2013 Cincinnati Preview - Offense

Posted Jun 23, 2013

CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Cincinnati Bearcat Offense

Cincinnati Bearcats

Preview 2013 - Offense

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What you need to know:
One of Tommy Tuberville's first hires in the Queen City was Eddie Gran, who has more than a quarter-century of coaching experience. His official title will be offensive coordinator, but he'll also be a central figure in the recruitment of new talent, especially in Florida. Gran has minimal experience running an offense, and would be wise not to tinker too much with a system that was very successful under prior regimes. He has a few things on the agenda, headed by choosing between Brendon Kay and Munchie Legaux at quarterback. Legaux was the starter at the beginning of 2012, but Kay came on late to provide an infusion of stability. Whoever gets the ball will be well-protected by the American Athletic Conference's premier offensive line. But who will be on the receiving end of throws and handoffs? The Bearcats lost last year's top rusher, George Winn, and their two best pass-catchers, WR Kenbrell Thompkins and TE Travis Kelce, to graduation. While RB Ralph David Abernathy IV and WR Anthony McClung are slick playmakers, both are going to need help from their skill position teammates.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Munchie Legaux
120-230, 1,716 yds, 13 TDs, 9 INTs
Rushing: Ralph David Abernathy IV
69 carries, 366 yds, 3 TDs
Receiving: Anthony McClung
34 catches, 539 yds, 2 TDs

Star of the offense: Junior LT Eric Lefeld
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior WR Alex Chisum
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RT Parker Ehinger
Best pro prospect: Lefeld
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Lefeld, 2) Senior LG Austen Bujnoch, 3) Senior WR Anthony McClung
Strength of the offense: Athletic, experienced quarterbacks, the O-line, chunk yards
Weakness of the offense: Passing game consistency, proven skill players 


While there are better quarterbacks in the country than Brendon Kay, few are more resilient. The sixth-year senior, who was awarded an additional season last December, has had three different coaches, three different offensive systems and three knee surgeries since becoming a Bearcat. His perseverance began paying dividends last fall with five starts and four wins. The exclamation point came in a 332-yard, four-touchdown effort in the Belk Bowl. In less than half a season, Kay went 87-of-138 for 1,298 yards, 10 scores and only two picks. He also rushed for 306 yards and two more touchdowns, and caught a touchdown pass. At 6-4 and 233 yards, he has all of the physical tools needed for success at this level, including nice zip on his throws and the mobility to catch defenses napping.

As good as Kay was last year, senior Munchie Legaux is not going away without a fight. In fact, the pair is deadlocked atop the depth chart as fall camp approaches. The wiry 6-5, 199-pounder was the starter for last year's first seven games, but got pulled due to ineffectiveness. He's a terrific athlete, rushing for 335 yards and four scores on 55 carries. But Legaux is also spotty as a passer, going just 120-of-230 for 1,716 yards, 13 touchdowns and nine picks.

Watch Out For.... the reports from the practice squad. Sure, most of the attention this summer will be on the battle between Kay and Legaux, as it should. But in the fall, an ineligible Bearcat will make headlines. Notre Dame transfer Gunner Kiel, the nation's top-ranked recruit of 2012, is on the roster, but will have to sit out this season. For new head coach Tommy Tuberville, Kiel was as symbolic a signing as he was tactical. What happens to third-string redshirt freshman Bennie Coney, one of Cincy's gems from Butch Jones' final class?
Strength: Two experienced quarterbacks who can both run. Cincinnati has yet to name a starter, but is that such a bad thing? The Bearcats will have two seasoned veterans on the roster, both of whom can break down defenses by extending plays with their legs. One way or another, Cincy is going to have its best option under center, and a former starter in the event of an emergency.
Weakness: Consistency in the passing game. Yeah, Legaux was the main culprit in 2012, but Cincinnati still needs to polish up its overall act through the air. The Bearcats excelled on deep balls and yards after the catch, but only completed 56% of their passes to rank 94th in the country.
Outlook: The Bearcats have come a long way since early last November, when Legaux was struggling to lead the offense. Kay has evolved into a capable leader of the offense, Kiel has been signed and Coney is a valuable year older. If Legaux has improved, even better. Tuberville wants competition, but Kay showed last year that he gives Cincinnati its best chance to win games.
Rating: 7

Running Backs

Is Ralph David Abernathy IV the answer for a ground game bound to miss workhorse George Winn? We'll see. One certainty is that the 5-7, 168-pound junior is going to see the ball this season … a lot. He's an all-purpose dynamo, a shifty, speedy athlete who commands touches as a runner, receiver and return man. With an expanded role in 2012, Abernathy responded by sprinting for 366 yards and three scores on 69 carries, catching 28 balls for 341 yards and four more touchdowns and ranking second in the Big East in kickoff return average.

Complementing Abernathy will be sophomore Tion Green, a much bigger and more physical option out of the backfield. The 6-0, 201-pounder can work the area between the tackles, while occasionally bouncing outside in a chase for the first down marker. Green got a small taste of action last year, carrying 16 times for 70 yards and a touchdown.

Watch Out For .... the assimilation of the newcomers. Cincinnati went out and built depth through the junior-college ranks, adding Rodriguez Moore and Hosey Williams. While neither is expected to start, or even unseat Green at No. 2, both will be counted on to give breathers from the bench.
Strength: Versatility. The beauty of an athlete like Abernathy is that he can be employed in so many different ways. And that's exactly what Cincinnati plans to do with its multi-dimensional playmaker. He'll run, he'll catch and he'll be lined up in any way possible that gets him matched up with bigger, less agile defenders.
Weakness: Lack of a true feature back. Abernathy is a terrific weapon to have on offense, but he's not the kind of player who can be counted on to carry the ball 20-25 times on a weekly basis. Green? Maybe by 2014, but he's more likely to be a year or so away from commanding the role of an every-down player.
Outlook: The Bearcats might have to patch together the running game in 2013. Abernathy can bank on around 12-15 carries a game to go along with a smattering of receptions. And he'll flourish in an expanded role. But Green will have an important task in just his second year. He'll need to provide support to his diminutive backfield mate, grinding out the tough yards between the tackles and in short-yardage situations.
Rating: 6.5


The graduations of WR Kenbrell Thompkins and TE Travis Kelce have positioned senior Anthony McClung to become the undisputed leader of the pass-catchers. The 6-0, 172-pound playmaker out of the slot actually leads all American Athletic Conference holdovers with 105 career receptions. In 2012, he made 34 catches for 539 yards and a pair of touchdowns. McClung is a slippery weapon, making defenders whiff, yet is tougher than his size might indicate, both as a blocker and as a receiver crossing the middle of the field.

On the outside, the Bearcats need help. The time has arrived for 6-3, 186-pound junior Alex Chisum to start fulfilling his potential as one of the top recruits of the 2011 class. He was so promising as a rookie, but his production dipped to just nine catches for 140 yards a year ago. While Chisum has the measurables and the athleticism to ramp up in a hurry, he needs to locate a new level of consistency.

Favored to win the other job on the outside is sophomore Chris Moore. Long and lean like Chisum, the Tampa native caught four passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns in 2012. After showing a glimpse of his big-play potential as a rookie, he raised the bar throughout the offseason, performing as if he'll be a future cornerstone of the receiving corps.

The Bearcats have long loved to utilize the tight end as more than a blocker, good news for Kelce successor Blake Annen. The 6-5, 247-pounder has played sparingly up to this point in his career, catching just three career passes, but he's itching for a chance to use his height to create mismatches with linebackers.

None of the backups caught more than three passes a season ago, an indication of the problems the Bearcats are facing with depth. Junior Shaq Washington, McClung's backup in the slot, saw some action in five games, but nothing that warrants a foundation. Sophomore Max Morrison lettered in 2012 and authored a record-setting high school career, but he failed to catch a pass in his debut.

Watch Out For.... there to be so many tight end options that at least one Bearcat is asked to change positions. Right now, it's Annen followed by redshirt freshman DJ Dowdy. But in the summer, Notre Dame transfer Jake Golic and three talented recruits join the mix. Four-star rookie Travis Johnson turned away a slew of offers, including ones from Clemson, Florida, Ohio State and Oklahoma.
Strength: Athletic ability. Incomplete? Yes. But McClung, Moore and Chisum are all terrific athletes who can get separation, pluck balls out of the air and turn short tosses into long gains. Although consistency has been elusive for the group, it has a higher ceiling if it can start parlaying measurables into steady production.
Weakness: Proven playmakers. There's McClung … and a lot of unknown Bearcat receivers and tight ends. On the outside, Chisum and Moore combined for only 13 catches a year ago. And Annen has spent most of his career on the bench. Cincinnati needs more than one player to step up and provide the quarterbacks with reliable targets who run good routes and secure catchable throws.
Outlook: There's work to be done for the receiving corps this summer. McClung is a great place to start, but who complements him? For the offense to click up to expectations, it's imperative that Moore and Chisum make noise on the outside, helping open things up in the middle of the field. Cincinnati had a penchant for developing productive receivers under the last two regimes, but a new staff will have to prove itself by coaching up the targets it inherited.
Rating: 6.5

Offensive Line

Four starters are back for the Bearcats. Two were members of last year's All-Big East First Team. At left tackle, Eric Lefeld officially made the ascent from rising star to bona fide star among league blockers. Now a junior, the 6-6, 287-pound former defensive end and basketball player is poised to spend the next two seasons primping for NFL scouts. While Lefeld has piled on the mass and muscle since arriving, he has not sacrificed the footwork or athleticism that's helped make him such an accomplished pass protector. He has a very ceiling, exciting news for Cincinnati quarterbacks.

Joining Lefeld to give the Bearcats the Big East's most dominant left side is the program's other First Team All-Big East pick, LG Austen Bujnoch. Bujnoch has developed into a rock over the last two seasons, starting 25 games in a row. He's tough, physical and well-coached, a key reason why George Winn finished second in Big East rushing a year ago. At 6-5 and 285 pounds, Bujnoch is also light on feet, with the right frame to add more weight without sacrificing agility.

Anchoring the right side of the line will be 6-5, 286-pound senior G Sam Longo, who began his career at Ohio State. He can play multiple positions, but wound starting all but one game of his debut at guard. While Longo can stand to add a few pounds to his long frame, he plays with the tenacity and toughness that the new staff likes in its linemen.

Next to Longo at right tackle will be one of the up-and-comers of the unit, sophomore Parker Ehinger. He stepped in swiftly after Sean Hooey was lost to an injury, starting 12 games, one at guard and 11 at tackle. The Rockford, Mich. native was mostly recruited by MAC schools, but Cincinnati saw potential that others didn't. The fact that Ehinger is 6-7 and 290 pounds, with a long reach, had a lot to do with the Bearcats' belief that No. 78 could be a worthwhile project.

Rounding out the veteran unit is 6-3, 283-pound senior Dan Sprague, coming off his first season as a starter. Unspectacular, but steady, he did not miss a game, bringing reliability, clean snaps and consistency to the pivot. He ought to be even more prepared for action this year now that he has a full season of work in the vault.

The staff is working hard to get the backups ready in the event of an emergency, because few have logged meaningful minutes during their careers. The lone exception is 6-7, 275-pound junior Cory Keebler, a two-time letterwinner at tackle. Junior OG Kevin Schloemer is the only other reserve with a letter, yet he played in just three games in 2012.

Watch Out For .... Ehinger to make a bunch of coaches around the Midwest wish they'd given the tackle a longer look two years ago. He was raw at the time, and still has work to do, but he also looks of blooming into the next next-level Bearcat blocker who came completely out of leftfield.
Strength: The left side. The entire line is experienced, but Cincinnati is especially salty to the left of Sprague. Lefeld and Bujnoch are not just returning First Team All-Big East performers; they're good enough to attract the attention of pro scouts in the fall.
Weakness: The bench. The fact that the Bearcats have been so durable has been a blessing and a little bit of a curse. The program hasn't properly developed the kind of rotation that can handle the loss to injury of a key component. The staff ought to find a way to get the younger guys reps, because the interior of the line is comprised of all seniors.
Outlook: Underrated everywhere except in Cincinnati, the O-line will be the backbone of this offense. Lefeld and Bujnoch are terrific AAC blockers who'll encourage the staff to run the majority of plays behind them. The Bearcats were top 30 nationally in rushing and sacks allowed a year ago. More of the same is expected in 2013 since all five starters are back in the fold.
Rating: 7.5

- 2013 Cincinnati Preview | 2013 Cincinnati Offense
- 2013 Cincinnati Defense | 2013 Cincinnati Depth Chart