Notes from Cincinnati practice

WEST HARRISON, Ind. -- A scary moment happened near the end of Cincinnati's final practice at Camp Higher Ground on Wednesday.

Starting quarterback Zach Collaros took the snap, then tumbled to the turf. Head coach Butch Jones screamed, "Trainer!"

Well, it was only scary if you didn't know what was going on. After the trainers looked at Collaros, a pair of linemen helped him hobble to the sideline. Then Collaros bounced up and skipped away laughing.

Turns out, the Bearcats were merely practicing a quarterback injury. They had scripted the entire thing the night before.

Sounds weird, but Jones leaves nothing to chance. He also had offensive players practice how to celebrate after a touchdown and the defense do the same following a three-and-out. That way, they learn how to do it without taking off their helmets or drawing excess celebration penalties.

"No stone unturned," Jones said. "You can't assume anything. Throughout the course of the season, there are a lot of bizarre things that happen. I keep a notebook of all the things that have happened and you try to practice them to at least have some familiarity for the players."

Much of the practice was devoted to specific situations, like punt coverage and goal-line defense, with only one unit on the field. At one point, Jones chided his players for not running through the end zone on a mock kickoff coverage, telling them they had to have "a mentality of confidence."

"I think it's creating expectations and a standard of excellence," he said. "It's like raising your kids. You never assume anything."

Some other thoughts from Higher Ground:

  • Last year around this time on my visit here, I was blown away by Cincinnati's athleticism, speed and size. I knew the Bearcats were bound for a big year, and I regretted not picking them to win the Big East title. I didn't get the same feeling today, but some of that is because the practice was more situational-based. Still, Cincinnati's starters are as good as anybody in the league, and the offense might be the best. It's the backups that scare you. This team has to stay healthy. Identifying those key backups is still a concern for Jones."It's going to be an ongoing process throughout game week, solidifying our depth chart," he said.

  • Marcus Barnett, a little bit of a forgotten man, caught my eye with some nice catches at practice. Remember, he had a huge freshman year before falling out of favor with Brian Kelly the past two years. By all accounts he's had a big camp, and he'll be needed to provide depth at receiver.

  • Speaking of receivers, highly-touted freshman Dyjuan Lewis wasn't in pads and spent most of the practice on an exercise bike. He's been cleared to practice but not yet to play by the NCAA.

  • A player I didn't know a lot about before today, Maalik Bomar, could be a big key to the defense. He's playing outside linebacker, with JK Schaffer moved to the middle. Like the other linebackers, Bomar (6-foot-2, 213 pounds) doesn't have a lot of size but can run. "He plays with a high energy level and is very consistent," Jones said. "He's extremely explosive, and I'm excited because he's worked himself into that spot.Linebacker is very thin behind the starters.

  • Collaros looks like he's put on some muscle since the spring, and he was very sharp today. I still think he's sitting on a monster year.

  • Another unusual part of a Butch Jones practice is the music, which blared throughout the workout from a stereo system. Heard some Van Halen, U2 and various rap songs during the practice. I'd like to apply for the job of football practice DJ.

  • The Bearcats return to Clifton on Thursday morning and then will break in their new practice fields on campus.