For the fourth time since 2004, Cincinnati will begin spring practice with a new coach. Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly and Butch Jones all put an imprint on the program despite three-year stints for each. The most experienced coach Cincinnati has hired during this run, Tommy Tuberville arrives from Texas Tech to a program that has won at least 10 games in five of the last six seasons. He’ll be expected to continue the tradition with the Bearcats, but they’re not without their question marks. The development of the offense will be worth watching as both starting quarterbacks from a year ago return to a unit short on proven skill players.
Cincinnati Bearcats 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 10-3 (5-2)
Spring practice dates: March 1-April 13
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 6
Passing: Munchie Legaux, 120 of 230, 1,716 yds., 13 TDs, 9 INTs
Rushing: Ralph David Abernathy IV, 69 car., 366 yds., 3 TDs,
Receiving: Anthony McClung, 34 rec., 539 yds., 2 TDs,
Tackles: Greg Blair, 138
Sacks: Nick Temple, 2.5
Interceptions: Arryn Chenault, 3
Redshirts to Watch: DB Drake Bruns, DL Jonathan Burt, WR Nate Cole, QB Bennie Coney, DB Marcus Foster, LB Joey Jones, LB Ey'Shawn McClain, DL Alex Pace, OL Kyle Williamson
Early Enrollees to Watch: DB Zach Edwards, ATH Javon Harrison, OL Kyle Williams
JUCO Transfers to Watch: DB Darren Dodson, DL Jerrell Jordan
Aug. 31 Purdue
Sept. 7 at Illinois
Sept. 14 Northwestern State
Sept. 21 at Miami (Ohio)
Big East schedule TBA:
Offensive Strength: Cincinnati returns its entire starting offensive line, including All-Big East first-team selection Eric Lefeld at left tackle and second-team selection Austen Bujnoch at left guard. This group of five started all but the first two games last season as Cincinnati had the Big East’s best rushing attack in terms of yards per game (201.5), yards per carry (5.4) and touchdowns (25).
Offensive Weakness: How will the skill positions shake out? The Bearcats lost their bedrock of their offense in running back George Winn plus their top two targets in the passing game in tight end Travis Kelce and receiver Kenbrell Thompkins. At quarterback, Brendon Kay, who wrestled the starting job from Munchie Legaux late last season, is the incumbent starter, but Legaux remains on the roster.
Defensive Strength: Greg Blair provides a solid foundation at middle linebacker. The senior led the Big East with 138 tackles and earned first-team all-conference honors. Although the Cincinnati pass rush will be a concern, the tandem of defensive tackles in front of Blair returns. The Bearcats ranked in the top three in the Big East in both rush defense and pass efficiency defense.
Defensive Weakness: The Cincinnati pass rush stalled for a few games after Walter Stewart, who was an All-Big East second-teamer despite playing only half the year, was lost for the season. The Bearcats still finished second in the league in sacks, but they’ll miss Stewart and ends Dan Giordano and Brandon Mills. No returning lineman had more than one sack last season.
Spring Storylines Facing the Bearcats
1. How the new staff impacts the offense. In the last two seasons, Cincinnati’s offense has been anchored by a 200-plus-carry running back as George Winn filled the shoes of Isaiah Pead. Tuberville ran a spread offense at Texas Tech, but he hired Florida State assistant Eddie Gran to run his offense. Gran was a long-time running backs coach for Tuberville at Auburn, suggesting Cincinnati will continue a more balanced approach.
2. A change in the run game. As noted, Winn is gone, but that does’t mean Cincinnati lacks for options in the run game. Keep in mind, no one was familiar with Winn when Isaiah Pead left. Ralph David Abernathy IV is the top returning rusher, but he may be more effective as a change-up rather than an every-down back. Two returnees are in the mix (Deionte Buckley and Tion Green), but the position battle may not be settled until junior college transfers Rodriguez Moore and Hosey Williams arrive in the fall.
3. A full spring for Brendon Kay. After steadying the Cincinnati offense with three consecutive wins to end the season, Kay is the presumptive starter over Legaux. Although former coach Butch Jones didn’t close the quarterback competition until late in the preseason, Legaux was the odds-on favorite since the end of 2011. How will Kay react to starting spring practice with the quarterback job to lose, especially with a new coaching staff on board?
4. Finding big-play contributors on the defense. Though Cincinnati finished second in the Big East in sacks and interceptions, no individual player stood out in terms of big play production, for better or worse. No one on the roster had more than five sacks or three interceptions. After losing veterans in the front seven and experienced defensive backs Drew Frey and Camerron Cheatham, Cincinnati is also looking for a bit of leadership.
5. Defensive improvement. Besides finding a big-play threat on the defense, new coordinator Art Kaufman will be tasked with leading another defensive facelift. Though Cincinnati’s defensive numbers against the run and the pass weren't awful, Cincinnati still ranked last in the Big East in yards allowed per game (yet fourth in yards allowed per play). Kaufman was in charge of one of the best defensive turnarounds last season at Texas Tech, so there’s reason to believe he’ll be able to hone in on Cincinnati’s defensive strengths while tweaking the areas where the Bearcats need help.
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