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Off into the sunset

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The final year of the Cincinnati Post was one of the toughest years of my life.

 

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't stop thinking about what jobs I would have to work to make ends meet. You know, since my journalism career was about to come to an end. The garbage truck would rumble by the house at 7 a.m., and I thought to myself, "Well, I guess I could be a garbage man." The restaurant server would refill our water glasses, and I thought to myself, "Well, I guess I could be a waiter again."

 

The guy who gets your coffee, I could do that. The guy who paints lines on the streets, I could do that. The guy who cleans the roadkill off those freshly-lined roads, I could do that.

 

The paranoia and insecurity got to be ridiculous. I remember taking a trip to New York City to cover a Xavier-Fordham basketball game, and as former Enquirer reporter Dustin Dow and I walked back to the hotel at 1 a.m., I thought about my new career path and how sad I was that my sports writing career could be cut short after just six years. Meanwhile, I pointed out all my new potential occupations (pan-handling seemed like a decent jumping-off point).

 

But I got lucky on two different occasions. First, a few days after the Post officially closed on Dec. 31, 2007, Todd "T-Bone" Cunningham, formerly of Bearcat Lair, e-mailed and asked me to work with him. I did. Then, after Todd and I parted ways, UC associate AD Mike Waddell and John Mason - the VP and GM of Cincinnati's IMG outfit - set up a meeting and told me their plans to remake gobearcats.com.

 

Turn it into a place where UC fans, wanting the latest news and features and interviews, could click and feel satisfied afterward. I accepted their offer, and two years later, I feel like we've begun to accomplish those goals. Surely, there have been some missteps along the way, and the web site isn't exactly the finished product we all hope it can be. But it's got the potential. It's got people behind the scenes who really care about making gobearcats.com your one-stop shop for all things UC. It could and will happen.

 

Unfortunately, I won't be along for the ride as they continue the journey. Today, on June 14, I'm starting work for CBSSports.com as an NFL blogger. Then, in late August, I'll be moving to Atlanta with my wife and twin babies so she can begin a fellowship in forensic psychiatry. We'll be there for a year, and then, most probably, we'll move on somewhere else.

 

Likewise, gobearcats.com will get a fresh new voice to cover football and men's basketball. I know who it is, but I'll let UC make that announcement. I will say, though, that my successor will do a fantastic job. That should be exciting for gobearcats.com readers - of which I will remain.

 

I've lived in Cincinnati for six years, and the city has really grown on me since moving here from the south. I've ingested it into my soul, and there it will stay for the rest of my life. This was the first city in which I actually lived with my wife. Where I bought a home. Where I learned so many lessons of life - good and bad. Where I wrote a book. Where I fathered two amazing little babies. Where I've made some of the best friends ever.

 

Where we're extremely sad to leave.

 

The other night, my wife went out to dinner with some colleagues, and she got to talking with one of her preceptors, a big UC fan. He talked to her about how much he loved Bearcats Rising and how often he checked the blog. My wife - as Bill Koch might say - is rarely impressed by anything Josh Katzowitz-related, and it always knocks her off her game just a bit when somebody recognizes me out in the real world.

 

She came home from the dinner, though, and she was beaming. She thought, for just a minute, that I was pretty cool. Either that, or Bearcats fans who follow me on Twitter should be doing something more important with their lives. I'd like to think it was the former.

 

That said, those are the kind of fans - those who like what I write and how I write it, and those who aren't nearly as impressed - who have made it a pleasure to cover UC these past few years. From Jamual Warren fantasizing about walking off a bridge to Mardy Gilyard describing his car-as-a-home arrangement; from Ron Allen hitting that 3-pointer on Senior Night to Tony Pike's reaction after he found out the Bearcats would play Florida in the Sugar Bowl, I've got to experience - and write about - some of the highest highs and some of the lowest lows.

 

I've got a list of people to thank for allowing me to do that.

 

For T-Bone, I'll always be grateful for keeping me from having to fill out the garbage man application. For Waddell and Mason, I appreciate the chance to contribute to the start of something that could - and will - be really cool. For Jeremy Martin, Mike Harris, Ryan Koslen, Lara Thornton and John Berry of the SID department, I appreciate all the help and support you've given to all the media folks in this town and the friendships we've formed (over sporcle.com, no less). But most of all, I thank the fans of my blogs past and present - the Post blog, the BCL blog and the Katz on the Cats blog.

 

You guys have been great and encouraging, and I appreciate all the positive (and negative) feedback you've given me during the past three years. I thank you for supporting Bearcats Rising. I thank you for stopping me at football games or tracking me down at basketball games just to make small talk.

 

Most of all, I thank you for reading. It is, after all, what a writer needs most, and I thank you for giving me that special gift. I thank you for allowing me to stay in my chosen profession. As former UC SID Kelby Siler used to answer when you'd ask him how he was, I've been living the dream. I thank you for making that possible.

Some random thoughts ...

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 ... running through my head.

 

-How about a Lance Stephenson update. It seems as though Stephenson's NBA Draft stock has risen lately, just like Mick Cronin predicted would happen when he began working out in front of potential employers.

 

Some, like the Sporting News' Mike Decourcy, has written he's hearing buzz that Stephenson might edge his way into the first round - the promised land of guaranteed contracts and plenty of riches. Others, like NBAdraft.net, think Stephenson is still a second-round selection (this web site's most recent mock draft has him going at No. 34 overall to Golden State).

 

But it seems pretty clear that Stephenson is in a better position now than he was when he declared that he would leave UC and enter the NBA Draft. According to an article written by Adam Zagoria of SNY.com, Stephenson's trainer, a guy named Andrew Moore, said Stephenson is improving steadily.

 

"He's been a pleasure," Moore told Zagoria. "He comes in every day and works hard. He's supremely focused. We looked at his body and leaned him out. He's lost some of his body fat. He's more defined and in turn, he's more explosive. He's really benefited from losing a little bit of weight and he's gained lean muscle mass."

 

What Moore is trying to accomplish is to improve Stephenson's deficiencies. Although Stephenson, especially later in the Bearcats season, could be mighty impressive in taking over a game, he struggled from the 3-point line (shooting 21.9 percent) and he was mediocre from the foul line (66.4 percent). His assist-to-turnover ratio also was unimpressive (84 assists to 81 turnovers).

 

But there's no denying Stephenson's talent, and though I think he'll still fall to the second round, it wouldn't be shocking to see him taken in the first.

 

"I like being the underdog," he told hoopsworld.com http://www.hoopsworld.com/Story.asp?story_id=16268. "Having everybody doubting me and saying, 'Oh, he's not ready," I just want to show everybody different."

 

-In case you didn't hear - and I'm sure you probably didn't - a couple of former Bearcats football players were selected in the UFL draft Wednesday night. Antonio Chapman - who was on the Bengals roster last year - was taken by Sacramento in the sixth round, and Curtis Young, who had a tryout with the Bengals during rookie minicamp, was taken in the 10th round by Sacramento.

 

Good for those guys. I have admiration for former college standouts who don't give up on their dreams, no matter how minor league their current situation is. I admire Ben Mauk and Terrill Byrd and Dominick Goodman for playing in that indoor football league. I'll admire Young if he takes that spot in Sacramento. I admired Dominic Ross when I met up with him a few years ago after he had played an AF2 game.

 

The money is minimal, but the exposure can lead to dreams that come true. Ask Kurt Warner about that.

 

-It's impressive the way Butch Jones (or somebody playing the role of Butch Jones) has taken to Twitter. It's the wave of the present, and it's something that can be used to great effect. A coach has to want to do it, though, for it to be effective. The best local one I've seen lately is Xavier basketball coach Chris Mack's feed. But Jones isn't too far behind.

UC going westward

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The Bearcats basketball team will face Oklahoma Dec. 18 in Oklahoma City in the All-College Basketball Classic, the world's oldest basketball tournament (it began in 1936). That's what UC announced today. But what does it mean?

Well, it means the goal of getting as much national publicity as possible continues for the Bearcats. The game will be preceded by Oklahoma State-Alabama and it will be broadcast on an ESPN network. So, that's good for the program.

 

Also it will help UC's RPI, and although this game won't be included in next year's season ticket package because, you know, it's not a home game, playing another BCS school, assuming the Bearcats win, will help pad their resume for the NCAA tournament.

 

The coaches spoke in statements released by the school:

 

"As always, we're honored to be a part of the All-College Classic," said Oklahoma head coach Jeff Capel. "This being the 75th year of the event makes it even more special, and we're proud and excited to once again play in Oklahoma City. Playing a team like Cincinnati provides a very, very tough challenge. Coming from the BIG EAST, they're a team that plays really hard, is very well coached and will return a lot of players from last year."

 

"I have great respect for Jeff Capel and the Oklahoma program," said Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin. "We are excited to play a team from the Big 12 and we thank ESPN for their help in making this series a reality."

Conference realignment and the future

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This is probably not what the UC administration wants to think about, but what happens if the Big East's nightmare comes true, and the Big Ten pilfers three of its teams? Say, the Big Ten takes Syracuse, Pitt and Rutgers and leaves the Big East with exactly five football-playing schools? What then?

 

Can UC football survive and keep playing at the highest levels? It's a fair question, especially as conference realignment continues to get major play in national newspapers, magazines and web sites.

 

Here's the latest offering from SI.com's Andy Staples: To go or not to go? That's the question for expansion candidates.

 

Some of Staples' points from the column (and some of mine in response):

 

-Rutgers could go, and it'd be a marriage that benefits both parties. Rutgers would enter one of the best football conferences in the land, and the Big Ten could infiltrate the Metro New York market, which would mean more potential cable subscribers for the Big Ten Network. (Yet Rutgers has been so unimpressive through most of the last century, this wouldn't make the Big Ten football brand any better. Plus, how many Rutgers fans live in the metro NYC area? That area just doesn't strike me a college football town.)

 

-In order to grab Notre Dame - which I'm sure Big East adminstrators and fans would prefer, because that likely would be enough to satiate the Big Ten hunger for expansion - the Big Ten still would need to blow up the Big East to force Notre Dame's hand and give the Golden Dome no other option but to join. (I just don't see Notre Dame letting go of its independence. Yes, it'd make more money by joining the Big Ten for football, but I'm not sure its hubris is worth an additional $10 million.)

 

-Every Big East team would take the Big Ten's invitation and leave the Big East and join the Big Ten. (I believe this is true. And you couldn't really blame whichever Big East team the Big Ten approaches).

 

So, what now. Well, one reader, Gary, has some ideas and some complaints. For one, he doesn't understand why the Big East isn't being proactive by trying to expand itself. Gary would like to see a 16-team, two-division conference that plays a championship game every year at Yankee Stadium. Some of the teams he would bring into the field: Central Florida, Temple, Army and some old Conference USA foes. As Gary writes, "If the BE Conf. waits to see what is going to happen we are going to get picked apart or end up a basketball only conference. This may not be the perfect scenario, but we need to do something to survive as a football conference."

 

 (You have to ask yourself this: is it better to add mid-level teams from a mid-major conference to your conference, or is it better just to pack up the Big East tent and let everybody fend for themselves? Probably the former, but I'm not sure a team filled with mostly C-USA teams would have a BCS affiliation anyway. Of course, as Gary points out, it's not necessarily about the quality of the teams. It's about the TV markets.)

 

Another idea: if the Big Ten expands by picking up three Big East teams, the five schools that are left (probably UC, West Virginia, Louisville, South Florida, and Pitt or UConn) should approach the Big 12 for membership. At least, this way, UC could remain in a BCS conference.

 

(Joining another conference would be paramount for UC. If the Big 12 loses some teams to the Big Ten - say, Missouri and Nebraska - or if Colorado leaves for the Pac-10, this could be a reality. Or, if the ACC wants to expand and improve its conference, it could approach West Virginia, UC, South Florida and Louisville. But what happens if Texas bolts for the SEC? How much less attractive would the Big 12 look at that point?)

 

Gary also sent an e-mail to Big East commissioner John Marinatto that suggests merging the Big East with the rest of the ACC and making it a 16-team super conference. This assumes the ACC loses Clemson and/or Georgia Tech to the SEC. This way, Gary writes, the Big East still could remain a legit conference, albeit as a basketball-only league.

 

(I wonder if, logistically, this would be impossible to do. But I do know this. If the Big Ten follows through and pilfers a huge chunk of the Big East, Marinatto had better have some answers. If not, the Big East will collapse. And then all bets are off for UC.)

What would you do?

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With so much talk lately about conference realignment and the Big Ten poaching schools from either the Big East or the Big 12, let's get a little discussion going here. What happens to UC if the Big Ten takes a few Big East squads, say Rutgers, Pittsburgh and Syracuse? Do the Bearcats take a huge step backward? Will they continue to play for the BCS title?

 

UC athletic director Mike Thomas told the Enquirer earlier this month he expects the program to remain in the Big East. But what will be of the Big East? Yes, commissioner John Marinatto hired former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to serve as a consultant - most likely, his main role will be to figure out how to keep the league intact if the Big Ten plucks some of the conference's best fruit - but in reality, there's not much else the Big East can do until the Big Ten makes its move.

 

A few links:

 

Here's a story in the Newark Star Ledger that details Rutgers' upcoming crossroads decision.

 

One solution for the Big East? Start its own TV network.  

 

The Big East and the Big 12 aren't the only conferences that are worried about Big Ten realignment. Marshall and Conference USA are concerned as well.

 

I don't think Notre Dame will join a conference - unless its hand is absolutely forced, as athletic director Jack Swarbrick has said - but here's one argument about why the Fighting Irish should.

 

So, what do you think? Shoot me an e-mail at jkatzo@hotmail.com, and let me know what you believe UC should do if the Big Ten should demolish a major portion of the Big East. I've already heard from some of you - ahem, Gary - and I'll post those ideas later in the week. But be Big East commissioner for a day, and tell me what you would do to 1) prevent this from occurring (if it's preventable) and 2) what your response would be.

Pead makes strides

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He had been hurt during that week of practice, and by his own account, he wasn't prepared to absorb the gameplan. Thus, though UC's offense had little problems dispatching Illinois' defense, his absence was noticeable as he gained minus-five yards on four carries.

 

"I didn't get a good feeling for him today," Brian Kelly said afterward. "I'm on the sideline bringing guys in and out. I just didn't get that connection today. It wasn't his kind of game. It didn't materialize that way."

 

And it seemed like Isaiah Pead - even though he finished with a team-high 806 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 121 carries last season as a sophomore - still had to mature before he could become the kind of running back he knows he can be.

 

"I didn't practice that much that week because of a hamstring problem," Pead said. "The install that week, I wasn't all the way locked in because I wasn't taking reps at practice. I could only take so many mental reps because I was taking therapy. It was like sitting out for a week basically."

 

Not playing that week - and perhaps some of Kelly's comments afterward - made an impact on Pead, though.

 

"It really hit me," Pead said. "There are no superstars out here. You can't just sit out for a week and expect to play in a game."

 

Last year, Pead, Darrin Williams and John Goebel had Jacob Ramsey on which they could rely. Ramsey was the senior leader, and the trio of underclassmen could share the running back responsibilities with him. No more, though. Now it's up to Pead - who likely will enter fall camp at the top of the depth chart.

 

As a result, Pead - as he's set to enter his junior year despite the knee injury he suffered during the spring game - said he's changed his mentality.

 

"It's been the last six months," Pead said. "Now it's time to be a leader - after sitting in the shadows and coming out here and there, scoring a few touchdowns and getting my feet wet behind Ramsey and John Goebel and taking mental reps. It's the determination of the person who's sitting on the bench and watching. It's transferring from taking the mental reps and to actually doing it now."

 

In order to be that top running back, though, Pead still has to work on becoming a complete running back. Which means, obviously, running the ball, but it also means Pead has had to work on other aspects of his game.

 

"We're going to expect him to pass protect," coach Butch Jones said. "He's not going to be extended out in the formation. We always talk to our running backs about being complete running backs. It's easy to find a runner or pass-catcher. But a running back has to do all the fine details - they have to pass-protect and they have to run-block, they have to have great run-fakes, they have to understand the run system and the tempo of the run plays and be able to catch the ball. That's what we've been stressing."

 

It's no surprise to Pead the biggest improvement he has to make is in his blocking.

 

"I'm an undersized back who has yet to touch 200 pounds," Pead said. "If you want to cut and be quick with it and stay up, you have to be physical. You have to be relentless, and you have to have heart. You're a smaller back and (opposing defensive ends) are making it tough on you. They're trying to bull-rush the quarterback, like you're not even there.

 

"There's no Jacob Ramsey. He was great at it, and he weighed 220 pounds. There's me, who's 195, and Goebel - who has size but needs to get his technique down - and Darrin, who's 5-6."

 

Jones believes Pead will get it, though. It's because Jones says he can see Pead's hunger. The hunger to be the first UC running back since Richard Hall in 2004 to gain 1,000 yards in a season. The hunger to be the best running back on the team.

 

"I like Isaiah's mentality," Jones said. "He's an extremely competitive young man. There isn't anybody who wants to do better than Isaiah Pead."

Defensive depth still a problem

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Butch Jones began spring practice talking about building up the depth of his defense. He ended it discussing the same subject. Yes, some strides were made during UC's 15 practices, but the defensive depth chart still will be something to work on as the Bearcats begin their summer workout regime in preparation for next season's fall camp.

 

From the Sugar Bowl starting lineup, the Bearcats said goodbye to Ricardo Matthews, Alex Daniels, Curtis Young, Andre Revels, Brad Jones and Aaron Webster. They also lost Craig Carey and Marcus Waugh. All of them were important, solid members of the UC squad

 

That leaves Derek Wolfe, J.K. Schaffer, Walter Stewart, Drew Frey and Dominique Battle as the underclassmen starters to return. John Hughes and Dan Giordano - both of whom made a good impression last year - also will look to make an impact. It's a good base to be sure.

 

But obviously, UC needs more defensive talent. That's what Jones wanted to see throughout the spring. He didn't exactly get what he wanted.

 

"It's an ongoing process," Butch Jones said. "It continues to be a work in progress. This summer will be big for a lot of individuals, especially with some people on the defensive line - to get in shape and to get bigger, faster and stronger. Our captains and leaders of the team will run our practice this summer. They have to learn the system more. There were times (during the spring game) where we struggled getting lined up right. That can't happen."

 

During the spring game, some unfamiliar names popped out at you if you perused the final defensive statistics. Alex Delisi (he's a junior linebacker) led the team with eight tackles and a sack. Ricardo Thompson (junior linebacker) had six tackles, as did Will Saddler (redshirt freshman defensive back). Maalik Bomar (sophomore linebacker) had five tackles, while relatively unheard of players such as Steve Hancock, DeMarkus Bracy and Aaron Roberson each contributed a sack.

 

Still, Jones wasn't too happy with his second-team defense's performance in Bearcat Bowl IV.

 

"I still wasn't pleased with the tackling," Jones said. "A lot of our mistakes occurred with the second defense. You have to get that corrected, because as you know, you're one step away. We'll go back and we'll look at this again. To have a chance to be really successful and have a great defense, we have to get off the field. You get off the field by being a great tackling team."

 

One bright spot was the interception by Sean McClellan, a redshirt freshman defensive lineman from Moeller who picked off Chazz Anderson and made a nice runback. He's one potential depth builder.

 

"I don't know if I am right now," McClellan said. "The only thing I have to worry about is getting better."

 

As does the rest of the defense to build that much-needed depth.

 

"Our No. 1s are doing a great job, but the 2s and 3s will continue to have to step up," McClellan said. "We'll just have to work real hard in strength and conditioning. There's still a lot of work to do."

Mike Windt begins his new career

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I walked into the Bengals locker room today, and who did I see toweling off just a few feet away from punter Kevin Huber's space? His old running buddy, long snapper Mike Windt - who signed a free agent deal with the Bengals last week and is attending the rookie camp this weekend.

 

For Windt, it's been a rough couple of months. It usually is for college long snappers looking to find their place in the NFL fraternity. The Bengals hadn't needed one for many years, but last year, Brad St. Louis broke down and Clark Harris took over his duties when St. Louis got released. Harris was fine last year, but that doesn't mean Windt doesn't have a chance to take that job playing for the hometown team.

 

For Windt, it's a two-man race to win the long snapper job. Why not him?

 

"It was a long process; it was a long couple months of not knowing where you're going to be," Windt said today after the Bengals morning practice. "I had a funny feeling that I'd end up here. I have a good relationship with (special teams coach Darrin) Simmons. He's taught me a lot already. I've only been here a day and a half and he's already taught me so much. Out of all the special teams coaches that talked to me, I just feel really comfortable with him. It's going to be a competition, but I feel comfortable with where I'm at. I just need to finish up on some detail things that Darrin will help me with."

 

All in all, Windt feels pretty lucky. He finished his eligibility at UC in time for the NFL's uncapped year. Which means, in some areas - like, say, long snapping - teams might be looking for a less expensive option. Windt could be that option.

 

"They might want to get younger and cheaper," Windt said. "There are long snappers out there making over $1 million a year. If a team thinks they can bring in somebody and pay them less, that's the big thing with the process. It is a good time to come out. I was a little bit lucky. It's better to come out this year than during the lockout (presumably this could happen before the 2011 season), like Jake Rogers. I don't know what's going to happen with that, but I'm happy for the opportunity I've got right now."

 

Windt plays a position most people don't notice, and most of the time, that's exactly what he wants. Before today, I don't think I ever interviewed him, because I never needed to ask him about what went wrong during a game. He was that good. But he also finds himself in a different spot than most of the other rookies coming out of college.

 

"You don't get the exposure everybody else gets," Windt said. "You have to be perfect. If you have anything wrong with you, you're not going to go anywhere. My whole concept when I started college was to be perfectly consistent. If you can shoot a ball back there in 0.5 (seconds), it doesn't matter if you're not consistent. If you're not accurate, you can't do anything with that. If it's off by a little bit, it's going to throw off the entire process."

 

There are two factors working in Windt's favor this summer. He's back to working with his old punter, Huber, and he's finally getting some on-hands coaching.

 

"Coach Simmons is with us every second of the practice," Huber said. "It just feels a lot better. It's better having the individual contact. I'm happy with that situation. It just makes you feel more comfortable when you're doing it. He teaches you the correct way to do it as compared to teaching yourself in college.

 

"(With Huber), there's trustworthiness. Through all the years, I know where Kevin wants the ball, and he trusts me that I'm going to get it there. I have for years. Chemistry between a punter and long snapper has to be positive. If you don't, it's like a center and quarterback not getting along.

 

"But if I can prove to them I'm perfectly consistent, I'll feel really good about myself. I had a good practice today, I'll watch film with coach, evaluate it and have another four good ones."


--Other sightings: Jacob Ramsey (who is still taking 18 credit hours of class) and Curtis Young have tryouts this weekend. Also, Kerry Coombs attended morning practice as well.


(UPDATED: 5:44 p.m.): Marvin Lewis' thoughts on Mike Windt:


"Mike's got a lot of latent. We've signed him already to a free agent contract. He has a great ability to snap the football - to long snap and short snap. He's been accomplished doing it there at UC. From watching him out there today, he has a lot of ability. He has great accuracy with it, great velocity with it and a great feel for it. He's going to get a good opportunity to prove if he can do it for us here."

Woods looking to keep starting spot

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There are so many other receivers to count, so many other guys who will bring the hype and the eyebrow-raising catches. These are the Bearcats featured on billboards, the ones that catch the imagination of UC fans.

 

Vidal Hazelton is the transfer from USC who will be eligible this year and who many expect to top this receiving corps. Armon Binns is the junior who had a breakout year last season, making amazing touchdown catches (11 scores last season) and using his 6-foot-4 frame to full advantage. Marcus Barnett is the senior hungering for his final chance, three years after the best freshman receiving performance in school history.

 

D.J. Woods is not in that group. Woods is a possession receiver who catches the screens and intakes the passes on the five-yard routes. He's not flashy. He was not a freshman All-American like Barnett, and he's not featured on billboards like Binns. Your imagination doesn't soar with the possibilities of his production like it might with Hazleton.

 

No, Woods is just a solid receiver, a guy who racks up receiving yards when you're not paying attention. But somehow, Woods, as a sophomore, kept his starting job last season and recorded 51 catches for 640 yards and four scores (all ranked No. 3 on the team). He likely will enter his junior year at the top of the depth chart as well.

 

It's because he's consistent. And coach Butch Jones likes - no, make that loves -consistent receivers. Woods showed up again during the spring game, catching six passes for 88 yards and a touchdown while throwing a 60-yard pass of his own that nearly netted another score.

 

"D.J. played exceptionally well," Jones said. "He came up to me after the game and said, 'Well coach, how did I play?' You know what? D.J. has been a model of consistency all spring. I thought he had a good performance, and I thought we blocked good on the perimeter for him as well."

 

What really impressed me about Woods last Saturday was his ability to earn yards after the catch. He caught a few bubble screens, and he made a couple short-route receptions. The fact he averaged 14.7 yards on mostly short balls is a testament to how valuable he could be for the Bearcats next year.

 

"He did a great job of advancing the ball," Jones said. "We talk about that all the time."

 

For Woods, it's a matter of practicing his craft every chance he gets.

 

"We do bubble (screens) every single day," Woods said. "We have a period when they do field goals, and we do nothing but bubbles. I feel comfortable in my technique and looking upfield trying to find receivers making blocks, because I'm making cuts off them."

 

The technique, Woods said, is an important part of his game that he's continued to improve.

 

"The thing I need to work on is blocking downfield. If I do that, my technique and my game will be up to par," he said. "I'm never satisfied. I'll come out to work every day, because somebody is going to try to take my spot."

 

That somebody is Barnett - who switched between offense and defense last year, in part because of the stranglehold Woods had on the position. Now that Barnett is focusing strictly on offense, he'll look to take Woods' spot for himself. Woods doesn't want that to happen.

 

"None of the spots are solid; it's only spring time," Woods said. "I just need to work on my technique and my willpower. I have Bones (Barnett) right now, and Bones was a first-team freshman All American. He's always in my shadow, always pushing me. But I'm always pushing him at the same time. I just need to have the mentality that it's my spot."

Gilyard finally goes

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The Bengals had a chance to take him in the third round, but instead, they opted for Jordan Shipley. The Titans and the Panthers could have had him, as well. The Steelers passed, and so did the Broncos and Chargers.

 

Mardy Gilyard spent the first two days of the NFL Draft this past weekend waiting. Waiting to receive a phone call from the team who would make him its next pick. Waiting to begin his pro career. Waiting for the next step of his life.

 

Thursday's first round passed, and predictably, he heard nothing. Friday went by - the second and third rounds - and he heard nothing. On Saturday, though, he didn't have to wait long.

 

With the first pick of the fourth round - the first pick of the day - the St. Louis Rams drafted Gilyard. And to celebrate, the St. Louis scribes asked him, what was he going to do?

 

"I'm about to go crabbing," he said.

 

Oh. Sure, sure. Wait, what?

 

 "Crabbing is an old school way of catching crabs," he explained. "I'm from the backwoods and we're country folk back here, so we'll be in the backlands or the backwoods here in Florida not too far from where my parents stay at. It's just old school - chicken necks, string and netting - just kind of catching crabs. Go for what you know."

 

 "We're actually throwing a big party for me here in a couple hours, so I've got to be the man to bring back some crabs. We actually (had a party) the last two days because nobody knew where I was going to end up going."

 

Gilyard thought a team would take him earlier in the Draft. And why not? He had a stellar career at UC. He holds school records. He showcased memorial catches and kickoff returns. He showed speed and great hands and a willingness to connect with young fans.

 

But he had to wait a while during the Draft.

 

"He's not the 6-foot-3 guy," Rams GM Billy Devaney told reporters after making the pick Saturday. "He's 5-11 and change. He's not a 4.4 guy. He's got real competitive speed - especially in the returns, you see him running away from people - but he doesn't have the elite 40 (yard dash) speed. And like we said earlier, it's really deep at receiver. I think as much as anything, (the depth at the position) probably hurt him some."

 

One positive in Gilyard's favor, though, is his ability to excel on special teams.

 

"That was one of the attractive things," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "Scouts and coaches talked a lot about that. (Special teams coordinator) Tom McMahon is doing back-flips upstairs. Any way you can change field position, it helps both the defense and the offense. It's a weapon. I want to say (Gilyard had) 93 returns for almost 3,000 yards or something. That's a lot of production."

 

Now, he'll get a chance to show off his skills in the NFL with the top pick in the draft, QB Sam Bradford, and a young, almost unknown receiver corps. He'll have his chance to make an impact.

 

"I'm just going to try to come in and compete my hardest and let the rest of it sort itself out," Gilyard said. "It was shocking to hear my name (called). They called me before 10:00 a.m. and said, 'Hey we're going to take you. We're not going to fool around or beat around the bush.' I was just stoked, because now I can finally get ready to go to work. I've been waiting to go to work for forever."