2011 Cincinnati Preview – Offense
Cincinnati QB Zach Collaros
Cincinnati QB Zach Collaros
Posted Jun 5, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Cincinnati Bearcat Offense

Cincinnati Bearcats

Preview 2011 - Offense

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What you need to know:
Yeah, Cincinnati led the Big East in scoring and total offense, but anyone who's followed the program recognized that the attack wasn't quite the same. The Bearcats lacked the same punch and crispness as when Brian Kelly was calling the shot, producing 11 fewer points a game. The program gets a second chance with Butch Jones' spread attack, looking for far more potency than in 2010. Everything will revolve around the conference's best backfield, which is led by QB Zach Collaros and RB Isaiah Pead. The seniors are headed back to the all-league team, as is WR DJ Woods, giving Cincy a dynamite trio at the skill positions. However, the line is iffy in pass protection, turnovers have to be eliminated, and the receiving corps needs playmakers to step in for WR Armon Binns and TE Ben Guidugli. One possible rising star is JUCO transfer Kenbrell Thompkins, a former Tennessee commit, with the skills to bloom into an overnight sensation.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Zach Collaros
225-383, 2,902 yds, 26 TDs, 14 INTs
Rushing: Isaiah Pead
157 carries, 1,029 yds, 6 TDs
Receiving: D.J. Woods
57 catches, 898 yds, 8 TDs

Star of the offense: Senior RB Isaiah Pead
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior LT Sean Hooey
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Kenbrell Thompkins
Best pro prospect: Pead
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Pead, 2) Senior QB Zach Collaros, 3) Senior WR DJ Woods
Strength of the offense: Balance, big plays in the passing game, third down conversions, quarterback
Weakness of the offense: Pass protection, turnovers, converting in the red zone


State of the Unit: The coach and the starting quarterback return together for a second straight year, encouraging news for the Cincinnati passing game. The aerial attack, so instrumental under Brian Kelly during the back-to-back Big East title runs, fizzled at times last season. Sure, the cumulative numbers didn't look all that bad, but something was missing and the passing game wasn't nearly as crisp as it had been in the past.

Senior Zach Collaros showed spurts in his first full season as a starter, leading the Big East in touchdowns, but also in interceptions. An ideal fit for the spread attack, he should be far more comfortable with the system and the personnel within it. A year ago, he went 225-of-383 for 2,902 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. He also has light feet, using his 6-0, 223-pound frame to weave through defenses for 202 yards and four scores on 121 carries. His combination of athleticism and accuracy on the intermediate stuff should bode well for his final year on campus.

With the transfer of veteran Chazz Anderson, the Bearcats' depth behind center took a big hit. In his wake, there's a raging battle for the No. 2 job between 6-5, 197-pound sophomore Munchie Legaux and 6-3, 215-pound sophomore Jordan Luallen . Legaux has a lot of raw ability, though his development was set back last year when he spent it at wide receiver. Luallen began his career at Georgia Tech before transferring to Cincinnati. An outstanding runner and leader, he hasn't thrown a pass since 2008 and will reps to shake off the rust.

Watch Out For .... Collaros to look more like the player he was in 2009. Last season started poorly for No. 12 and never completely got off the ground. Now that he's had another full offseason, though, he's looked sharper in practice and in better control of Butch Jones' offense.
Strength: Dual-threat ability. With the recruitment of Legaux and transfer of Luallen, the Bearcats now have two athletic quarterbacks to learn behind Collaros. Cincinnati wants its passers to be agile and able to escape pressure, which is not going to be an issue for this trio.
Weakness: Turnovers. Yeah, proven depth is certainly an issue as well, but the Bearcats hope they'll only turn to Legaux or Luallen in blowouts. The bigger issue is Collaros' interceptions, which were too frequent a year ago, especially down the stretch. Over the final four games, he threw 10 of them, resulting in three Cincinnati losses.
Outlook: After falling off the radar in 2010, Collaros could be ready to reintroduce himself to the country this fall. A talented quarterback, who's back for a second season in the system, he's capable of increasing his number of touchdowns passes while cutting down on the picks. In an ideal world, he flourishes and one of the sophomores shows signs he's ready to become the heir apparent in 2012.
Rating: 7.5

Running Backs

State of the Unit: Cincinnati had four players rush for more than 100 yards in 2010, all of whom are back on campus for another season. Only John Goebel, who carried the ball just 33 times and fell on the depth chart, has graduated. Now, one of those ballcarriers was QB Zach Collaros, but the other three are running backs who'll help form a deep and talented backfield to complement the passing game.

In 5-11, 198-pound senior Isaiah Pead, the Bearcats boast one of the nation's better backs, a playmaker with next-level potential. A dynamic all-purpose athlete, he rushed for 1,029 yards and six scores on only 157 carries, adding 26 catches for 190 yards and a touchdown. Operating with track speed and nifty open-field moves, he accelerates quickly and can get to top gear before even reaching the secondary. Not a traditional workhorse, he's only carried more than 20 times in a game on three occasions.

The new backup to Pead is 5-11, 195-pound George Winn , who ran for 145 yards on 33 carries in a reserve role in 2010. He's tougher than his size might indicate and isn't afraid to work between the tackles. For a change-of-pace, Cincinnati can look to 5-7, 176-pound junior Darrin Williams, a speedy stop-and-start runner. Limited by an ankle injury to just four games, he turned 20 carries into 144 yards.

Watch Out For .... the backs to be used more as receivers this season. All three of the primary backs have soft hands, with the quickness to encourage the coaches to get them the ball in space. With question marks in the receiving corps, Pead, Winn, and Williams will make sensible weapons.
Strength: Big-play ability. Pead is the poster child of an ensemble of backs that can break off a long run with even a hint of daylight. All are quick to the hole and have the shifty hips to make defenders miss. The Bearcats averaged a healthy 4.7 yards a carry, a number that balloons up to six yards when quarterbacks sacks are removed from the equation.
Weakness: Proven backups. Although Pead has proven to be durable, he also hasn't been fed an extra helping of carries during his career. He's not especially thick, and if he ever goes down, there's no telling how Winn or Williams would react to a feature role out of the backfield.
Outlook: Four of last year's top five Big East rushers are now making a run at the NFL, leaving Pead as the new signature back of the conference. He has next-level speed and cuts of his own, giving the Bearcats a dangerous threat on the ground. He should be good for around 20 carries and 100 yards rushing a game, occasionally taking breathers and giving reps to Winn and Williams.
Rating: 7.5


State of the Unit: For the second straight year, Cincinnati will be trying to replace a stud outside receiver. Last season, it missed Mardy Gilyard and the 2011 team will be a little less potent with downfield threat Armon Binns. The Bearcats do welcome back one all-star, but holes need to be plugged at wide receiver and tight end in order to keep the passing attack from suffering a setback.

After playing in the shadows of Gilyard and Binns, 6-0, 178-pound senior D.J. Woods is poised to become the program's premier playmaker of the passing game. Lethal coming out of the slot, he caught 57 passes for 898 yards and eight touchdowns, earning a spot on the All-Big East second team. A polished all-around pass-catcher, with the best hands on the team, he'll leave Cincinnati as one of the most productive receivers to ever play at the school.

A lot of hope for 2011 is being pinned on 6-1, 196-pound junior Kenbrell Thompkins , a heavily-recruited transfer from El Camino (Calif.) Community College. Already on campus, he looks capable of replacing Binns and becoming a true go-to guy for Zach Collaros. Long, lean, and strong in the upper body, he has the talent to take the Big East by storm in his first year on campus.

In the three-wide set, 6-3, 216-pound senior Orion Woodard is on track to be the team's third starter. While big and physical, he's struggled to make an impact on offense, catch two balls for 18 yards in 2010. The top Bearcat off the bench will be 6-0, 164-pound sophomore Anthony McClung , the heir apparent to Woods in the slot. A flashy playmaker when he can avoid the jam at the line of scrimmage, he had 22 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns a year ago.

The battle at tight end involves three players, 6-5, 245-pound sophomore Blake Annen , 6-6, 252-pound junior Travis Kelce , and 6-5, 268-pound senior Adrien Robinson. While all three lettered, only Robinson caught a pass, making six grabs for 65 yards.

Watch Out For .... Thompkins to erupt into one of the Big East's more explosive receivers. His talent plus Collaros and a high-powered passing attack is going to equal at least 50 catches and a half-dozen touchdown receptions. He's an SEC-caliber athlete, who's itching to finally begin making a name for himself beyond the JUCO level.
Strength: Playmakers. In Woods and Thompkins alone, Cincinnati harbors a pair of gamebreakers, receivers who can turn a quick hitch into a 25-yard gain. Even beyond the starters, the Bearcats are loaded with quality athletes and as much speed as any receiving corps in the Big East.
Weakness: Depth. Losing Binns, Marcus Barnett, and all-league TE Ben Guidugli has left Cincinnati somewhat inexperienced in the receiving corps. The tight end competition is a toss-up, Woodard is better suited as a reserve, and just one backup caught a pass last season.
Outlook: Woods is an underrated star and Thompkins has a high ceiling, but this offense needs more than just two sure-things. It'll be incumbent upon the third receiver, the tight ends, and the backups to contribute as well, giving Collaros the targets he needs to spread the ball around and keep defenses on their heels.
Rating: 7

Offensive Line

State of the Unit: Assistant Don Mahoney has his work cut out for him this fall, patching up an offensive line that lost three starters to graduation, including all-league C Jason Kelce. Last year's squad struggled to support the rest of the offense in 2011, especially in pass protection. Yeah, there'll still be a veteran feel at the top of the depth chart, but the backups will be painfully young, forcing them to grow up quickly or get displaced by incoming freshmen.

The anchor up front will be 6-7, 299-pound senior RT Alex Hoffman, an All-Big East guard two seasons ago. About to enter his third year as a starter, he's one of the vocal leaders and one of the most physical players in the trenches. With a chance to impress NFL scouts with his versatility and improving technique, he's poised to deliver his best year as a Bearcat.

After starting a couple of games at right tackle a year ago, 6-9, 300-pound junior Sean Hooey is working to take over the left tackle opening. He's bulked up since arriving, yet still has the light feet and long arms to be an effective pass protector. He has to work on his technique, however, or else 6-6, 281-pound Eric Lefeld might start getting looks. Just a redshirt freshman, he has dramatically improved his strength since arriving as a skinny defensive end.

Looking for redemption following a rough season is 6-4, 285-pound senior Evan Davis , who's slated to replace Kelce at center. He started the opener against Fresno State at left guard, got whipped, and then got benched for the balance of the year. He's added some weight in the offseason which ought to help. He was bumped from the lineup last September by 6-1, 290-pound senior Randy Martinez, who went on to start the final 11 games. A former defensive lineman and prep wrestler, he uses his hands well and plays the game fast. Right guard will be decided between two sophomores, 6-5, 280-pound Austen Bujnoch and 6-6, 301-pound Andre Cureton , who lettered but didn't start a game in 2010. Bujnoch had some injuries early in his career, but has added weight and has had a healthy offseason so far. Cureton has gone in the opposite direction, shedding more than 50 pounds over two years and getting in a position to compete for this opening.

Watch Out For .... Davis' development at the pivot. Miscast as a starter last fall, he no longer has much margin for error. If he fails to hold up again in September, it's going to cost the entire offense, especially now that he's snapping the ball.
Strength: Run blocking. The Bearcats were deceptively strong here last season, opening gaping holes for Isaiah Pead to run through. A hard-working, blue-collar group, it latches on to opposing linemen, and allowed the Cincy running backs to average more than six yards a carry last season.
Weakness: Pass protection. Even with a fleet-footed veteran taking snaps, the ‘Cats still ranked 97th nationally in sacks allowed, yielding almost three a game. It's a unit with heavy legs and average footwork, struggling to match the speed and explosiveness of athletic rush ends.
Outlook: On the inside of the offense, Cincinnati is a pedestrian group that's going to have some problems in a league loaded with quality pass rushers. Hoffman is a cornerstone player and might continue his career on Sundays, but there aren't enough like him. He's surrounded by average blockers, who'll need to step it up in a big way this fall.
Rating: 6.5

- 2011 Cincinnati Preview | 2011 Cincinnati Offense
- 2011 Cincinnati Defense | 2011 Cincinnati Depth Chart
- Cincinnati Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006