NCF Nation: Jameel Poteat

Last spring, one of the big stories to watch in Cincinnati focused on the running back position.

With Co-Big East Offensive Player of the Year Isaiah Pead gone, who would step up to replace his productivity? We had an idea that senior George Winn would take the reigns, especially after his performance in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. But the truth is, it would have been hard to predict that Winn would be better than Pead in 2012.

[+] EnlargeRalph David Abernathy IV
Rob Leifheit/USA TODAY SportsRalph David Abernathy IV could figure into Cincinnati's plans at running back next season.
He was, which makes his omission from the Big East first-team particularly galling. Look at the numbers:

  • Pead, 2011: 237 carries, 1,259 yards, 12 touchdowns, 5.3 yards per carry, six 100-yard games.
  • Winn, 2012: 243 carries, 1,334 yards, 13 touchdowns, 5.5 yards per carry, six 100-yard games.

Winn had better numbers than the Co-Big East Player of the Year in 2011, yet was overlooked by league coaches. Head-scratcher indeed. But the point of this post is not to go over an all-conference team that was released months ago. The point is that a similar scenario is set to unfold this spring.

One of the big stories to watch is what happens at the running back position. What happened with Winn last season illustrated that Cincinnati is perfectly capable of producing a 1,000-yard back to replace another 1,000-yard back. And a big reason why is its offensive line.

Cincinnati had one of the best offensive lines in the league last season, producing two first-team Big East selections in tackle Eric Lefeld and guard Austen Bujnoch, and FWAA Freshman All-American Parker Ehinger. All five starters return for 2013, which should help the Bearcats maintain their impressive ground game, no matter who gets the carries.

Among the contenders vying for the starting job, there are three guys to watch this spring: Ralph David Abernathy IV, Deionte Buckley and Tion Green. Jameel Poteat is no longer in the mix, after deciding to transfer. Abernathy is more of a change-of-pace back who can be used in a variety of ways. He probably won't be getting 20 carries a game. Buckley and Green are certainly intriguing players to watch, given their potential.

Cincinnati also expects two junior college transfers -- Rodriguez Moore and Hosey Williams -- to be added into the mix when they arrive in time for fall practice.

Having said all this, there are two factors that make 2013 different from 2012. First, there is no senior in this group. Though Winn had never been a starter, he had more experience than anybody currently in the mix for playing time. That experience proved to be invaluable.

Second is the coaching change. Will Cincinnati continue to focus on the run, the way it has the past two seasons, or will coach Tommy Tuberville opt to open up the pass game more? Does he prefer a workhorse back or to use a rotation featuring two to three players? How will he utilize Abernathy, the most dynamic playmaker the Bearcats have on the roster?

There are certainly questions that have to be answered, but if last season is any indication, Cincinnati is perfectly capable of reloading. Not rebuilding.
Jameel Poteat is a product of "Tailback High," having broken Bishop McDevitt records just a few years after Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy did the same at the Harrisburg, Pa., high school. So when the Cincinnati sophomore is asked about the big shoes to fill this season in the Bearcats' backfield, he is not running from the challenge.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Winn
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyGeorge Winn (32) is one running back looking to fill Isaiah Pead's shoes in the Bearcats' backfield.
Poteat -- who was mentored by McCoy, who himself had been mentored by McDevitt alum and Pro Bowler Ricky Watters -- already got a head start during his first college fall, rooming with eventual Big East offensive player of the year Isaiah Pead on road trips last season. The then-true freshman picked the senior's brain on everything from pass protection to managing a body over the course of a season.

"I love it," Poteat said of the expectations Pead left behind. "I'm just trying to live up to what he did here, and the challenge of that is just making me better."

Poteat, George Winn and Ralph David Abernathy IV are the men in the backfield tasked with matching the production of Pead, a second-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams who ran for Big East bests of 1,259 yards and 12 rushing scores in 2011.

"I don't know if it's realistic to ask one individual to replace the production of an Isaiah Pead, but I'm really encouraged by what I see by the running back group as a whole," coach Butch Jones said. "The great thing about these individuals is all their skill sets complement each other, and they're extremely unselfish individuals."

Winn, a fifth-year senior, leads Cincinnati's returning running backs, having rushed for 219 yards and a pair of touchdowns last season. Winn's coming-out party came in the Bearcats' Liberty Bowl win over Vanderbilt, as his 69-yard touchdown run in the second quarter got Cincinnati on the board.

Winn said he is looking to build off that performance, and Jones has praised his blue-collar approach so far in camp, saying the senior's quiet, confident demeanor has left an impression on the underclassmen.

"It's a big difference between going into this camp and [last year's] camp," said Winn, who is no longer in the shadow of Pead and has added a few pounds in bracing for the heavier workload.

Winn rushed the ball 40 times last season, with the Poteat and Abernathy combining for 37 carries in their debut campaigns. The players have described healthy relationships on and off the field, correcting each other's mistakes and understanding that each will see carries.

Each has described new position coach Roy Manning as a "player's coach," and Cincinnati is hoping that backfield chemistry can help the ground game make up for the loss of the school's No. 3 career rusher.

"I think each has a skill set, from George Winn -- I thought George Winn gained valuable experience in his performance in the Liberty Bowl victory over Vanderbilt," Jones said. "And then obviously Ralph David Abernathy, and the experience Jameel Poteat was able to gain as a true freshman. So I think all three of those individuals complement each other, and right now they're also feeding off each other."

Final: Cincinnati 59, Akron 14

September, 17, 2011
The Bearcats had little trouble with Akron, rebounding from last week's disappointing loss to Tennessee with a 59-14 victory against the Zips.

Reserves played the second half after Cincinnati took a 49-0 halftime lead. The Bearcats built the lead to 59-0 before Akron scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Among the final highlights:
  • Cincinnati ended up taking the ball away six times, including three defensive scores, but the Bearcats also turned the ball over for the first time this season. They are now at plus-12 on the season in turnover margin.
  • Jameel Poteat scored his first career touchdown in the fourth quarter on a 7-yard run. The true freshman led the team with 55 yards rushing. Fellow true freshmen Akise Teague and Ralph David Abernathy also got their share of carries.
  • Munchie Legaux and Jordan Luallen split time in the second half in relief of Zach Collaros. Legaux went 3-of-4 for 21 yards, with three carries for 2 yards. Luallen went 0-for-1 and had five carries for 17 yards.
  • Backup kicker Shane Popham also got into the game, making one extra point.

Cincinnati recruiting analysis

February, 3, 2011

The class

2011 signees: 24

Top prospects: Jameel Poteat is a running back with speed and strength whom the Bearcats pried away from Pittsburgh. Daniel Murray is ranked as one of the nation's top centers, and Cincinnati went all the way to California to get him. Nicholas Temple is a highly productive defensive back with good instincts.

Needs met: After a 4-8 season, second-year coach Butch Jones needed to add depth and talent and appears to have done so. He brought in junior college players at safety and wide receiver for some immediate help. Poteat could step in for Isaiah Pead, who will be a senior this year. Jones also brought in some much-needed toughness in the trenches.

Analysis: Several experts rate this as Cincinnati's best recruiting class ever, which is impressive considering Jones didn't have a lot of on-field success to sell. The Bearcats didn't just stick to their comfort zone in Ohio, either; they reached into Georgia, Florida, California and elsewhere and managed to lure some good prospects. This recruiting effort could help Jones get the program back on its feet quickly.

What Jones said: "The exciting aspect regarding this class is that many competed for championships throughout their high school careers and understand the expectations that surround the Cincinnati football program."

ESPN recruiting grade: C