I’ll keep this intro brief. Tomorrow morning the Cincinnati Bearcats open up Spring practice in early preparation for the 2013 football season complete with a new coaching staff and a new set of questions. Below are the 5 main ones I’d like to see answered over the coming weeks.
1) What will the new offense and defense look like?
While there won’t be another Bearcat Bowl, the Spring practice period provides us the opportunity to get in the head of Tuberville and his coordinators Eddie Gran and Art Kaufman. I can only postulate what Gran has in mind for his offense but we’ll probably get a sneak peek at exactly what it is over the next month. The system he installs will likely be the biggest change for Cincinnati but I expect the Bearcats to transition into the new offense fairly seamlessly. Gran will likely emphasize a balanced, ball-control offense that still has the chance to bust open big plays. This is extremely similar to the mindset that Butch Jones and Mike Bajakian preached at Cincinnati.
On the opposite side of the ball I’d be curious to see what Kaufman brings to the table. Under John Jancek the Bearcats’ bread and butter was the zone blitz and overall UC went with zone coverage 9 out of 10 times. I’ve thought, especially last season, that Cincinnati should have used man coverage more because they didn’t have the push up front like they did in 2011 with Derek Wolfe and John Hughes bulldozing up the middle. In 2012 quarterbacks had days to stand in the pocket, evaluate the defense, and generally picked it apart. Switching up the defense would have gone a long way to alleviating that problem but Jancek adamantly stuck with zone and UC frequently gave up big gains on 3rd and long situations. Hopefully Kaufman brings some balance to this side of the football.
2) Who will emerge at defensive end?
Cincinnati loses Dan Giordano, Brandon Mills, and Walter Stewart to graduation, a trio that accounted for over three-quarters of the reps at this position in 2012. This will be the biggest challenge for the new staff this Spring. Of the returning defensive ends Silverberry Mouhon, Josh Posley, and essentially Elijah Shuler have the most experience at this position, contributing all of 3% of UC’s total tackles last year. I can’t emphasize enough just how green Cincinnati is on the edge of the defensive line. However I fully believe Tommy Tuberville signed JUCO’s Terrell Hartsfield and Jerrell Jordan specifically to fix this problem in 2013. While Mouhon, Posley, and Shuler right now have the inside track to start at defensive end, I’d be curious to see how Hartsfield and Jordan perform over the next month.
3) Tion Green, Deionte Buckley, or a wildcard?
George Winn is gone and it will be up to a new workhorse to live up to UC’s recent reputation of producing explosive players out of the backfield. I’m not sure what Jones/Bajakian had planned before they left but under a new staff and in a new system Tion Green and Deionte Buckley are effectively neck-and-neck to get the bulk of the reps in 2013. Spring practice is when we’ll figure out which of them will emerge as the front runner as well as find out if a wildcard puts his name in the hat in the coming weeks. If I had to put money on it I’d say that player was Rodriguez Moore, the #1 rated JUCO runningback. So when push comes to shove expect the race to come down to those three.
4) Will the offensive line continue to be a force?
One of the most encouraging aspects of this team heading into next season is the offensive line. Cincinnati returns every starter on this position group. Theoretically the Bearcats should be able to keep right on bowling over teams on the ground in 2013 because of the experience along the offensive line. That’s the hope anyways. My only concern is how they mesh in the new offense. Again, I can only take an educated guess at what Gran will bring to the table but I’d bet cash money that he’s not going to use zone blocking schemes nearly as much as Jones/Bajakian did here (which was like every play).
The offensive line will be tasked at getting more North-South on the snap of the football rather than sliding and letting the defender’s momentum take them out of the play. This requires more strength than agility and in the back of my mind I know this is an extremely powerful group of starters. It will just be curious to see how they will adjust to the new schemes which require different techniques than what they are accustomed.
5) Who among the other newbies will sneak into the spotlight?
Included in this group are incoming recruits from the 2013 class as well as younger Bearcats working their way up the depth chart. Outside of the few JUCO’s who I mentioned above, I’m not sure there will be many more newcomers who will make an impact like Ralph David Abernathy and Nick Temple made in their first years in Clifton. However I think we need to keep an eye on some other position battles that will be going on during Spring camp.
First is at cornerback between Trenier Orr and Leviticus Payne to see who will start opposite Deven Drane. It will also be interesting to see where Adrian Witty winds up. He’s probably overdue for a starting role and we’ll have to keep an eye on if he takes over Drew Frey’s spot at strongside safety or winds up at nickelback. Finally I’m curious to see who backfills Maalik Bomar at Will linebacker. With Greg Blair and Nick Temple locking down the other two starting spots my gut tells me Solomon Tentman slides in next to them. However on the other hand I could easily see Jeff Luc or even Clemente Casseus getting plenty of reps there as well. Again, we’ll just have to wait and see!