Cincinnati Bearcats spring wrap

2010 overall record: 4-8

2010 conference record: 2-5, seventh in Big East

Returning starters:

Offense: 5. Defense: 11. Punter/kicker: 1.

Top returners:

QB Zach Collaros, RB Isaiah Pead, WR D.J. Woods, OT Alex Hoffman, DT Derek Wolfe, DE Walter Stewart, LB JK Schaffer

Key losses:

WR Armon Binns, C Jason Kelce

2010 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Isaiah Pead* (1,029 yards)

Passing: Zach Collaros* (2,902 yards)

Receiving: Armon Binns (1,101 yards)

Tackles: JK Schaffer* (111 tackles)

Sacks: Brandon Mills* (six sacks)

Interceptions: Drew Frey* and Wes Richardson* (2 interceptions)

Spring answers

1. Better up front: The Bearcats' defense was bad last season, with lots of holes all over. One of the problems stemmed from the lack of a consistent pass rush on a thin defensive line. Players like Derek Wolfe and Brandon Mills played far too many snaps along that defensive front. Head coach Butch Jones feels better about the depth this season, with the addition of young players like Camaron Beard and Brad Harrah, plus the continued development of veterans like Dan Giordano and John Hughes. Moving Walter Stewart from linebacker to full-time defensive end should help with speed off the edge, and Wolfe should be one of the best interior tackles in the league. It's not an all-world line, but it should be a lot better.

2. Locked and loaded: Cincinnati led the Big East in scoring a year ago, and even with the loss of the league's top receiver in Armon Binns, the offense has the weapons to be very dangerous again. Quarterback Zach Collaros is a senior who's now fully in charge of the offense, and running back Isaiah Pead is the league's leading returning rusher after producing a 1,000-yard season in 2010. Junior-college transfer Kenbrell Thompkins emerged as a potential No. 1 wideout, and Anthony McClung and O.J. Woodard made strides. Add in explosive slot man D.J. Woods and incoming players Dyjuan Lewis and Jameel Poteat, and the Bearcats should be hard for defenses to handle in 2011.

3. Early start successes: Cincinnati had five recruits from its 2011 class enroll early, and Jones said the team went 5-for-5 in getting good players and future contributors from that group. Look for receiver Shaq Washington and defensive back Malcolm Murray to push for major playing time. If nothing else, the early enrollees help build depth for a team that didn't have much of a bench a year ago.

Fall questions

1. The back seven on 'D': While the defensive front figures to be improved, there still are questions on the rest of the defense. JK Schaffer is a rock at linebacker, but the Bearcats don't have much depth elsewhere at that position. All the defensive backs return from last season, but they did not play well in 2010 and had some struggles this spring. They need to become better tacklers and more aggressive on balls in the air. The defense showed some improvement in the spring but still has a long way to go.

2. Kicker questions: Jake Rogers was as reliable a placekicker as there was in the Big East the past few years. Tony Miliano, Danny Milligan and punter Pat O'Donnell battled to replace him this spring, but none of them clinched the job. Jones has said he'll probably wait until the week before the season opener to name his field-goal specialist.

3. Zach's backup: Collaros is completely entrenched as the starter and as valuable as any Big East player. But who would the Bearcats turn to if something happened to him? Chazz Anderson, who backed up Collaros last season and started the Syracuse game, decided to transfer after spring practice. The options include Georgia Tech transfer Jordan Luallen, oft-injured junior Brendon Kay, sophomore Munchie Legaux and early enrollee Stephen Weatherford. The No. 2 spot will likely remain up for grabs into fall practice.