Starer: Gunner Kiel
Backup: Jared Evans
Wildcard: Munchie Legaux
Kiel was the presumptive starter heading into spring football, and is the presumptive starter coming out of it. His outstanding performance in the spring game cemented his status as the likely starter. Evans has some ability that much is clear, but there is a strike against him that isn't even his fault. The way the Bearcats will play offense this year isn't suited to the strength of the personnel. For Evans to be successful Eddie Gran would have to retool his offense to go away from what worked so well from October through early November. With Kiel Gran has the ability to simply plug him in and run the same schemes that were so successful. The Bearcats passed for nearly 4,000 yards in 2013* and can replicate that feat with Kiel at the helm and the receivers on hand. Its harder to see that level of production with Evans who doesn't have Gunner's arm strength accuracy. His skill set is just completely different.
*3,949 to be specific
The wildcard in all of this is Munchie Legaux. It is obvious that Gran and Hinshaw saw something that they could work with in Muchie's play. But he didn't get enough run to show the world what he showed the coaching staff. The overlooked storyline this spring was Munchie's return to practice. That he was practicing at all was a shock to me, its an open question if he can be healthy enough to compete in August. If he can get right he would be the wildcard.
Starter: Hosey Williams
Rotation: Tion Green, E.J. Junior
Wildcard: Ralph David Abernathy IV
What is clear after last year is that the starter designation is meaningless in any Eddie Gran offense. A year ago Williams, Green and RDA4 split carries more or less equally. Everyone got around 100 carries and rushed for north of 400 yards. RDA4 led in carries, Hosey in yards and Green in scores. Williams and Green will be the top two in some order this year. E.J. Junior was the surprise of the spring and could have vaulted himself into contention as well.
The big questions for this group coming out of spring are 1) Will Tion Green ever get "it." He is the most physically gifted back of the lot and has had "heir apparent" attached to his name since the day he got here. But it was clear a year ago that he had not earned the full faith and confidence of Eddie Gran. He has had issues with fumbling for most of his career and was something of a nightmare in blitz pickup on the rare occasions that he saw a passing down. The emergence of Junior should be seen as a shot across his bow for this summer, but will he heed it?
2) What is the role for RDA4? We know that he will play some receiver and some running back, but how much of each or what it will look like is unclear. I have visions in my head of Chris Rainey's senior season dancing in my head but I don't know what to expect. It seems clear in retrospect that Gran and Co. failed to grasp just how unique a weapon they had on their hands in 2013. Will they see it in 2014?
Wildcards: Ralph David Abernathy IV and Tshumbi Johnson
If everyone gets through this season healthy this will be the best receiving corps in the history of the program. The level of depth in this group is kind of staggering. I mentioned in the quarterback section that I think 4,000 yards passing is a realistic goal. Its just as conceivable that this group could catch passes for 4,000 yards without anyone topping 1,000 for the year. They are just so deep.
The only question is who plays the second slot when the Bearcats go to four wides? Shaq has one spot on lock, but who gets the other? Right now I would guess that it's Morrison's on most occasions, and RDA4's when he splits out but keep an eye on Tshumbi Johnson, he is dynamic with the ball in his hands.
Starter: D.J. Dowdey
Back Up: Tyler Cogswell
Wildcard: Shaikim Alonzo
Dowdey is the presumptive starter, for now. Dowdy played in 11 games a year ago and was a regular part of the rotation, but he was a decided second fiddle to Blake Annen. He was only targeted twice a year ago. The issue for him will be becoming more effective as a receiver, if he can't that paves the way for Cogswell and Alonzo to have impacts. Cogswell is just a red shirt freshman, but he already looks like Travis Kelce right down to the number. It remains to be seen if he will play like Kelce did. Alonzo is a converted wide receiver but is new to the position.
Starters: LT Eric Lefeld, LG Kevin Schloemer, C Deyshawn Bond, RG Parker Ehringer, RT Cory Keebler
Rotation: Tyreeek Burwell, Ryan Leahy, Justin Murray
I think those are the eight guys that Darren Hiller can live with. Ehringer, Lefeld and Schloemer were out for parts if not all of spring so Hiller got a chance to see some of the younger guys. With those three out the line struggled to protect the quarterback in the second to last scrimmage, though they got better in the spring game. UC rotated 9 guys up front a year ago, and there will be a rotation again this year. These eight guys will be it unless one of the freshman coming in this summer are better than expected.
Starters: Silverberry Mouhon, Brad Harrah
Rotation: Jerrell Jordan, Terrell Hartsfield
Wildcard: Mark Wilson
That top four will be the top four from the beginning until the end at defensive end, and they are going to be terrors. A year ago they combined for 15 sacks, 27 TFL and 19 QB hurries. Harrah and Hartsfield split starts a year ago and could do the same this year. Hartsfield is the better pass rusher, but I really like Harrah's ability to anchor the run. He is listed at 6'5" 258, but he looks closer to 280.
The question is how does the staff go about working in some younger guys? Harrah, Jordan and Hartsfield are all seniors. If Mounhon the Elder blows up this year he could find himself a commodity in the draft, and that would leave the Bearcats starting over completely at end. For that contingency the staff needs to see what they have in their young guys this year. I could see Wilson carving out a niche as a obvious passing down specialist but its going to be hard for the rest of the young guys like Korey Cunningham to find reps with this group.
Starters: Hakeem Allonce, Camaron Beard
Wildcard: Ja'Merez Bowen
For two straights seasons under two different coaching staffs the Bearcats have sought last minute help from fifth year graduate transfers because the young guys weren't ready to compete. First with John Williams and last year with Marquise Aiken. Those young guys aren't young anymore, and they have to produce this year or the Bearcats will be in a world of hurt defensively. I have Allonce and Beard as the starters, Cam being the most vulnerable of the two IMO. The Bearcats need to at least match last year's production at DT for this defense to be successful. If these four can't get some kind of production Robert Prunty will be forced to turn to his freshmen, in which case Bowen is the first in line.
When I first looked at the linebackers I was kind of shocked by the depth this group has. There are guys still on the roster who gave the Bearcats good reps a year ago who I think will struggle to get on the field this year. Clemente Casseus and Kevin Hyland come to mind.
Wilson and Temple are perfect scheme fits for what Hank Hughes wants to do defensively and Luc has taken to middle linebacker like a duck to water. Solomon Tentman has been a reliable contributor for years, Marcus Tappan is an impact JUCO with three years of eligibility. Mouhon the Younger is the most decorated high school recruit in UC's history and is the heir apparent at MIKE. Kevin Brown is a converted safety who's speed makes him a candidate for nickle duty opposite Temple. There is so much talent here that finding reps for guys is going to be a challenge. But that's a great challenge to have.
Starters: Howard Wilder; Adrian Witty
Rotation: LEVITICUS PAYNE, Linden Stephens
WIldcard: J.J. Pinckney
I feel pretty good about the starters here. Wilder stepped in for the injured Trenier Orr early on last year and more or less held his own. He did have some unfortunate lapses in concentration as a first year starter, but he held his own IMO. Witty has been around forever, but without a clearly defined position and the purpose that comes with it. But he has played a lot of football for the Bearcats, with nearly 40 games to his credit.
Injuries forced PAYNE into action a year ago, probably before he was ready for it. Nonetheless he responded well notching a pass break up and an interception on the year. He can take a run at a starting job with a strong off season, but I think Hughes likes the size that Wilder and Witty give him.
Speaking of size Pinckney is the freshman to watch in this group. I like Odell Spencer in the long term, but Pinckney has the kind of size that the Bearcats haven't had at corner in a very long time. He is 6'3" 180 pounds which is crazy size for a high school cornerback, but he isn't a ponderous athlete. He has a suddenness to his game that is very rare for a player his size. I wouldn't be surprised in the least to see him carve out a niche as a freshman.
Starters: Zach Edwards and Mike Tyson
Rotation: Marcus Foster, Andre Jones
Wildcard: Carter Jacobs
This is a very young group, but it's going to be a good one. Edwards and Tyson should form a pretty devastating safety pairing this year. I can't say enough good things about Edwards, I just think he is a very special player. Tyson had a strong close to his freshman season, even with the blooper of the year to his name. Jones logged more time a year ago playing in all 13 contests, while Foster was bounced around between linebacker and safety and only played in 6 contests. Carter Jacobs is a player very much in the mold of Edwards. He isn't the kind of athlete that Zach is, but he seems to know where the play is heading before anyone else.
Kicker: Andrew Gantz
Punter: John Lloyd
Returner: No idea
It seems a foregone conclusion that Gantz will take over the duties from Tony Miliano this year. Tony kicked better in the spring game, but Gantz was more consistent throughout the spring. Even if Miliano does end up winning the job he is going to have a very, very short leash. Lloyd was the punter a year ago and was better than expected, but that is not to say that he was good. Much like everyone on this list, the leash will be short. They have to be better on special teams this year.