Preseason Look: Underwood, Coombs Talk UC "D"

Summer's a busy time for college football players. But first-year Bearcat Brandon Underwood had without a doubt the busiest summer of all. Needing to complete seven courses over the summer to become eligible for this fall's season, the Ohio State transfer had a lot on his plate. But clearing that plate earned him a delightful dessert- a starting spot at cornerback for UC's ball-hawking defense.

"It felt like I unloaded an 18-wheeler from my back," said senior cornerback Brandon Underwood of finishing and passing all of his required summer classes and being able to now focus solely on football. "It's just beautiful to wake up and know that all I've got to do is work at my trade and get better every day I come in, keep improving on the little things."

Underwood's ongoing improvements seen over the spring and summer on the field have led to him becoming a starter at corner opposite senior all-American Mike Mickens. Senior DeAngelo Smith, who played cornerback last season on his way to tie for the national lead in interceptions, has been moved to safety, where he should be able to adapt just fine.

But with that move, pressure will be put on Underwood to deliver results says defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs.

"I can tell you this- we didn't move DeAngelo Smith for Brandon Underwood not to have a great year," said Coombs after UC's last open practice of the preseason. "So if Brandon Underwood doesn't have a great year we can put (Smith) right back there, and Brandon knows that. But I expect Brandon's going to have a phenomenal year, I really do."

Coombs has liked what he's seen out of Underwood all camp, but has been honest with him about his performance within the past week.

"He's had a superior preseason," says Coombs of the 6'-1", 190-lb. senior. "Although, I've told him this last week I thought he leveled off a little bit since he's become the starter. And some of that is because you get more reps when you're the starter, your legs get a little heavier, there's a little more pressure, there's a lot more intricacies of what we're doing, and so I would expect that this next week he's really going to have a chance to fine tune his skills. But he's really had a great, great, great preseason."

Underwood says he's noticed the intensity and pace of practice go to a whole different level now that he's started to consistently run with the ones. While he has continued to look good in his coverage, he's quick to recognize the help he's getting from his teammates across the Bearcat defense.

"I can't do it by myself," says Underwood. "We've got great D-line play and great linebacker play."

While the defensive line and linebacker positions do feature top level talent in players such as Terrill Byrd, Adam Hopple, Corey Smith, and Ryan Manalac just to name a few, this season's Bearcat secondary could be the most talented and exciting ever seen in the Queen City.

"I think that the three of those guys- Mike, DeAngelo, and Brandon- they make us one of the better secondaries around," says coach Coombs, who's excited about his defensive backs in '08-'09. The only problem? All three of the players mentioned will be seniors this year.

"Oh it's a fantastic situation," says Coombs of all of the talent and senior leadership in his secondary this season. "The only issue is getting guys ready for next year. But we're going to live for this year. We're going to go out there and play every snap and every down with the idea and the opportunity to win the Big East championship and to play in a national championship game. We're going to lay it all out, we're going to play great seniors across the board, and it's going to be very, very exciting."

But Bearcat fans should not expect a total collapse in the secondary come next season, even with fellow standout defensive back Cedric Tolbert being a senior this year. Brad Jones, Aaron Webster, and Drew Frey should all expect to see playing time this season according to Coombs, and be able to bring that experience and development back to the table for next year.

Bearcat fans should also be prepared to learn a few new names this season, as the class of 2008 has yielded some impressive defensive back talent for coach Coombs to work with. Dominique Battle and Bruce Horner have both had standout preseasons, while Quincy Quetant and Patrick Lambert have been pleasant surprises at safety for the coach.

"They both have a good understanding for the game, they're really physical kids," says Coombs of Quetant and Lambert. He also praised Cameron Cheatham and Jared Rains for their speed and physicality as freshman this preseason. "This is a great class, and we're excited about each and every one of them."

Don't expect much red-shirting in this class, as coach Coombs suggested that most or all of his class of '08 defensive backs could see field action this season.

"We've told every one of them to be ready and be prepared to play at any time," he said. "I would expect that Quetant and Battle would be the first two that see action, but I would expect also that Horner and Lambert are going to get on the field, and you may see every one of them before the year is up."

Between the talent and experience of Underwood, Mickens, Smith, and the rest of the senior Bearcat defender, plus the imports of raw, young, talented freshman and underclassmen, the Cincinnati defense and secondary in particular should be quite a sight to behold this season. Thursday night at 7:30 the ‘Cats kick things off with the Eastern Kentucky Colonels at Nippert Stadium.

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