Northwestern State last year and a 41-yard touchdown catch vs UConn.  Still, despite seeing nearly every game he played at UC, I'll admit to being a bit stunned when I saw his 40-yard dash time. 

But teammate and fellow NFL hopeful Brendon Kay says he was not surprised.

"Not at all because I was training with him for two months so I would have been surprised if he didn't," said Kay.

OK, so he's fast.  But 4.41?  That's faster than the 4.43 posted by top wide receiver prospect Sammy Watkins of Clemson at the NFL Scouting Combine.  I asked Annen how he did it.

"I've heard that question a lot," Blake said with a laugh.  "Part of it was training and being around nutritionists more and learning different ways to take care of your body."

Annen finished last season with 16 catches for 183 yards and 2 touchdowns (you can listen to his first TD catch here).  But his stats suffered when the Bearcats changed their offense following a loss at USF in the fifth game of the season.  For the rest of the year, UC emphasized a 4-wide receiver attack with limited use of the tight end.

"I think it was a great decision by the coaching staff and we won nine games which is nothing to complain about," said Annen.  "Obviously you want to contribute as much as you can, and that means finding ways to be a team player.  If that means catching 100 balls then I do.  If that means making 100 blocks, then I make 100 blocks.  When you win nine games you can't complain about it."

"He was a team player and he was a professional about it," said Kay.  "My hat's off to him.  I'm close to Blake - we've spent a lot of time training together - and we've been tight for the last five years.  It was definitely tough for him when we made that change and he didn't get many opportunities.  I still think he made the most of the opportunities that he had.  He can do it all - he can run, he can catch, and he can block.  He has a bright future."     

Annen recently had a private workout with the Philadelphia Eagles and last week, took part in the Bengals' annual workout for draft-eligible players from area colleges and high schools.  If he is not selected in the late rounds of the draft, Blake stands a good chance of winding up in an NFL training camp as an undrafted free agent.

"That's the goal and all I need is a shot," Annen told me.  "Obviously if that comes on draft day I would be ecstatic, but just being able to have an opportunity is more than a lot of people can say.  If you do get that opportunity, it all comes down to what you do with it."

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Tommy Tuberville Talks about The Masters

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As the nation's sports focus turns to Augusta, Georgia and The Masters for a week, many people don't realize that Tommy Tuberville played college golf in addition to football. 

With numerous Bearcat football lettermen in town April 11 for the annual Letterman's Golf Outing, Tuberville can talk about some of the legendary holes he's played before.  Among those, is the famous (or infamous) Amen Corner at Augusta National.


Gunner Comes Out Firing In Bearcats Spring Game

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The Bearcats annual spring game began with an 8-yard pass from Gunner Kiel to Mekale McKay.  Followed by a 7-yard strike to Max Morrison.  Then a 47-yard bomb to Chris Moore.  And then another 15-yard bullet to Moore.

Four plays, four passes, and four completions for 77 yards.  Not a bad way for Gunner Kiel to make his unofficial Bearcats debut in front of roughly 5,400 fans at Paul Brown Stadium.

"A lot of people kind of bash me and hadn't really seen me play," said Kiel.  "I haven't played in three years.  So to come out here and silence the critics is definitely one thing that I wanted to do."

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The bashing resulted from Kiel's struggle to choose a college as one of the nation's most heavily-recruited high school quarterbacks.  Gunner changed his mind after verbal commitments to Indiana and LSU and eventually enrolled at Notre Dame.  After a redshirt season with the Fighting Irish, he transferred to Cincinnati last spring.

"I know what I did some people say was dumb - and I agree with them 100% -- but that doesn't change the person that I am," said Kiel.  "I'm a good person and I'm going to do what's right.  I'm going to be a good teammate and I'm going to come out here and work my hardest."

His hard work appears to be paying off.

Kiel played only the first half of Saturday's scrimmage and directed the first team offense to three touchdowns and one field goal on six drives against the first team defense.  He finished 17-for-22 for 300 yards, with one touchdown run and one interception.    

"That's amazing and this probably wasn't even his best practice," said wide receiver Shaq Washington. 

"Gunner's got a quick release, he understands football, and he's usually going to throw it to the right guy," said head coach Tommy Tuberville.  "The problem that he's had this spring is that he's had 'happy feet' because we have had three starting offensive lineman out."

That was a factor last Sunday in a scrimmage that was dominated by the defense.  Kiel was 9-for-20 for 44 yards and Tuberville did not pull any punches afterward.

"Offensively, we looked as bad as I've ever seen." he told reporters.

"To hear your head coach make comments like that sets a fire under your butt," said Kiel.

So the sophomore quarterback was determined to end spring practice on a positive note.

"I treated it just like a game," said Kiel.  "Last night I watched tape, I went over our plays, I went over the protections and coverages, and I treated it just like a regular game.  I woke up early and had breakfast, and came out with a chip on my shoulder to get better and play hard."

"There were a lot of questions marks at quarterback after last week," said Tuberville.  "The big thing about college is being consistent.  We haven't been very consistent this spring.  The defense won most of the time during the spring, but today the defense didn't win.  The offense came out with a different frame of mind and played a lot better.

"I can sleep a little bit better now.  Last week we were just awful on offense, but today we threw it and caught it well." 

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Tuberville will not name a starting quarterback until fall camp, saying that Jarred Evans will compete for the job and possibly Munchie Legaux as he continues to rehab from the gruesome knee injury he suffered last year vs. Illinois.

But Kiel appears to be the man to beat.

"Obviously Gunner looked really, really good today," said Tuberville.   

"I got the 'ones' reps, but I am not the number one quarterback right now," said Kiel.  "That doesn't mean anything.  You still have to come out each day and work hard and compete and do your best.  At the end of the day, the coaches are going to make their decision and I understand that, but I'm going to do whatever I can to get the team's respect, and learn as much as I possibly can because I know that I have to learn more and accomplish more.  The sky is the limit and we'll see what happens."

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Cincinnati's associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator Robert Prunty has been named the Recruiter of the Year in his conference in each of the last four seasons by Scout.com.

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"Robert Prunty is one of the best recruiters in the country," said head coach Tommy Tuberville.  "If you look at our (signing day) list this year, he probably had something to do with half of them.  He has that gift. 

"He's outgoing - he's never met a stranger.  That's what it's all about.  You have to be able to turn it on in any environment and he does a great job in the home and with parents.  He understands the need for recruiting 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  There's not a day that goes by where he doesn't do something in recruiting." 

But the key to Prunty's recruiting pitch isn't his mouth, it's his ears.

"Listening," Robert answered when I asked what makes him a good recruiter.  "I was reading an article about a month ago about psychiatrists and how much money they were making, and one of them said, 'Basically I just sit there and listen to people's problems.'  I think when you're dealing with teenagers and young men; they just want somebody to listen to them.  They're so used to people telling them everything that I form a bond by simply listening to them.

"My mother had 10 kids and my father died when I was 10 years old.  I'll never forget when I was about 15, my mother said, 'You know what?  I'm just going to listen to what you have to say.'  So that came from my mother."

Prunty's ability to bond with young people was honed during his eight years as head coach at Hargrave Military Academy where many of his players originally signed with Division 1 schools before needing a year of prep school to improve their grades.

The job required Robert to be more than a football coach.

"Educator...father...preacher...mentor...psychiatrist," said Prunty.  "Remember, everybody that came there had a problem because they didn't qualify.  So they were all sad and depressed and we had to try to build them back up."

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At Hargrave, Prunty coached 27 players that made it to the NFL including Pro Bowlers Ahmad Brooks, Brandon Flowers, and Jay Ratliff.

"At one point, they did an article where the players who had played at Hargrave were making close to $400 million dollars," said Prunty. 

Tuberville got to know Robert while recruiting players at Hargrave and offered him an opportunity at the college level when he became the head coach at Texas Tech in 2010.

"There were a lot of big-shot coaches that had a chance to hire him, but he was from a prep school and they didn't give him a chance," said Tuberville.

"For Coach Tuberville to give me a job when I was at Hargrave - I'm just thankful to God," said Prunty.  "My brother and sister go to factories 12 hours a day and I get to coach football.  I grew up in an industrial area where people worked hard, so I'm driven by the fact that I get to coach football and I love it."

Prunty's loyalty to Tuberville is a key reason why he has turned down some lucrative opportunities.

"I just had an offer last week from an NFL team as a defensive assistant and I had about five offers before that, but Coach Tuberville gave me a shot when nobody else would and I like Cincinnati," Robert told me.  "I like the people here, my wife likes it here, my kids go to a great school, and that has a lot to do with it.  I'm just thankful."

"He's been offered all over the country but he's been loyal and he wants to stay," said Tuberville.

In addition to his recruiting ability, Prunty is the Bearcats co-defensive coordinator and coaches the defensive line.

"Coach Prunty is a helluva guy," said junior Silverberry Mouhon.  "He demands so much of us because he brings energy every day at practice.  You never see a day where he's down or moping."  

"He's tough on them," said Tuberville.  "He's hard-nosed, he's disciplined - he's one of those guys that understands how to get it out of guys that maybe did not know how to give 100% effort. 

"He was a good coach when we got him, but he's a much better coach now because works at it like he does in recruiting.  He wants to learn, he wants to get better, he doesn't stay the same, he studies, he goes to other colleges, he goes to high schools, he spends a lot of time with the Bengals, and he's as good of a coach as he is a recruiter.  I'm just excited about him being on our staff and being a good friend."

"Everybody has respect for him - from the defensive line to the offense," said Mouhon.  "He works hard for us and that makes you want to work that much harder for him because he gives us his all."

"Growing up with no father and my momma raising 10 kids, all I know is hard work," said Prunty.  "That's all I know.  There's no substitute."

That work ethic helps explain his four year streak of being named Recruiter of the Year in the Big 12 (twice), Big East, and AAC. 

What does that recognition mean to Prunty? 

"It means that I have to try to win it again this year," he said. 

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

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Catching up with Deyshawn Bond

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The University of Cincinnati offensive line has the luxury of an experienced center who is only a sophomore.  Deyshawn Bond out of Warren Central High School in Indianapolis could potentially be a four-year starter; a rarity on a Division I offensive line.

When senior Dan Sprague went down prior to the start of the season, Bond stepped in and played the majority of the season until tweaking an ankle late in the year.  The 6-foot-2, 287 pounder was originally a high school guard, but was a quick study at center once arriving at UC.

Catching up with Offensive Coordinator Eddie Gran

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Back for a second year, University of Cincinnati Eddie Gran is revving up the Bearcat offense even more. When Munchie Legaux was injured last year and Brendon Kay stepped in, the offense eventually reverted to what Kay was familiar with, the hurry-up.

Based on that success, the hurry-up is trying to hurry even more for 2014 with the likes of Gunner Kiel, Jarred Evans, Michael Colosimo, Hayden Moore and possibly Leagaux again (he's thrown some in practice).

Coupled with outstanding receivers and running backs in better condition, the Bearcats could be full throttle by September's opener.

Gran himself works quick, I had to chase him down outside of the Sheakley Athletics Center by the Bearcat statue on this day.