Here is Part II of my conversation with Cincinnati coach Butch Jones. You can read Part I here.
Let's switch over to offense and talk about the offensive line. You lose three starters from that group. How does that position look going into the spring?
Butch Jones: That's a position going into spring ball that we have to get solidified. Alex Hoffman is our leader up front, and he's provided great leadership. Evan Davis is an individual who, in his senior year, we're going to count on him to step up. Randy Martinez gained valuable experience last year. Sean Hooey is another individual who needs to step up. Then it's probably going to come down to Andre Cureton and Austen Bujnoch at another spot. Andre Cureton, when we got here he was 382 pounds and now he's down to 301. He's really done a good a job of taking care of his body and developing his body, and academically he was a 3.0 this quarter. So you can see where the program works. He and Bujnoch I expect to have a fierce competition for one of those spots on the offensive line.
Is Cureton still at tackle?
BJ: We've moved him to guard. Sean Hooey is at left tackle. Evan Davis is at center.
You've got a senior quarterback who was All-Big East last year in Zach Collaros. How good do you feel about that position this spring?
BJ: Obviously, I'm very excited about Zach. In just one year, he can walk into a room, and he can teach the offense. We can go out and practice tomorrow, and he can call the whole offense and the plays, the right protections. He understands the philosophy and what we want. I think the biggest transformation he had last year was being a full-time starter, and how do you manage the football game. The quarterback position is such a decision making process. Understanding down and distance and the time management and little scenarios and situational offense goes with it, sometimes being able to throw the ball away because it's the only play, and not forcing balls. So I think that was a great learning process. That one year in the system has really, really helped him grow and mature. And I've seen him make great strides in leadership.
It's going to be a fierce battle this spring to see who our No. 2 quarterback is going to be. I'm excited about all the individuals, from Chazz Anderson, who's been here as long as Zach, and then you throw in Jordan Luallen, the transfer from Georgia Tech, and then Brendan Kay, who's been in the program for a number of years and then Munchie Legaux. I'm excited to see what they bring to the table. Our quarterbacks will be live this spring. Zach will be the only one who's not, because you've got to be smart. We've got to find out who can make pays, and again it goes back to that mindset of physicality that we want.
What can you tell us about Luallen?
BJ: With Jordan coming in, it's been a transition from Georgia Tech, two totally different offensive systems. He can make some plays with his legs. The big thing for him is just the throw game and the overall mechanics of throwing the football. He did a great job on scout team last year, but it's a lot different when you're just holding a card up and telling him, 'Throw the ball to him.' The decision-making process will be big for him, but he's got all the intangibles you would want from a quarterback.
At running back, Isaiah Pead is the leading returning rusher in the Big East. What are your expectations for him?
BJ: The big thing with him is, first and foremost, being able to play without the ball. I'm talking about ball-faking, being a complete running back, pass protection, all the little things that great backs bring to the table. We've really challenged him in terms of body position and pass protection and continuing to put him out on the perimeter in some no-back formations. The overall discipline of making the right reads and right decisions when we run the football. A great running back always makes the offensive line right. Just the complete discipline that comes with that position, being patient, eyes on the proper reads. I'm excited to get him out on the field and see the progress he's made.
And Darrin Williams is healthy now as his backup?
BJ: Darrin is back. George Winn is an individual who played sparingly last year that I think will add to the overall depth of the running back position. And this may be another position where you may see some true freshmen as well.
Is it fair to say you didn't run the ball as much as you wanted last year because you were playing catchup so much?
BJ: Sometimes the scenario of the games dictated things. Obviously, I'm a firm believer that you have to be able to run the football. ... We've got to do a great job of being fundamentally sound up front and have our backs understand their reads. And this season we're going to be forced to be creative a little bit in the run game as well, with just our lack of experience and depth up front. We're really going to work hard in the run game, but we also want to be a balanced and explosive offense when we throw the football.
BJ: I think Kenbrell Thompkins is the leader of that group. Kids have great respect for him. It's an area where we're looking for consistency and we're going to need to have players emerge. We really don't have much returning experience. So obviously we're going to look to Kenbrell Thompkins. And then two young kids I'm extremely ecstatic about are Anthony McClung, who played for us as a true freshman, and then another freshman who enrolled early is Shaq Washington. He has not disappointed us. He's going to have some great playmaking skills, he's extremely competitive, and he's going to play this year.
D.J.'s big thing is the same issue he had last year, which is consistency. Then, O.J. Woodard is an individual, a fifth-year senior, who needs to step up for us and have a big spring. Then there's a junior college player, Damon Julian, we'll look to him. And this is another position where we may play some freshmen as well.
What about Dyjuan Lewis? He won't be eligible until this summer, but can he help you this year despite sitting out a year?
BJ: The light at the end of the tunnel is becoming brighter for him. It's been a very, very difficult year for this young man. To be able to go to school but not participate is very challenging. He's done a good job to date, and he has just one more quarter left. He's got all the talent in the world; now it's just going to be the functional intelligence and the speed of the game and all the things associated with that position. I do expect him to help us next year and we're counting on him to help us next year.
Lastly, people don't make much of special teams, but how will you replace a very consistent kicker in Jake Rogers?
BJ: You're on top of your game. Probably out of everything going on position-wise, that's the biggest question mark, when you have to replace an individual like Jake Rogers and what he's meant to us, and the consistency that he's brought to us. Tony Miliano, who we redshirted last year from Elder High School, is going to get a great opportunity to showcase what he can do. Danny Milligan has also kicked in his career, and Pat O'Donnell was also a good kicker in high school. Then we'll bring a couple individuals in this summer to compete at that position as well. We probably won't name who our starting kicker is until the week of Austin Peay [the 2011 season opener].