Tale Of Two Days

Friday and Saturday moved the Bearcats to the midway point of the spring season. Like most teams across the country there are positions to shore up and jobs to be won or loss. While Friday had coaches excited the performance of the team on Saturday left some scratching their heads.

Friday brought the possibility of some nasty weather but the Bearcats got lucky and enjoyed another practice without getting wet until the very end when Brian Kelly spoke with the team. 


For Kelly the day saw him return to his roots and make several suggestions to defensive players about what they should be doing.  As Kerry Coombs told me, “This is by far our best day of the spring.”  And I’d have to agree.


One of the moves to keep an eye on could be Brandon Underwood taking over for DeAngelo Smith as he moves to shore up the safety spot.  Underwood has been showing vast improvement after getting a slow start and could be a major factor showing why he was so heavily recruited coming out of Hamilton High School.


With the play of Mike Mickens and Smith the Bearcats know they have two solid players capable of making “big time” plays that can change the outcome of the game.  Adding Underwood would give them three players of this capacity in my opinion.


While the defensive secondary looks to be solid there are questions at linebacker after you get past the top four of Corey Smith, Andre Revels, Torry Cornett and Ryan Manalac.  There have been some improvements made as Robby Armstrong is starting to get into a groove but Alex Delisi has seen his ups and downs.  This should be expected in a player’s first spring where he’s getting his first set of major reps and I fully expect continued improvement will be seen by the young backer from Clarkston, Michigan.


The defensive front is better than what they have shown this spring.  With Terrill Byrd getting a late start and the absence of Adam Hoppel the Bearcats front has been weakened greatly.  Some players like Ricardo Mathews and John Hughes have the talent and are really starting to understand what they need to be doing.  Each has made some nice plays but the absence of Ralston Reeves and Chris Harrison from the roster means the position has been weakened.


While Coach Kelly doesn’t call the move of Craig Carey and Connor Barwin an experiment, you have to remind yourself both players are coming from offensive skill positions.  Overall the move is working but each player at times finds themselves locked up with an offensive lineman not able to get out of their grasp.  The work these two have done so early is impressive and must continue for them to have a major impact on how the Bearcats front will perform during the season.  Getting Hoppel and Byrd in the middle fulltime makes this group one to keep an eye on. 


The offense also has seen its ups and downs but two things have stand out so far this spring.  The offensive line is vastly improved and the Bearcats are running the football better than they have the past couple of years.  While much credit must go to the guys up front, the play of running backs Jacob Ramsey and John Goebel looks to be an added improvement with both players displaying speed and power.


This is the forth spring I’ve covered the Bearcats and for the forth time the biggest question is who the quarterback will be next season.  While Ben Mauk continues his battle with the NCAA, Dustin Grutza, Tony Pike, Chazz Anderson, Zach Collaros and Demetrius Jones are all looking to open the eyes of the Bearcats coaching staff.


Each day I’m asked who the starting quarterback will be and I tell them I see Ben Mauk standing behind center next season.  The Kenton, Ohio native along with several of the Bearcats staff feel as if he’ll get the NCAA to revise their denial for a sixth year and I feel Ben will do whatever is need to be there against Eastern Kentucky come August even if that means going into a court of law.


A side note on Ben and the Mauk family.  Mike Mauk (Ben’s father) is the head coach at Kenton High School and is one of the finalists for the Middletown job that is open.  While Ben confirmed his father is in the running he wouldn’t address questions that his dad would look to move to another program in Southwest Ohio if Middletown doesn’t go his way.  Some in the area feel that the head coach of Monroe will get the Middies job with Mauk then looking to take over at Monroe.


As for the other quarterbacks I continue to feel Chazz Anderson is showing signs of being the next in line for the Bearcats.  Chazz is showing a strong arm and is really starting to show he understands what is expected of him.  This is not to say Chazz isn’t making mistakes but they are the ones right now most quarterbacks would make at this stage of their career.  I’ve spoken with several within the Bearcats and have gotten mixed names as some like Anderson and others feel Collaros is the next in line.


If the season started today I feel Dustin Grutza would get the first snaps.  But if he would play the way his spring has gone I feel Brian Kelly would make a quick pull.  No one has really pulled away from the others in this race and I don’t feel a true front runner will be named until camp gets underway in August.  At this time I couldn’t give any of the quarterbacks a grade of “A” for the job they’ve done this spring.  Each has had their moments but no one has taken the next step and shown they are the guy to beat.


Wide receiver is a deep position for the Bearcats and several guys have shown they’ve got what it takes.  Dominick Goodman is as solid as any receiver in the country and once Marcus Barnett is back 100% he should be able to match what he did last season.  Marucs has been give an attitude adjustment to keep him grounded.  Nothing serious but just the way coaches go to keep a young player who has early success in line and not get too big of an ego.  Two players who continue to take the next step are Armon Binns and Charley Howard but all of the receivers better get as much work as they can because I feel D.J. Woods is going to be given a hard look to play as a freshman.  And while I’m on the subject of receivers Jared Martin still has the tools but to be a major factor.


During Saturday’s scrimmage a couple of players made some great plays.  The biggest play of the day also drew the attention of Brian Kelly.  Andre Revels made the pick and ran it back for a long score.  During his return Kelly yelled for him to stop but Revels heard Coach Inge telling him to score.  While Kelly showed his displeasure it wasn’t because Revels made the return.  The issue was Coach Inge didn’t have another backer ready to go.  Andre got some one-on-one time with BK as the head coach spoke with him about his talking.


Another play that caught the eyes of players was when Drew Frey made a tackle after coming clear across the field.  I was standing on the offensive sidelines and several of the players couldn’t believe what they saw.  Frey is having a very good spring and should continue his climb with added playing time in the near future.




Pass is to Binns


Binns Can't Hold On


Robinson is there to save the day.


Touchdown Robinson


Adrien Robinson is one of the most impressive players I’ve seen wear a Bearcats uniform over the past four seasons.  Robinson is blessed with great physical size and has his ability to make plays is second to none.  The move of Robinson to tight end should see him also take a jump with on-the-field play as we get closer to the season.


As with any team across the country injuries and missed practices are the norm.  While veteran players can miss practice it’s the young ones who need the reps at this stage to help them get ready for preseason camp.  The Bearcats have seen a few nicks, bumps and bruises, along with a virus that has slowed some down.  Overall I feel this has been a very healthy camp and one of great growth.


Over the course of camp several high school prospects have made the trip to Cincinnati to take a look at the Bearcats.  Most of the times these players are not the ones you look hard at during the recruiting process but Brian Kelly and his Bearcats have seen several visitors with offers make a visit who are major targets for his staff.


Stay tuned for my Report Card later as the Bearcats are now at the halfway point of the spring season.


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