Six Days In The Books - A Look Back On Wed

Making the drive from Dayton to the campus of the University of Cincinnati didn't look too promising as rain drops fell from the sky. But the closer I got to campus the clearer the sky became and practice number six of the 2008 spring season went off as planned with a little sun and a lot of hitting.

Early in practice you got the sense things were going to be different and better than what the team showed on Tuesday.  Drills were quick and for the most part crisp as players worked their stations then came together to work on special teams.


One thing that has always impressed me about Brian Kelly and his staff is the detail they give to the smallest of things.  From the use of your hands to the placement of ones feet coaches watch with corrections given as necessary.


While I spent a lot of time watching the defense during practice and I’m glad I did, getting a chance to watch Connor Barwin and Craig Carey take their reps during the drills allowed one to see how they’ve worked on their feet and hand placement.  Both players show great physical skills and could be better than Hoke and Craig from last season if things continue as they’ve done early in camp.  These two have brought energy not seen before on the defensive side of the ball and their work ethic has caught on with a few of their teammates as the duo along with a couple of other teammates spent time after practice getting in some extra conditioning.  While I’ve seen players stay and work extra on their own, watching a group shows this team is starting to build even a closer chemistry.


Make no mistake it’ll take something big to keep the trio of Corey Smith, Andre Revels and Ryan Manalac off the field together this fall.  All three are showing early signs of leadership with Manalac even voicing his opinions on the field.


It’s hard to believe that in the spring of 2005 Corey Smith took a Greyhound bus from New Jersey to Cincinnati to watch spring practice so he could get an early look at what would be expected of him.  The rest is history as Smith has been a staple on the field since he arrived.  If he could stay healthy it’s hard to say what type of season he could have. Asked about the trip, Smith told me he’s boycotted the bus line and never plans on riding one again.


On defense the Bearcats are showing several different fronts and at times are loading the box using players with athletic talent to get outside of the tackles and tight ends.  In fact not only do these players use their speed to go from the outside to attack the quarterback they are also dropping back into coverage.  We continue to see new fronts and attack schemes by defensive coordinator Joe Tresey each practice as the Bearcats look to take the talent they have and get the most out of it.


Today’s practice saw quick movement but Brian Kelly still had time to get on several players.  Instead of it being on sloppiness the Bearcats head coach was working on getting players to do the plays as the staff expects it to be done.


The move of Tim Hinton back to running backs coach in my opinion is a major one.  When Coach Jones left the staff it would have been easy for Coach Kelly to find another person to fill his role.  Instead he moved Hinton back to the running back spot, a position he held on the former staff, and then hired Coach William Inge to take over the linebackers spot Hinton would be moving from.


Hinton is a veteran coach who gets the most out of his players and players love to play for him.  On Wednesday Hinton took his new charges and placed them up against his old ones as the running backs and linebackers worked on getting lower pad levels on a one-on-one drill.  While each side saw their moments, watching Jacob Ramsey go soft the first time around then come back and show the ability many expect of him by getting extra low and driving through the backer crushing the defender.  This drill was a heated one and one of pride with each side having won battles.  Torry Cornett and Jacob Ramsey were the stars of the drill with good showings by a few others.


For Coach Inge he’s seeing a few players look to find spots on the two deep as Collin McCafferty continues to take his game to another level and Robby Armstrong is showing signs he’s starting to feel like he belongs.  But as Coach Kelly has said Cornett is opening many eyes.


Jacob Ramsey and John Goebel are the main guys but the youth at the position has some talent that has yet to be seen.  It will be important to see if someone steps up before the end of spring or we can start the talk of Isaiah Pead playing as a freshman.


Another player on the defensive side of the ball much is expected of is Cedric Tolbert.  The Xenia native fought injury before his senior year of high school and then during the early part of his college career.  Now, with a position open with him name attached to it Tolbert is showing he wants to sew up the spot this spring and make his senior season one to remember.  With a nice athletic interception Tolbert is getting the attention of Coach Joe Tresey.


On the offensive side of the ball things are moving along.  The quarterback spot is going to get a lot of attention unless Ben Mauk gets a favorable ruling in the coming days.  But watching each of the quarterbacks and looking at the future I’d have to give Chazz Anderson a lot of credit.  The redshirt freshman is showing the things you expect to see from a future quarterback.  Here my most current breakdown of each.


Dustin Grutza: Has the experience and would get the call if the season started today.  While you know what you get from Dustin you always expect to get a little more.


Tony Pike: Has had stretches where he hits every read and makes the pass and then is off.  At this time he’d be fighting for playing time if this was the real season.


Demetrius Jones: Has worked hard but is still inconsistent in his delivery and overall mechanics.   Improvement has been seen as Coach Forest and Coach Kelly have each spent time with the transfer quarterback.  Coach Kelly feels it will continue as Jones continues to comeback from surgery and he gains confidence in his ability to air it out.


Zach Collaros: I’ve often spoken of Collaros being a lot like Mauk.  But moxie only gets you so far and Collaros needs to look less to run.  At times he reminds me of Grutza early in his career as he’s quick to pull the ball down and take off running.  In Brian Kelly’s offense this doesn’t work.  You must be able to string the play out while looking for the receiver that opens up.


Chazz Anderson: No one player has worked harder since coming to campus than Anderson and that work is starting to pay off.  When you watch Anderson in practice you see the instruction he’s getting from Brian Kelly.  I take this to mean Kelly has seen something in Anderson and is working to get the most out of it.  During team drills Anderson is doing the one thing that made Mauk have great success last season.  If you remember watching those overhead passing shots of Mauk hitting an open receiver after leaving the pocket you saw Ben always keep his eyes up and ahead.  Anderson is now showing the ability to do the same and this is huge for a quarterback to take their game to the next level.  Anderson’s arm strength is there and he throws a nice ball.  Don’t be surprised if he’s capable of earning the starting nod in the coming years if Jones doesn’t workout.


The improved play of the offensive line is a major positive as Coach Quinn is starting to see what he needs from guys to make the offense run to its full ability.  Trevor Canfield has all the tools to play at the next level and Jason Kelce can lineup at any of the five spots when needed.  One player that I feel really needs to take his game to another level is Khalil El-Amin.  The Purcell Marian product has the tools needed to have success but must want it.  As stated several times the improvement of C.J. Cobb has moved him into a position that he’s got a chance to earn a starting spot.  Watching the line now is like watching a dance as the group is working as a unit.


The move of Adrien Robinson to tight end was one many expected since he signed.  His physical frame is that of an NFL tight end and his athletic ability is awesome to watch.  Not only was this move great for team it will prove to be a great one for Robinson down the road.


Another tight end making big strides is Ben Guidugli.  The Highlands product is showing great hands but must work for playing time as Kazeem Alli could be set for a breakout season and the move of Robinson gives him even more competition.


If you listened to the audio of Brian Kelly you heard him say Marcus Barnett was a product of the team’s offensive system.  While I feel some of this is true, I also know “Bones” has the ability to be even better.  Slowed as he is returning from the injury in the bowl game the Maryland native shows a hitch in his run that should be gone by the time camp opens in August.


Charley Howard continues to impress and Jared Martin still shows skills enough to get playing time using his speed.  But the player I see that could have a breakout year is Armon Binns who has a great frame and has shown he’s capable of making some great catches.  The problem has been he’s dropped a few easy ones.


Wednesday turned out to be a good one for the Bearcats and much will be learned as they come back to the field on Friday and Saturday.



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