CINCINNATI -- I attended Cincinnati's first practice of the spring on Tuesday morning, and here are a few quick thoughts:
Tuesday was the first time I had visited the program's new indoor bubble, and I was quite grateful for it on a chilly morning. It wasn't so cold that the team couldn't have gone outside to Nippert Stadium, but Butch Jones liked that his players didn't have to worry about the temperature, especially since they are only in shorts and shirts with no pads right now. Cincinnati has never been a leader in the Big East in shiny new facilities, but now the Bearcats have an indoor practice center while the NFL's Bengals do not.
You can't tell much about the big guys without pads or hitting, so I focused mostly on the skill players. Jones has lauded junior-college transfer Kenbrell Thompkins, and I can see why. Thompkins moves well, is built thickly and made some terrific catches during the workout. Looks like he could become the Bearcats' No. 1 target at wideout this season.
Cincinnati needs more depth at wideout, but it has some nice pieces to work with. Anthony McClung looked good in some individual drills, and Jones continues to talk up true freshman Shaq Washington, who's quick but small at a listed 5-foot-9. And don't forget D.J. Woods. Travis Kelce is back from suspension and strikes an imposing figure as a 6-foot-6, 250-pound tight end.
Good to see Dominique Battle back at cornerback after he missed much of last year with a knee injury. Junior-college import Malcolm Murray was working at first-team safety and had an interception. Camerron Cheatham also had a couple of nice pass breakups. And it's always fun to listen to fiery defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs, who at one point yelled at a player (whom I won't identify to save him some embarrassment), "You can't play here and be a moron!" Coombs is also the first one to cheer on guys when they make good plays.
Offensive lineman Sean Hooey has really filled out his body. He'll start at left tackle, and there won't be many guys in the country taller than the 6-foot-9, 300-pounder. The best battle on the line is between Austen Bujnoch and Andre Cureton at guard. It's hard to believe how much slimmer Cureton is; he has lost nearly 80 pounds since arriving on campus.
Zach Collaros didn't arrive at practice until about an hour had passed because of a doctor's appointment. But that's one guy Jones doesn't have to worry about. Jones said the competition to be the No. 2 quarterback is still wide open, and that's understandable. Chazz Anderson has the experience as a senior but has lacked the playmaking skills of Collaros when given his chances the past couple of years. Georgia Tech transfer Jordan Luallen is built a lot like Collaros but is still making the transition from an option offense. Brandan Kay throws a nice ball but has been hurt a lot. Munchie Legaux's throwing motion has improved, but his accuracy still needs some work. And true freshman Stephen Weatherford, a one-time USF commitment, has an odd, low throwing motion that may need to be changed.
I hope Munchie Legaux becomes a star, just so I can continue to type and say the name Munchie Legaux as often as possible.
Turnovers are an obvious point of emphasis. Even on incomplete passes, players are expected to fight for the ball. A defensive player got chewed out by Jones for dropping a ball. The coaching staff also keeps score for every drill. I may write more about that on Wednesday.
The team got into a little scuffle near the end of practice. Jones gathered the team and yelled at them for it and then ordered some running as punishment. But it was understandable, given that these guys haven't hit anybody since the first Saturday of December. "We've built up a lot of testosterone," linebacker JK Schaffer said later. I bet Jones wasn't too upset to see that intensity, especially early on so he could use it as a teaching moment.