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2009 Cincinnati Preview - Offense
Cincinnati QB Tony Pike
Cincinnati QB Tony Pike
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 23, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Cincinnati Bearcat Offense

Cincinnati Bearcats

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 2009 CFN Cincinnati Preview | 2009 Cincinnati Offense
-
2009 Cincinnati Defense | 2009 Cincinnati Depth Chart
- 2008 Cincinnati Preview | 2007 Cincinnati Preview
| 2006 Cincinnati Preview

What you need to know: In stark contrast to the defense, eight starters return to an offense that might have to carry this program for the first month or two of the season. The pitch-and-catch combo of Tony Pike to Mardy Gilyard figures to be one of the most prolific in the country, pairing a couple of next-level talents, who hooked up for 11 touchdowns last fall. Unlike a year ago, Pike has removed the uncertainty at quarterback and brings stability and a big arm to the position. The Bearcats are also set at the skill positions, provided some of the younger players, like RB Isaiah Pead and receivers D.J. Woods and Armon Binns, step up and provide support. The biggest concern revolves around an offensive line that was marginal in 2008, and now must replace both starters to the right of center.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Tony Pike
199-324, 2,407 yds, 19 TD, 11 INT
Rushing: Jacob Ramsey
152 carries, 664 yds, 2 TD
Receiving: Mardy Gilyard
8 1catches, 1,276 yds, 11 TD

Star of the offense: Senior WR Mardy Gilyard
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior RT Sam Griffin
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Isaiah Pead
Best pro prospect: Gilyard
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Gilyard, 2) Senior Tony Pike,  3) Senior LT Jeff Linkenbach
Strength of the offense: The passing game, depth at running back,
Weakness of the offense: Run blocking, right side of the offensive line, third-down efficiency

Quarterbacks


Projected Starter: This time last year, when Cincinnati was struggling to replace Ben Mauk, no one was talking seriously about Tony Pike. They are now. After Dustin Grutza was injured, the 6-6, 225-pound senior came virtually out of nowhere to provide stability and earn a spot on the All-Big East second team. He showed good arm strength and the ability to make connections on the move, going 199-of-324 for 2,407 yards,19 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. Still, he was a no-show in the Orange Bowl loss to Virginia Tech, and really needs to elevate his play on a team that might have to out score opponents this fall.  

Projected Top Reserves: Now that Grutza has graduated and Demetrius Jones has moved to defense, a clear to the No. 2 job has been plowed for 6-0, 209-pound sophomore Chazz Anderson. Easily the best all-around athlete among the quarterbacks, he can make plays outside the pocket and lower his shoulder to pick up extra yards. As a passer, he throws an accurate ball, but can’t approach Pike’s velocity. He got a taste of action last fall, playing in three games and finishing 46-of-75 for 520 yards, two touchdowns, and three picks.

Sophomore Zach Collaros has the edge at No. 3, but will need to work hard to fend off the talented freshmen in the rear view mirror. Like Anderson, he’s more of an athlete than a gunslinger, who was also used on special teams at times in 2008. He has a place on this team, but with strong-armed Travis Kelce and Brendon Kay gaining ground, he’ll have trouble getting on the field under center.

Watch Out For… Pike to attract a fair amount of curious NFL scouts to the Queen City. The raw ability and physical attributes are clearly in place for him to start scaling some draft boards. He’ll enter the season as one of the top seven or eight senior quarterbacks, with a chance to really enhance that position.
Strength: Pike. Who would’ve known? Buried for most of his career, he made good on the opportunity to play and wound up being a nice fit for the offense. With some fine-tuning, he should be able to make the most of what’s going to be an explosive corps of receivers.
Weakness: Consistency. As good as Pike was in his debut as a starter, he needs to step up his game and bring it every weekend, especially if the rebuilt defense struggles. In the final two games against Hawaii and Virginia Tech, for instance, he threw just two touchdowns to six interceptions, looking shaky in the process.
Outlook: For the first time in four years, Cincinnati came out of spring without any major question marks at quarterback. That’s a good thing for the entire program. The Bearcats were able to win games last year when Pike was average, but that won’t be the case in 2009. He’ll need to take his game to another level and become the new face of the program.
Rating: 8

Running Backs

Projected Starters: With last year’s top three rushers back, the Bearcats have no worries about the backfield. On top of the tightly-packed depth chart is 6-1, 225-pound junior John Goebel, a part-time starter in his return following a redshirt season. A physical, no-nonsense runner, he’s also the best receiver among the backs. Just two years removed from being on the other side of the ball, he ran for 607 yards and seven scores on 133 carries, adding 26 catches for 283 yards.

Projected Top Reserves: Now that he’s risen to No. 2 in the pecking order, 5-11, 185-pound sophomore Isaiah Pead is poised for his much-anticipated breakthrough season. One of the gems of the 2008 recruiting class, he has that extra gear that makes him such a threat to pop off the long ball. A former high school track star, he’s also a threat as a receiver out of the backfield. After scratching the surface with 203 yards on 30 carries, he’ll earn a bigger share of the touches if he can add some weight and improve as a pass blocker.

Providing further depth will be last year’s leading rusher, 6-0, 216-pound senior Jacob Ramsey, who went for 664 yards and two touchdowns on 152 carries. A rugged north-south runner, he’ll do most of his damage in between the tackles and close to the line of scrimmage. While not as versatile as Goebel or dynamic as Pead, he’s a steady veteran and a luxury coming off the bench.  

Watch Out For… plenty of sharing. Since everyone does something a little different, the staff will mix and match the top three running backs, depending on the down and distance. It wouldn’t be a shock if the Bearcats wind up with three 400-yard backs.
Strength: Diversity. Goebel is the do-everything back. Pead is the home run threat. Ramsey is the best option in short yardage. Together, they give the offense a diverse and deep backfield that’ll always keep defenses guessing.
Weakness: A lack of a breakaway back. Okay, maybe Pead is about to address this long overdue need, but doesn’t he have to prove it for more than 30 carries? Goebel and Ramsey are grinders, neither of whom produced more than a 37-yard run a year ago.
Outlook: While the passing game makes more headlines, the backfield has quietly produced three capable running backs, each offering something a little unique to the offense. By himself, no single runner is going to intimidate opposing defenses. Together, however, they form an interesting and productive trio, who’ll help give the offense some balance. If Pead is ready for a promotion, he can quickly become one of the league’s most exciting weapons.
Rating: 7

Receivers

Projected Starters: Two of last year’s top three pass-catchers may be gone, but Cincinnati has few concerns about its receiving corps. That’s bound to happen when you’ve got a dynamite playmaker, like 6-1, 190-pound senior Mardy Gilyard. One of the nation’s most explosive all-purpose weapons, he took his game to a new level in 2008, catching 81 balls for 1,276 yards and 11 touchdowns. One of the team’s fastest players, he gets to second gear in a hurry, streaking past defensive backs and bolting through seams in the defense.

Joining Gilyard on the outside is 6-4, 200-pound junior Armon Binns, a big and physical receiver, with the long arms to create an imposing catch radius. He’s waited patiently for this opportunity, learning behind the veterans and catching a couple of passes in his first two seasons. His ability to leap high above defensive backs will be exploited on a regular basis, especially near the end zone.

In the slot, the Bearcats are expected to give the job to 6-0, 170-pound sophomore D.J. Woods, who lettered as a true freshman and caught 14 passes for 168 yards. Fundamentally sound beyond his years, he already runs tight routes, rarely drops passes, and has the speed to take a quick out and turn it into a long gainer. After learning on the job as a rookie, he’s ready to turn the corner in 2009.

Back at tight end will be 6-2, 260-pound senior Kazeem Alli, a three-time letterwinner. The best blocker among the pass-catchers, he’s an outstanding pile-driver, but needs to become more consistent and reliable as a pass receiver. He’s hauled in 20 career passes, including a career-high 12 for 124 yards and three touchdowns last season.

Projected Top Reserves: The heir apparent to Gilyard at “X” receiver is 6-3, 205-pound sophomore O.J. Woodard. He lettered on special teams in his first season, and will be brought along slowly this fall. His size-speed combo is as impressive as any of the wide receivers, creating considerable expectations once he hones the little things needed to be an all-around pass-catcher.

Although 6-3, 205-pound junior Charley Howard is unlikely to unseat one of the starters, he’s one of those veterans who’s nice to have as an insurance policy. A former walk-on, he knows the system intimately, and has appeared in 26 games over the last two seasons, catching 10 balls for 109 yards and a touchdown.

While Alli is the most powerful tight end, 6-2, 241-pound junior Ben Guidugli might be the most dangerous receiver at the position. Plenty strong at the point of attack, he has very soft hands, starting 14 games a year ago and catching 18 passes for 229 yards and a score. Whether or not he starts, he'll get plenty of reps this fall.

Watch Out For… incoming JUCO transfer Jamar Howard. Pursued by a number of schools in the Big Ten, he was an important offseason acquisition for the Bearcats. A 6-4, 210-pound thoroughbred, he’s going to push for the job opposite Gilyard the moment he arrives on campus.
Strength: Measurables. While the tight ends are steady and reliable, the wide receivers are downright combustible. With Gilyard as the cover boy, Cincy has a nice collection of athletes catching passes, with the size and speed to create all kinds of match ups problems.
Weakness: Sure-things after Gilyard. A year ago, the Bearcats had multiple receivers capable of preventing No. 1 from getting double-teamed. This fall? Not so much. There’s upside, to be sure, but a fair amount of inconsistency can also be expected from untested players, like Binns, Woods, and Woodard.
Outlook: Cincinnati moved two-year starting wide receiver Marcus Barnett to cornerback, so it must know something that everyone else doesn’t. Everything will be built around the incendiary Gilyard, but he’s going to need plenty of help for the passing game to really click. Binns and Woods have the considerable upside to click, and Howard will wind up being a Big East newcomer of the year candidate.
Rating: 7.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Yeah, two starters have departed, including all-star Trevor Canfield, but Cincinnati employed such a deep rotation, it should be able to recover just fine. The pillar at left tackle will be 6-6, 311-pound senior Jeff Linkenbach, who was named the team’s outstanding offensive lineman a year ago. Recruited by Mark Dantonio to be a pile-driver, he’s reshaped his body and now has the footwork and quickness needed to be one of the Big East’s premier pass-protectors.

Next to Linkenbach at left guard will be 6-3, 295-pound junior Jason Kelce, a former walk-on linebacker, who started 13 games on the offensive line last season. Although he’s continuously added weight throughout his career, he remains one of the line’s most explosive players, getting off the snap in a hurry and quickly getting out to the second level.

Back for a third season at center is 6-2, 290-pound senior Chris Jurek, a steadying presence in the middle of the line. Although he’s had trouble keeping weight on and can get manhandled by bigger interior linemen, his technique, strong base, and experience have a way of keeping him competitive.  

The right side of Jurek is far less stable. The favorite at tackle is 6-5, 255-pound junior Sam Griffin, who hasn’t played many meaningful minutes and has struggled to add girth to a long and lean frame. The latter has been his biggest obstacle to success as a Bearcat. Otherwise, he’s a terrific athlete and has the mobility and agility of a tight end, which will benefit him in pass protection. This is a pivotal year for a player, who arrived with such lofty expectations.

The leader at right guard is 6-7, 280-pound sophomore Alex Hoffman, recruited by Kelly’s staff to be one of the pillars of pass protection in the spread offense. He played in a dozen games as a freshman, starting a pair and laying down a foundation for the future. He’ll benefit from the addition of more weight and by becoming more of a knee-bender in order to improve his already questionable leverage.

Projected Top Reserves: Lurking just behind Hoffman at right guard is 6-4, 315-pound junior C.J. Cobb, who sat out all of 2008 with an injury. A letterwinner in his first season and a ferocious blocker, he brings  much-needed size and physicality to the Bearcat front wall. No matter what happens in the summer, he’ll have a vital spot in the rotation now that he’s healthy.

It’ll be worth keeping a close eye on 6-2, 265-pound sophomore Randy Martinez, Kelce’s caddy at left guard. A former defensive lineman and high school wrestler, he uses his hands extremely well and plays faster than most interior blockers. If he can add some weight without sacrificing too much burst, he has a shot to win a job in August.

Watch Out For… true freshman Sean Hooey. While no threat at left tackle, he’s the clear-cut heir apparent to Linkenbach at the position. Already installed as a second-teamer, the 6-8, 260-pounder will need to use this year to prepare as if his number could be called at any moment. If he continues to bulk up and improve at the fundamentals, he’ll have a very considerable ceiling.
Strength: The left side. From Jurek out to Linkenbach, the Bearcats are bolstered by tough, veteran blockers, who don’t make many mistakes. All three were starters in 2008’s championship season, which is why most plays will be run to their side this fall. 
Weakness: The right side. The graduations of Canfield and Khalil El-Amin have left Cincinnati with a pair of question marks on the right side of the line. Sure, both Hoffman and Griffin have lots of upside, but without much experience between them, there could be some very precarious this fall.
Outlook: Labeling this unit anything beyond average would be rather charitable. After Linkenbach, a genuine pro prospect, the Bearcats are a collection of overachievers and youngsters, who’ve yet to reach their full potential or fill out physically. A year ago, this unit did a mediocre job of run blocking and pass protecting. Improvement will depend heavily on the maturation of Griffin and Hoffman on the right side.
Rating: 6.5