While we are still waiting on official word, most likely as negotiations continue behind the scenes, Mike Denbrock will be the next offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bearcats. Its a tough task to undertake. UC was abysmal offensively last season, ranking ninth in the American Athletic Conference in total offense (374.1 YPG) while scoring a paltry 28 touchdowns.
With such a calamitous effort in 2016, you can expect Denbrock to make a lot of major changes to the unit in 2017. Based on what he did as offensive coordinator at Notre Dame, we can get a bit of an idea of what he will try to instill in his new program.
Denbrock worked with two very talented quarterbacks during his three years as offensive coordinator at UND, coaching Everett Golson in 2014 and DeShone Kizer the last two years. With such talent at the position, Denbrock was not afraid to run an offense that threw the ball fairly frequently. In 2016, a down year for the program, UND ranked 48th in the country in passing offense (254.3 YPG) and 33rd in yards per attempt (7.9). In addition, the unit was 35th in the nation in offensive S&P+ (34.4). Prior to that UND ranked 35th in the nation in passing offense (258.5 YPG) in 2015 and 19th in 2014 (285.5 YPG). The team was also a top 25 team in yards per attempt in that time while amassing at least 25 touchdown passes in each of the last three seasons. Denbrock, who was a passing game coordinator before taking on the full OC role clearly has an ability to work with quarterbacks and to get production from the position.
Fickell and Denbrock will likely make a joint decision about who starts under center for the Bearcats, but Ross Trail fits more of Denbrock’s mold, as he has the ability to escape the pocket. UC commit Desmond Ridder, a member of the 2017 recruiting class, could also end up being a very successful QB under Denbrock’s tutelage.
Of course, at UND Denbrock was helped by the work of wide receiver Will Fuller in 2014 and 2015. In his career, the first-round draft pick amassed 2,512 yards and 30 touchdowns on 144 receptions. His successor in 2016, Equanimeous St. Brown, had a more subdued run as the No. 1 target, but still caught 58 balls for 961 yards and nine touchdowns. Either way, UND generally leaned on the top receiver on the depth chart under Denbrock, which means whoever separates themselves from the pack between Kahlil Lewis and Devin Gray could be in for a big year in 2017.
Perhaps the position that could see the most dramatic change is tight end. As an offensive coordinator, Denbrock did not do much with the position in terms of volume, but he still orchestrated a scheme that utilized the tight end more than UC did last season, especially closer to the end zone. Durham Smythe had 112 yards and four touchdowns last season and in 2014 Ben Koyack had 317 yards and three scores on 30 receptions. And that’s without mentioning Denbrock’s work as tight ends coach from 2010 to 2011 when he worked with Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Eifert. DJ Dowdy has gone, but Tyler Cogswell will be back as a senior and may find himself more in the mix.
On the running back side of the world, the Bearcats will feature Mike Boone, who will be returning from an injury that shortened his 2016 campaign. Denbrock prefers going with one lead back based on his prior work and he wants that lead back to be intimately involved in the passing game. Leading rusher Josh Adams had 21 receptions last season and C.J. Prosise brought in 26 receptions for 308 yards to go with 1,029 on the ground the year before at UND. Boone has shown the playmaking ability to fill that role and with Tion Green gone, he won’t have to share the load necessarily.
Outside of an individual level, Denbrock’s teams have generally succeeded on the analytical side of things. UND ranked seventh in the country in offensive S&P+ in 2015 (424.4) and 20th in 2014 (36.9). Talent level and roster makeup obviously allowed him to reach such heights, but that track record should be enough to push UC in the right direction.