|Cincinnati - Team Notes|
|Posted 5/15/2009 1:27 PM ET|
The Bearcats have a new defensive coordinator in Bob Diaco, lost 10 starters from last year's squad that ranked 31st in the nation in total defense, and are switching from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4. That said, it's certainly no surprise that defense was a primary focus throughout spring practice.
"We've done a very good job implementing a system of defense that I think fits the personnel that we have," said head coach Brian Kelly. "I think we've got good depth in certain areas, in particular on the defensive line."
Cincinnati allowed 321.9 yards per game last season, ranked 19th in run defense and led the Big East in sacks.
Gone from last year are top pass rusher Connor Barwin, run stuffer Terrell Byrd and top cornerback Mike Mickens. In their place, Diaco has just one returning starter, but numerous players who saw action last season.
Moving Barwin from tight end to defensive lineman worked so well, Kelly is experimenting again. Quarterback Demetrius Jones is moving to linebacker, wide receiver Marcus Barnett to cornerback, and tight end/fullback Marcus Waugh to linebacker. Former quarterback Craig Carey was switched to defense last season. And, it's not a gimmick. All are expected to start or contribute. Diaco told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he wanted the defense to remain fluid, and not to commit to a 3-4 scheme on every down. He indicated that the opponent, game plan and tendencies would dictate their approach.
"We're going to try to do the things to keep the points down," Diaco said. "If that means rush seven, then we're going to do it. If that means drop nine, we'll do that too. It's week-to-week."
--Sophomore running back Isaiah Pead is batting for a starting spot at running back. He emerged as the Bearcats' most explosive option out of the backfield last season. In spring practice, Pead was working to convince the coaching staff that he has the work ethic necessary to be a full-time starter. He also needs to become more of a short-yardage option.
--Sophomore defensive lineman Derek Wolfe is 6-for-6, 310 pounds with uncanny agility for a big man. After drawing interest from Big Ten stalwarts Ohio State and Michigan State, Wolfe chose UC after attending one of the Bearcats' summer camps. With so many losses on the defensive line, Wolfe could emerge as a key contributor this season.
--Senior OL Jeff Linkenbach has emerged as the leader on the offensive line in place of the departed Trevor Canfield. Linkenbach, who started 14 games after two injury-riddled seasons, likely will start at left tackle.
--Sophomore WR Danny Milligan is a do-everything player who could punt, play receiver or even kick field goals, if needed. Coach Brian Kelly said Milligan would not start at any one position, but his variety of skills make the Cincinnati St. Xavier High product a valuable commodity.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I want to find the best way to win. Last year, the best way was to win 13-10 against Rutgers. The score might be 52-50 this year. If that's the case, we're prepared to go down that road. We think we've got the weapons to do it." -- Head coach Brian Kelly, on the expectation that his high-powered offense will carry the day at times this season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2009 OUTLOOK: Coming off a school-record 11 victories and first-ever BCS Bowl appearance, the Bearcats will face a formidable nonconference schedule highlighted by home games against Fresno State and Illinois and a trip to Oregon State. They'll do so minus 10 starters on defense, including the entire defensive line.
First-year defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, the defensive coordinator at Virginia last season, will have plenty of newcomers with which to institute a new 3-4 scheme. Defensive back Aaron Webster is the lone returning starter, although senior middle linebacker Andre Revels played extensively in 13 games.
Last spring, competition for the starting quarterback job took center stage. This year, the job would appear to be safe with senior Tony Pike. Top receiver Mardy Gilyard is among nine returning starters for one of the nation's most explosive offenses.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Scoring points should not be an issue for the Bearcats. Starting quarterback Tony Pike, who passed for more than 2,400 yards and 19 TDs last season, will lead one of the nation's most explosive offenses. Sophomore Isaiah Pead and redshirt freshman Darrin Williams have big-play ability in the backfield. The Bearcats are loaded at receiver, with Mardy Gilyard, D.J. Woods, Armon Binns, and Jamar Howard. If a revamped offensive line can protect Pike and open seams for Pead and Williams, Cincinnati will be difficult to stop.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: First-year defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has 10 starters to replace. Defensive back Aaron Webster is the lone returning starter, although senior middle linebacker Andre Revels played extensively in 13 games. The Bearcats do bring back a few seniors who earned significant playing time as juniors. Seniors Alex Daniels, Ricardo Mathews and Curtis Young likely will anchor the defensive line. Demetrius Jones will move from quarterback to provide speed and athleticism at linebacker. Impressive sophomore Derek Wolfe could start on the defensive line.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: All-America punter Kevin Huber will need to be replaced. The Bearcats do bring back junior placekicker Jake Rogers, who went 16 of 23 on field goals, including six of nine between 40-49 yards. Rogers likely will retain kickoff duties. Incoming freshman Patrick O'Donnell, who averaged 45 yards per punt in high school with a 95 percent touchback rate, could replace Huber or compete with Rogers for the starting placekicker role.
--Sophomore DB Drew Frey, who missed last season after suffering a broken arm Sept. 27 at Akron, has been granted a sixth year of eligibility. He was redshirted due to an injury his freshman season.
--Former QB Demetrius Jones is adjusting to his move to linebacker. But the junior, who transferred from Notre Dame prior to last season, still would prefer to play quarterback, at which he started the season opener for the Irish in 2007.
--WR Vidal Hazelton, a transfer from USC, has appealed to the NCAA to waive the requirement that transfers sit out one season, which would give him two years of eligibility at UC. If eligible to play this season, Hazelton, who had 50 catches for 540 yards for the Trojans as a freshman in 2007, likely would compete for a starting job.
--Backup QB Zach Collaros was a standout shortstop in high school, so he decided to become a two-sport star at UC. Collaros is an infielder on the Bearcats baseball team. He batted just .107 with three hits in his first 28 at-bats this season.
--WR Mardy Gilyard was held out of practice for a few days due to a bone bruise in his foot, during which time he wore a protective boot.
|Posted 5/15/2009 1:27 PM ET|