I spent some time Thursday at Cincinnati for a story that will appear soon. While there, I got to chat with Bearcats head coach Butch Jones about his team heading into spring practice, which doesn't begin for them until March 29.
Obviously, one of the priorities this spring is correcting the turnover problems that so plagued the 2010 team. Last year, Cincinnati lost 29 turnovers and had the second-worst turnover margin in the country. It's not like Jones and his staff don't know how to teach ball security; his last two Central Michigan teams bettered the national average for turnover margin, and those two teams combined to lose the ball fewer times than the 2010 Bearcats.
Jones said the problem was mostly poor technique by a handful of players. Receiver D.J. Woods had a fumbling issue and needs to get stronger physically so defenders can't poke the ball free; Jones said Woods has had a good winter in the weight room. Jones also has a new coaching technique for this spring: assistants will use a click counter to track all the times they see an offensive player swinging the ball or doing other things that can lead to a fumble. For every one of those instances, running will be served as punishment.
A few other quick notes:
Senior safety Wesley Richardson will not participate in the spring after offseason arm surgery. That could give junior-college import Malcolm Murray a chance to make his mark. Jones expects everyone else to be healthy for spring ball, which is one reason he decided to start it so late.
The Bearcats will not have a traditional spring game but instead will hold more of an open practice on April 16. But it will be televised and have plenty of other trappings for fans. Without much experienced depth, Jones does not want to risk injury with a full spring game, but he said the team would do a lot of tackling and hitting during practice because the defense needs to learn toughness.
I spotted redshirt freshman Camaron Beard in the weight room and the 6-foot-5 defensive linemen is a load. The coaches expect him to make an impact this year and will give him more responsibility in the spring. The staff is also high on early enrollee Shaquille Washington, who'll get a look at receiver this spring. Four other recruits should be in school before spring practice starts since the school uses a quarters system.
Jones said getting Travis Kelce back this spring will be a boost to the team. Kelce was suspended last year. The 6-foot-6, 260-pounder will start off at tight end but could get a look as a third-down pass-rushing defensive end.
Jones said that the day after Cincinnati lost its season finale to Pittsburgh, he had every sign and picture referencing 2010 removed from the locker room and other player areas. The Bearcats want to forget that 4-8 campaign as much as possible.