I had a chance to catch up with Cincinnati coach Butch Jones on Tuesday, with the Bearcats having wrapped up spring practice. Here are a few notes from our conversation.
Jones is not yet ready to name a starting quarterback, leaving the competition between Munchie Legaux and Brendon Kay ongoing through the summer. "The big thing is an overall level of consistency that we're searching for," Jones said. "Both are a little bit different in their games, but the thing that we're searching for is the individual who can manage the offense with great efficiency, take care of the football, who is a coach on the field. A lot of great quarterback play is a lot like being a great point guard in basketball, knowing how to distribute the ball, identifying matchups and taking care of the football. It's the small details. I've been really encouraged by both individuals. They've shown tremendous work ethic, and great poise. The competition has made them both better."
The players Jones noted who really stepped up their games this spring: defensive linemen Walter Stewart, Dan Giordano and Jordan Stepp; running backs George Winn and Jameel Poteat; receiver Kenbrell Thompkins; and offensive lineman Eric Lefeld. Watch for Stewart to emerge as the new leader on defense.
Receiver is still an area with big questions. Thompkins and Alex Chisum both had nice springs, but depth is a concern. Anthony McClung was limited with an injury, while Dyjuan Lewis got hurt early in the spring and will not be back in time for fall practice. Lewis suffered a Lisfranc injury to his foot while going up for a ball and landing awkwardly. Jordan Luallen, making the transition to receiver, also was limited during the spring with an injury, though he returned for the final two practices. Jones expects to rely on him in the passing game, and needs Max Morrison, Chris Moore and Shaq Washington to have very productive summers.
Cincinnati also was missing a few offensive linemen this spring because of injury, including starter Austen Bujnoch. Cory Keebler was also limited. But that gave other players valuable reps. Jones feels good about Dan Sprague at center. Sean Hooey returned and got extensive reps, and Jones also liked the way Kevin Schloemer practiced as well.
On defense, Solomon Tentman has garnered some attention with his incredible return from a devastating knee injury. But Jones noted that Tentman is not even at 100 percent. Jones also praised Greg Blair and Nick Temple, who will be relied on both in the middle and on the outside at linebacker. "We are going to ask a lot of Nick," Jones said. "He has to be a rock of stability for us."
The secondary looks to be the most experienced position in terms of number of starts, though veterans Deven Drane and Dominique Battle both sat out with injuries. That gave Trenier Orr valuable reps, and Arryn Chenault has emerged at safety next to Drew Frey.
So what are the major question marks left? "It is the overall depth and continuity on the offensive line, that still remains an area of concern," Jones said. "I think again, depth at receiver, young individuals having to step up. Overall the middle of our defense, at defensive tackle, linebacker and the safety position as well."
One other injury to note: defensive lineman Roney Lozano got hurt this spring and is not expected to return until the middle of the season.