Below is a very real (realish) conversation Tommy Tuberville and his coaches will be having with recruits in the coming weeks.
“Hi Coach Tuberville I just wanted to call to let you know that I’m ready to commit to Cincinnati!”
“Oh hi Jimmy, so last I checked you’re about 6 feet tall, weigh 180 lbs or so?”
“Yea I’ve really bulked up a lot this Summer. Probably added 10-20 lbs!”
“Any chance you could add another 40 and talk to your coach about playing some offensive line this fall?”
“Well uhh… I don’t think so coach. I’m a runningback, scored 15 touchdowns last season. Was All-State.”
“Ok, we’ll probably have to wait to see if we can accept your commitment. Our 2015 class is getting a bit full and I’ll have to let you know if we have room for you.”
Cincinnati’s recruiting class currently stands at 19 verballed prospects. They span across the standard offensive and defensive position groups; quarterback, wide receiver, defensive end, safety, linebacker. Cincinnati even added a pair of desperately needed runningbacks. But the Bearcats are noticeably light on offensive linemen.
One hog molly has cast his lot with Cincinnati, Florida offensive tackle Reed Armagost. But one player does not make a two deep or even a meaningful portion of an offensive line. It’s been an issue for sometime now and a challenge for Tommy Tuberville and his staff since they arrived before the 2013 season.
It all began when the Bearcats lost two offensive linemen from the 2012 recruiting class. Heralded offensive tackle from Oak Hills High School Caleb Stacey opted to quit football weeks before training camp. Additionally Kyle Williamson suffered a serious shoulder injury and was forced to grey shirt. It’s unclear at this point if he’s returned to his high school form. Then the class of 2013′s only true offensive lineman, Hamilton’s Ben Flick, was tragically killed in a car accident.
Things on the recruiting front didn’t get a whole heck of a lot better in the last cycle. In the 2014 class, the Bearcats technically signed five offensive linemen; Luke Callahan, Ryan Stout, John Kurtz, Ja’Merez Bowen, and Chris Ferguson. But only three of them (Callahan, Bowen, and Kurtz) actually clocked meaningful time at guard or tackle in high school. Ferguson is a converted a defensive tackle and Stout a defensive end.
That’s right, over the course of two years Cincinnati added a paltry three players (five if you count Ferguson and Stout) to fill the ranks along the offensive line. Thus you get a position group* grossly loaded with upperclassmen.
- Seniors: 5
- Juniors: 3
- Sophomores: 3
- Freshmen: 0
*I’m only counting scholarship players. Due in large part to desperation, Tuberville accepted David Niehaus (sophomore), Garret Campbell (freshman), and Will Steur (freshman) as preferred walk-ons.
72% of the offensive linemen on scholarship are seniors or juniors, hence why Cincinnati added five offensive linemen to the 2014 class, two of which are converted from another position. Now, if this issue went unremedied you won’t see the effects in the upcoming season or potentially 2015.
With offensive linemen, college coaches don’t recruit to replenish departing seniors after the upcoming season. They recruit them to add depth and fill holes two or three years down the road because they take so many years to develop. So while UC is fairly set here in the immediate future, the disruption in replenishing offensive linemen via the 2012 and 2013 classes could seriously impact the Bearcat teams of 2016 and 2017.
We saw what lack of depth upfront did to UC last year in the Belk Bowl. Extrapolate that out over the course of an entire season and that’s the kind of dire situation Cincinnati faces in a couple of years that’s keeping Tommy Tuberville up at night now.
So where do we turn from here? Well, with the class about 70-80% full, you have to figure the remaining 5-6 scholarship will largely (pun intended) be reserved for offensive linemen. 6’5″, 302 lbs Florida guard Evan Mallory likely tops the list for this staff is said to be choosing between Cincinnati and Louisville this week. Another player 247 Sports has marked with decent interest in UC compared to his other suitors is 6’3″, 315 lbs interior lineman Christian Strachan. There also the possibility of adding players from the JUCO ranks.
Regardless, hopefully the Bearcats add another 3-5 front line blockers with their few remaining scholarships in this class. If all goes to plan, Mallory and Strachan will be among them. Otherwise, I believe I still have four years of eligibility remaining.