CINCINNATI -- Some thoughts and observations from today's Cincinnati Bearcats practice:
The one word I would use to describe a Butch Jones practice is: Fast. Now, I've seen some up-tempo practices in my time. Bobby Petrino used to run his guys hard at Louisville. Heck, Brian Kelly's practices were up-tempo, so much so that Notre Dame is having to adjust to the new pace.
Still, I'm not sure I've seen a practice move as quickly, especially in the spring, as the one I saw today. The team took only one short break for water during the nearly 2 1/2 hour workout which covered 24 periods. When the offense was doing pass skeleton drills, the players had to absolutely sprint to the line of scrimmage after each throw. It's also a loud practice, as several coaches are yelling throughout. Usually, there's one or two extremely vocal, super-intense assistants on the field. At Nippert Stadium today, you would see several coaches sprinting and screaming all over the field.
At one point when a receiver failed to keep running down the field after a catch, Mike Bajakian chased him back to the huddle and then made him sprint with him for yards.
"Get the mentality!" Bajakian yelled.
So that was interesting.
Some other differences included music over the loudspeakers at the start of practice, though it was turned off after assistant Kerry Coombs voiced his displeasure with Metallica's "One." Team managers wore referee shirts so players would know where to throw the ball after a drill. The team just bought six-foot screens on wheels that stood in for the pass rush on pass drills, as managers would push the screens toward the quarterbacks. And the players line up and shake hands like a postgame hockey scene once practice ends.
Today was the first day in pads for the Bearcats, but they mostly avoided contact. So it was hard to draw large conclusions about the team as a whole. I would definitely say the receivers are impressive; the starting trio of Armon Binns, Vidal Hazelton and D.J. Woods all look great and it has to be the best group in the Big East. Jamar Howard looks bigger, and Kenbrell Thompkins looked like he could contribute down the line. Marcus Barnett, who has changed his number to 89, made some nice catches as well today.
Here was the starting unit on defense when the team went to 11-on-11 drills: Dan Giordano, Derek Wolfe, Brandon Mills and John Hughes up front, JK Schaffer, Dorian Davis and Walter Stewart at linebacker and Camerron Cheatham, Drew Frey, Wesley Richardson and Dominique Battle at defensive back. Cheatham made some nice plays, including an interception. Depth on the defensive line is a concern.
The starting offensive line was C.J. Cobb, Sam Griffin, Alex Hoffman, Evan Davis and Jason Kelce.
Jones has devised an interesting way to deal with Cincinnati's lack of practice space (Nippert Stadium is the team's only field). While at most other places punters do their thing on another field somewhere, they stood on the sidelines near the end zone Tuesday and punted the ball into the bleachers as a manager retrieved the balls.