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2007 Cincinnati Preview - Offense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 13, 2007


Preview 2007 Cincinnati Bearcat Offense

Cincinnati Bearcats

Preview 2007 - Offense

- 2007 Cincinnati Preview | 2007 Cincinnati Defense Preview
-
2007 Cincinnati Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Cincinnati Preview 


What you need to know: Take whatever you knew about last year’s Cincy offense and delete it.  Nothing will be the same, as Brian Kelly and his staff dismantle Mark Dantonio’s plodding run game in favor of a fancy spread attack.  There’ll be growing pains, to be sure, but by mid-season, there should also be improvement if a consistent quarterback, such as Wake Forest transfer Ben Mauk, develops and the line adjusts to a zone blocking scheme.  A receiving corps that’s led by juniors Derrick Stewart, Dominick Goodman and Connor Barwin has a chance to blow up in the new system. 

Returning Leaders
Passing: Dustin Grutza
137-225, 1,632 yds, 9 TD, 13 INT
Rushing: Greg Moore
162 carries, 709 yds, 4 TD
Receiving: Dominick Goodman
40 catches, 452 yds, 5 TD

Star of the offense: Stewart
Player that has to step up and become a star: Mauk
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore T Jeff Linkenbach
Best pro prospect: Goodman
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Stewart  2) Goodman  3) G Trevor Canfield
Strength of the offense: The starting receivers, depth at running back
Weakness of the offense: No proven quarterback

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: If Brian Kelly’s spread offense is to hit the ground running in 2007, the new coach must pluck the right quarterback out of a half-dozen candidates with diverse skill sets.  On seniority alone, junior Dustin Grutza rates an early edge, however, he’ll have to address doubts whether he has the arm strength and mobility to be an ideal match for a new system that demands both.  He’s played extensively the last two seasons, throwing nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2006, but that was in a conservative offense that rarely asked the quarterback to be the offensive sparkplug.  Although Grutza’s a heady, competitive kid that’s won some battles in the Big East wars, he needs work on his mechanics and his hold on the top spot will be tenuous until he proves he can be more than just an offensive caretaker.       

Projected Top Reserves: Pushing Grutza from behind will be sophomores Craig Carey and Tony Pike, both of whom competed for the starting job in 2006, but didn’t take any snaps.  Carey is the best athlete of the quarterbacks, earning time on special teams last fall, but needs to sharpen his accuracy as a passer.  Pike is a 6-6 pocket passer with a strong arm, lacking the running ability that Kelly requires in his signal callers.      

Watch Out For…senior Ben Mauk.  The wild card, and possibly the frontrunner by September, is Mauk, a Wake Forest transfer who was grandfathered in under a recently rescinded rule allowing degreed players to switch schools without sitting out a season.  A tough competitor with a good arm, he was the Demon Deacon starter last fall before dislocating his throwing shoulder.               
Strength: Experience.  No matter who gets the ball when Cincinnati hosts SE Missouri State on Aug. 30, the Bearcats will be one of only a handful of teams boasting a No. 2 quarterback with at least ten games of starting experience.  If Grutza—or Mauk—struggles or gets injured, it’ll be a luxury to have a backup that’s gotten meaningful minutes before.           
Weakness: Lack of a proven passer.  Kelly chose journeyman Nick Davila over a healthy Grutza in January’s International Bowl in Canada.  Mauk is coming off a couple of major surgeries to his pitching arm.  Neither of the chief contenders has more career touchdown passes than interceptions, a potentially big problem in this offense.          
Outlook: Assuming he’s healthy, Mauk has the best combination of talent, experience and grit, and should supplant Grutza at some point in the season.  Kelly is the same coach that won the MAC at Central Michigan last year with freshman Dan LeFevour so rookies Chazz Anderson and Zach Collaros shouldn’t be completely counted out.       
Rating: 6.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: Say good-bye to the fullback and hello to the one-back set in Cincinnati.  The Bearcats have no shortage of experienced runners, including last year’s starter Greg Moore, a 6-2, 225-pound power back with decent speed.  The senior started eight of Cincy’s final nine games, finishing with a team-best 709 yards and four scores.  While not a candidate to break off long runs or catch passes out of the backfield, a concern in this offense, Moore is the type of back that’ll wear out defenses and cannot be arm tackled.             

Projected Top Reserves: While senior Bradley Glatthaar is a similar north-south runner as Moore, classmate Butler Benton gives the backfield a little jolt of speed and an option as a third-down receiver.  At 6-1 and 210 pounds, he has goods hands and the closest thing to breakaway speed on the roster, both of which had not been lost on the new staff. 

Glatthaar is a bruising 225-pound back who led the Bearcats in rushing as a sophomore before tailing off to just 285 yards and three yards a carry in 2006.  Kelly will ask all of his runners to pass protect which shouldn’t be an issue for these three big backs.            

Watch Out For… a running game by committee.  Moore’s job is in serious jeopardy, and there’s not enough separation in talent among the top three backs to believe one will get the overwhelming majority of the carries.  They’re all big, interchangeable seniors that do their best work running between the tackles.      
Strength: Depth.  Kelly isn’t going to focus on the ground game at Cincinnati, but it’s still a luxury to have three veteran backs that have all started games in their college careers.  In short yardage, the Bearcats will be very tough to stop, particularly if former 275-pound former fullback Doug Jones is inserted as a lead blocker.         
Weakness: A lack of a breakaway back.  As a complement to Cincinnati’s trio of bruising backs, it sure would be nice to have a player on the roster with a little wiggle that can take a handoff or a screen pass and go the distance.  If the Bearcats are going to have any big plays in 2007, it’ll have to come from the passing attack.               
Outlook:  There’s no special back on the roster so the running game will be steady with Moore, Benton and Glatthaar, but unspectacular.  Provided they can take some heat off the quarterbacks and overachieve in pass protection, they’re job will be done.    
Rating: 6

Receivers

Projected Starters: After the obvious need for a quality quarterback, Kelly’s spread offense must have a bunch of receivers, preferably tall ones that can make catches in traffic and pick up additional yards after contact.  Although four of last year’s top six receivers are back for another year, that hasn’t kept the staff from worrying if there are enough reliable pass-catchers on the roster.  All the receivers are going to thrive in a more passer-friendly offense, but none more than junior Dominick Goodman who had 40 receptions and five touchdown catches last year, capped by an MVP effort in the International Bowl.  He’s 6-1 and 200 pounds, able to get behind a secondary and still learning after playing quarterback throughout high school. 

At just 5-11 and 175 pounds, junior Derrick Stewart doesn’t fit the blueprint at receiver, but he’s a game-breaker who can take short slants and turn them into big gainers.  Better suited in the slot, he averaged more than 20 yards on his 33 catches in 2006 and has the jets to be useful in a variety of different ways. 

Senior Earnest Jackson is Cincinnati’s career receiving leader with 68 catches for 901 yards and four touchdowns, but was a non-factor a year ago and needs to play to his full potential this fall.  While not a burner at 6-3 and 215 pounds, he’s got the size to out muscle or out leap most of the Big East’s defensive backs and could be used at tight end if there’s a need. 

Although tight end Brent Celek will certainly be missed, Cincinnati believes it has his replacement in junior Connor Barwin who flashed plenty of upside last season.  In spot duty, he caught 13 passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns, displaying the nice hands, good speed and tight route running that already has the Bearcats suggesting he’ll be an all-conference performer before he’s done.  He tore ligaments in his ankle playing pick-up basketball in the spring, but is expected back in the summer.                            

Projected Top Reserves: The Bearcats are happy with their second-unit receivers, but just need more of them.  Whether or not he climbs into the starting lineup, sophomore Jared Martin is going to be a major player in this season’s rotation.  He played sparingly as a freshman, but is one of Cincy’s best deep threats and really helped his cause in last December’s practices leading up to the bowl game. 

Antwuan Giddens is a rangy, 6-3 senior who needs to finally capitalize on his size and leaping ability when the offense shifts into four and five-wide receiver sets.  He’s lettered the last two years, but had just a single catch in five games in 2006. 

Tight end Kazeem Alli played in all 13 games as a redshirt freshman and shows plenty of potential as a pass-catcher.  At 6-3 and 245 pounds, he has the speed to split the seam and develop into a playmaker at the position.  A knee injury, however, kept him out of spring and could wind up nixing his sophomore season. 

The spoiler at tight end is former fullback Doug Jones who has switched positions out of career necessity.  A load at 6-4 and 273 pounds, he’s surprisingly nimble and sure-handed which will make it impossible to keep him away from the field.                    

Watch Out For… significant playing time for one or both of the Cats’ highly-touted incoming freshmen.  O.J. Woodard and Tomaz Hilton were recruited by Kelly specifically to which in this offense which they’ll do very early in their careers.  The leading receiver on Kelly’s 2006 Central Michigan team?  Freshman Bryan Anderson.       
Strength: The front-line receivers.  Stewart, Goodman and Barwin have all-Big East potential now that the passing game will open up and Jackson is a steady veteran with three letters already in the trophy case.  It’s a diverse group of speed and size with enough of the latter to make Kelly smile.  
Weakness: The backup wide receivers.  Mark Dantonio didn’t make recruiting receivers a priority when he was in Cincinnati which the Bearcats will feel in 2007.  The depth at tight end is fine, but at receiver, there’s little margin for error or injuries this fall.           
Outlook: The new staff could have inherited a far worse situation here, but instead have a solid core of receivers and tight ends that’s going to produce a statistical star or two.  Now all they have to do is go out and consistently make plays in a system that’s designed to max out all of their potential.
Rating: 6.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: For two years, Cincinnati has given up way too many sacks, a sobering fact that needs to be as the spread offense is slowly implemented.  The building blocks for improvement are there with the return of three starting linemen, however, it could be a while before the right combination and chemistry is found.  Senior Digger Bujnoch, junior Trevor Canfield and sophomore Jeff Linkenbach will all be in the lineup, but where each will be is still a pretty fluid process. 

For now, Bujnoch is staying at left tackle after the staff flirted with the idea of moving him to center.  At 6-5 and 290 pounds, he’s versatile, quick on his feet and one of the line’s brightest leaders.  

Linkenbach was one of last year’s big surprises, winning the opening at tackle in the summer and never relinquishing it.  A brick wall at 6-6 and 290 pounds, he shaped up in the off-season in anticipation of becoming a more athletic lineman in his second season.
 
Fresh off an all-Big East sophomore season, Canfield is the rock of this unit.  A devastating run blocker at 6-5 and 300 pounds, he needs to polish up his pass protection in order to become a complete lineman. 

Now that the plug on the Bujnoch-to-center experiment was pulled, sophomore Chris Jurek and senior Chris Flores will continue their battle for the start in the summer.  Both are dangerously undersized at around 6-2 and 270 pounds, but Flores rates a slight edge by virtue of his three starts in 2006.  

Senior Jeremy Bolton has only three career starts on the resume, but is hardly inexperienced with 23 games and three letters to his credit.  One of the strongest members of the Bearcats, he’ll move from tackle to left guard in 2007, where he’s facing a nasty challenge from senior Ken Rodriguez.                         

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Mario Duenas is a smaller, quicker and nastier version of Bolton who’s going to challenge for the nod at guard all summer and fall.  A dozen games of experience in 2006 and two years at City College of San Francisco has him prepared to contribute at either guard or center.  The coaching staff is hoping that tackle depth will come from C.J. Cobb, a powerful redshirt freshman who has the body to contribute right now, but needs more game experience to improve his overall game. 

Khalil El-Amin, who was on his way to starting in 2006 before injuring his knee, is one of the line’s best all-around athletes.  The 6-5, 318-pound junior has the quick feet and long arms to handle the league’s better rush ends once he gets back in shape.                     

Watch Out For… whether the Bearcats play like hunters in a farmers’ world.  This group, which was recruited and coached to block in a power running scheme, must now shift gears and adapt to much more pass-blocking.  The new zone blocking scheme requires a level of athleticism and agility which is not this unit’s calling card.         
Strength: Run blocking.  The Bearcat line is a collection of big, strong, stereotypical linemen that are particularly good at the point of attack.  It’s at its best when Cincinnati is in short yardage and the physical unit can drive an opposing defense off the line of scrimmage.       
Weakness: Pass blocking.  Unless Kelly opts to implement the spread gradually, this could be a nagging theme all year long.  El-Amin aside, this is not a particularly athletic front wall which will make it susceptible to some of the Big East’s faster edge rushers.    
Outlook: The offensive line has enough returning talent to hold up against average defenses, but against those that can bring the heat, such as Louisville, Rutgers and USF, it’s going to get exposed.         
Rating: 6

  

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2007 Cincinnati Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 31, 2007
2007 Cincinnati Preview - Defense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 13, 2007
2007 Cincinnati Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 13, 2007








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